"I stick stuff to other stuff and kid myself about the rest," claims collage artist Cory Peeke. But as his work, including A Higher Education: Suits in the latest issue of Agave Magazine shows, there's a lot more to it than that. Cory's wit and insight are readily recognisable in every piece, whether it's examining masculinity, sexuality or education. And for all those who are tempted to take a pair of scissors to their copy of Agave and do their own recontextualisation, you have Cory's blessing to "make it yours."
AGAVE MAGAZINE: What got you started in collage?
CORY PEEKE: I have been doing collage seriously since I lived in San Francisco in the early '90s. I was a painter, though a very mixed-media oriented one, when I was in undergraduate school in Michigan. However, when I moved to San Francisco it was so expensive just to live that art supplies like oil paint became an unaffordable luxury. I still had the need to be a maker so I began collecting ephemera, stuff I’d find on the street or for cheap in junk shops.
The experience was very freeing. I didn’t have any preconceived notions or expectations for the work so it was a way to experiment and learn a way of working without the constraints of history and material limitations I felt as a painter.
Where do you find the material you use in your collages, and what draws you to the bits and pieces you collect?
I find most of my materials in junk shops or antique stores, but I’m not above scavenging stuff off the street. I also dig office supplies so office supply stores are fun to shop. The white spots in many of my pieces are created using correction fluid.
I hoard materials. I collect things wherever I find them. I have drawers, boxes, flat files and tables piled high with old photographs, scraps of paper, transparencies, etc. Part of the fun of collage is digging through the hoard to find just the right item for the piece I’m working on. Collage is like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the final image is supposed to look like. Searching out the correct pieces for that puzzle is a fun little treasure hunt.
I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint what exactly draws me to a particular bit of ephemera. I will say though that I’m often attracted to vintage images and papers, something that seems to have an age to it. They’re remnants of another time that I hope to reinvigorate and get people to notice and value again.
Do you first have an idea and then look for pieces to use, or does the material you come across inspire a particular idea for a collage or series?
I used to work with an idea and then search for the material I needed. I don’t think I hold to a strict conceptual agenda anymore, the work is more organic in its creation. There are certainly particular types of imagery and themes of sexuality, masculinity and education that I’m drawn to so they reappear again and again in my work.
I tend to make the work and then go back and look for the common thread/ideas that holds them together as a series.
Your most recent series "explores the duality that is the transient, disposable nature of our culture through the lens of the book and the status of higher education." How did your position as Professor of Art at Eastern Oregon University inform your work?
I’m sure it is no secret that higher education has gone through some big changes and tough times the last several years. I have very different students today than I did just a decade ago.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is a growing reluctance on the part of students to read. They seem to have an aversion to the printed page or at the very least seem to lack any meaningful appreciation for the written word. Libraries are places they only reluctantly go, they hope to find everything on line and in quick easily digested snippets.
These observations have led directly to my reconsideration of the importance of the book and printed matter. I wouldn’t say my work exactly explores these ideas but the observations and the turmoil of higher education have influenced the making of my most recent bodies of work.
You write for Kolaj, a magazine on contemporary collage, and curate as well--what is the power of collage as an art form, and what artists do you think are particularly adept at wielding that power?
I believe people respond to collage differently than they do other mediums. The materials are drawn directly from the world around us which I feel makes them more approachable, perhaps even democratic. One the one hand I think it can be a negative in that collage is often not taken as seriously as other mediums, but on the other hand I think helps make collage less class-oriented and easier for people from all strata to relate.
Writing for Kolaj and being addicted to social media such as Instagram and Tumblr have introduced me to scores of new (to me anyway) collage artists. A list of folks out there right now working that I admire would include Evan Clayton Horback, Anthony Zinonos, Hollie Chastain, Katrien De Blauwer, Flore Kunst, Ross Carron, Eli Craven and John Hundt to name just a few. I could go on and on. This is a great time for collage, lots of good work is being made right now all around the world.