BOOK OF THE MONTH (8): ‘Cutting edges’ documents the new heyday of collage (and has a cover designed by Belgian graphic designer Jelle Martens)

The great Joseph Cornell – unofficial godfather of this blog – was making them all the time. And I see them popping up at exhibitions everywhere (Wangechi Mutu at Wiels, Alessandro Pessoli at Xavier Hufkens, Adrian Ghenie at Tim Van Laere): collages. Those two things combined almost automatically made me curious about Cutting edges, the new book by German publisher Gestalten, ‘documenting the new heyday of collage in current art and visual culture’. And when I flipped through the pages, I noticed that a Belgian graphic designer, Jelle Martens, designed the cover. Need I say more? Book of the month. Definitely. More info, pics ánd interview with Martens after the jump.

Scissors, paper and glue. That’s all you need. For hundreds of years artists have been making collages. Georges Braque, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, Robert Rauschenberg and yes, Joseph Cornell. Cutting edges begins with listing them all, in a brief history of the twentieth century collage. The book was compiled by American creative director/collage artist James Gallagher, who writes that his quest to collect the perfect source material made him discover hundreds of other artists doing amazing things with collage. Before long he had created an archived folder of his favorites. And eventually it brought him to setting up Cutters, a gallery show presenting the work of collage artists.

Gallagher picked the 80 or so artists presented in Cutting edges. ‘Not the definitive book on contemporary collage (…) but a humble attempt (…) to bring together many (…) artists in one place, to illustrate the range and depth of collage taking place today. The works run the gamut from technically intricate to super-raw, expressive to iconic, and abstract to narrative.’

The artists come from all over the world, but funnily enough work by 20-year-old Belgian artist Jelle Martens – wrongly credited in the book as a Dutch artist – was chosen to grace the cover of Cutting edges. He is studying graphic design in Ghent and admits that he has also noticed a growing interest among fellow students in collage. His work stands out from that of many of the other artists presented in Cutting edges, as it has a strong geometric component as well. Martens is drawn to symmetry and rather rigid forms, he says. He prefers this over the usual cutting and pasting.

Martens hunts flea markets for source material, but has found what he was looking for in the attic at his parents’ home as well. He recently designed the cover for Carry me home, the debut album by American band Gatlin Elms, and his work was chosen by Gestalten to figure in another soon to be published book too, The modernist. As any other artist he finds the most difficult part of the process to come up with just thát what he had in mind. ‘Just the right combination of pictures, colour and composition’. 

He cites Bruno Minari, Karel Martens and René Magritte as major influences, and admits that sometimes he gets frustrated too about the fact that collage can be a very easy way to come up with something that looks rather artistic. ‘People just cut and paste and think they’ve come up with a work of art.’

It’s something one inevitably notices as well, when flipping through Cutting edges. Not everything in it is truly remarkable. I would have preferred to see more work by contemporary artists. But nevertheless: an inspiring collection, showing that artists, designers and illustrators are increasingly drawn to collage these days.



‘Cutting edges’ (published by Gestalten), 39,90 euro. Preview (and order) online here. You’ll find a video interview with James Gallagher here.


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