Collage: Brian Dettmer


Though Brian Dettmer wasn’t one of the artists listed on the collage and assemblage Wikipedia pages, I stumbled upon his work while looking up information about some of the others who were listed, in particular Kurt Schwitters. Dettmer’s media is books, and he alters and deconstructs them, performing what has been called book autopsies or book sculptures in which he reveals the inner contents of the books, crafting them into a dense collage of words and images through the incredibly skilled carving away of portions of the book’s cover and pages. I find his work absolutely incredible. It is visually arresting in its explication of the undiscovered contents of books, like a window into a private or esoteric world. I love the combination of words and images in collage form. As someone with a great deal of interest in language, linguistics, literature, and verbal expression of various types, there is something deeply appealing about the simplicity yet vast applications of simple letters, as the most basic of signs and yet some of the most vital to human communication and construction of the world around us. While I think combining words and images has the potential to render one’s desired message obvious or trite, I also think skillful combination can render a product which enhances each, not to mention creating something visually engaging and arresting. I certainly think Dettmer’s works are successful in this way, producing almost a visual overload–the eye hardly knows where to rest. His ability to reveal the physical depth of a book, an extremely common object most of us don’t think twice about as a visual entity, and to present it in an entirely new and deconstructed way which reveals new meanings, an entirely new way of perceiving the contents, elevate the mundane to the status of art, is incredible. 

Below are several examples of Dettmer’s work–some picture books, some more text-filled, one carved from a map book, all crammed with visual information. The sheer amount of work that clearly goes into these pieces is staggering. I read that Dettmer spends ten hours a day, five days a week working on these pieces, and the time and effort are evidenced in the precision and detail of each piece. Some pieces are composed almost entirely of printed words, others mostly pictures. Visually, the text forms a sort of irregular pattern, and functions equally for the the meanings the words convey and the patterns they form as abstract visual symbols. In the sense that he utilizes “found” object (books), I suppose his work represents some aspects of not only collage but assemblage as well.







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