Brooklyn Collage Collective
Brooklyn Collage Collective

Unity makes strength is an apt motto for Brooklyn — a place reputed for its eclectic conflux of culture. Equally scrappy and chic, the New York borough has fixed itself in the imaginations of artists and innovators the world over. Find any neighborhood where blue-collar grit meets an ethos of inclusivity and openness, and chances are somebody’s compared it favorably to Brooklyn.

"City of Boom" by Morgan Jesse Lappin.

It isn’t hard to imagine why the city’s pastiche of ethnic influences, cultural practices and architectural styles would be a good home for the Brooklyn Collage Collective. Nothing quite embodies unity makes strength like a group of diverse artists, all working in a cut-and-paste mode of appropriation and mash-up.

"Repercussions of Freedom" by Jay Riggio.
"Robot Youth" by Morgan Jesse Lappin.

“It took some fine-tuning but we eventually cut it down to 10 members,” recalls Morgan Lappin, who co-founded the Brooklyn Collage Collective with fellow artist Lizzie Gill in 2013. The Collective opened its inaugural exhibition, Episode 1, at Brooklyn Fireproof the following year. “We’re always looking to collaborate with other collage artists from around the world.”

Indeed, the practice of collage has international appeal. Believed to have been originated by Picasso, collage emerged after the First World War. Taking sundered, fragmentary scraps and re-making them into something new was a gesture of resilience and hope. From Henri Matisse’s choppy cutouts, to the politically astute assemblages by Nancy Spero, collage’s mix of material and imagery has always been on the cutting edge — pun unintended — of modern art.

"Heatwave" by Lizzie Gill.

The Brooklyn Collage Collective has already taken its projects abroad. In 2015, they collaborated with UK-based artist group Something in the Attic on an exhibition in London; in 2014, they showed work at M2 Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Lizzie Gill cites the London exhibition as “a real milestone” for the Collective. “It was great to bring the collective feel across the pond,” she says. “We sourced local artists… for some, it was their first exhibition.”

"Mechanophilia" by Morgan Jesse Lappin.

Despite these far-reaching endeavors, locality is important to the Brooklyn Collage Collective. Its artists often mount pop-up exhibitions, hold workshops and host live collage events around their hometown. “We invite other artists to exhibit with us regularly and participate in our community events,” notes Gill, who curated the exhibition Vitamin C as part of DUMBO Arts Festival, featuring artists from the Collective and outside of it.

Their community outreach is right at home in Brooklyn’s buzzing art scene. With over 60 non-profit arts organizations operating in its downtown area, the New York borough has always been a hub for creativity. “[Brooklyn] is a magnet for talent,” observes Lappin. Although, he adds wryly: “It also attracts a lot of bullshit. But it’s healthy to have that equal mix.”

"Desert" by Morgan Jesse Lappin.

Lappin traces his fascination with collage back to 2007, at which time he ran a silkscreen shop for a friend’s clothing line. “I chose collage as a vehicle to come up with designs,” he explains. For inspiration, Lappin sourced images from the World Book Encyclopedia. “My idea of collage has always been a puzzle that hasn’t yet been created. I personally use tape when I make collage. This allows me to make changes when I want, and so the work can evolve.”

"Over There Yonder" by Morgan Jesse Lappin.

As for Gill, representations of retro Americana in 1940s and ’50s magazines compelled her to work with found images. Similar to the Dadaists of the early twentieth century, Gill’s works repurpose mass media as charged and challenging messages. “Collage can be a powerful tool in highlighting current issues, through incorporating elements from the past,” she says. Her pieces often negotiate themes of human agency and deceit.

“I think our personalities work great together, and we all have our own unique styles that complement each other visually,” Lappin states about the diverse practices among the Collective’s members. By working united, the artists explore the many facets of an art form that seems to exist elusively, somewhere between visual arts, media arts and sculpture.

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