The term collage comes from the French verb coller (to glue). In English it is both a verb and a noun: to “collage” is to affix papers or objects to a two-dimensional surface, thus creating a collage.
Pablo Picasso produced the first high-art collage, Still Life with Chair Caning, in 1912, when he glued onto his canvas a real piece of oilcloth printed with a caning pattern. By doing that instead of painting the caning pattern directly on his canvas, he forever blurred the distinction between reality and illusion in art. After World War I, Dada artists transformed debris from the street into their sometimes disturbing and politicized collages, while Surrealist artists created collages that reflected their more psychologically attuned sensibilities. German Dada artists also invented a collage technique using snippets of photographs that is known as photomontage.
Postwar collage has been put to many different uses. Jasper Johns painted his images of flags and targets on backgrounds of collaged newsprint in order to produce richly textured, gestural-looking surfaces. Pattern and Decoration artists such as Miriam Schapiro, Robert Kushner, and Kim MacConnel have used collage to create brashly colorful and sensuous effects. Other postwar artists who have exploited the technique include Romare Bearden, Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, Richard Hamilton, George Herms, David Hockney, Jess, Howardena Pindell, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Betye Saar, and Lucas Samaras. The sources of their collage materials range from magazine ads and maps to trash and old clothes.
Décollage, the opposite of collage, involves removing images superimposed on one another. This occurs spontaneously in cities when layers of posters are defaced or weathered, and it is this phenomenon that apparently inspired the pioneering use of décollage by the Surrealist Leo Malet, beginning in 1934. (It has been said that Picasso’s and Braque’s inspiration for Cubist collage came from the layers of advertising posters that first blanketed Paris during the early twentieth century.) Décollage became a popular technique among Parisian Nouveau Réaliste artists of the 1950s, including Hervé Télémaque and Mimmo Rotella.
Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.