EASING INTO COLLAGE, AND EASING COLLAGE INTO PHOTOGRAPHY, AN ARTIST FINDS NEW VISUAL TEXTURES AND EXPRESSIVE POTENTIAL IN ADOPTING AN OLDER TECHNIQUE
by Edward M. Gómez
Sometimes — or is it all the time? — artists may find it hard to predict how, when, or where their next big discoveries will be made, or what turns their work might take next, thematically or technically, as it continues to evolve.
Often, in art-making, happenstance is everything; stumbling upon a particular material or tool, a piece of interesting information, or a hitherto unfamiliar subject can open up whole new ways of thinking about and producing one’s art.
For the young, New York-based artist Aubrey Ashlyn Rye, who studied photography, website design, graphic design, and other subjects at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, in the northern part of Alabama, cameras and their way of capturing images has always been something fascinating and intriguing. In a recent interview, the artist told brutjournal: “From an early age, I remember passing by the cameras on display in various stores and wishing that I had had my own; to play with these little gadgets seemed so powerful and yet so out of reach. I knew nothing about photography then — that it could stop time in its tracks, convey messages, communicate ideas, capture beautiful — or grim — fleeting moments, or preserve memories of times and places.”
We were aware that Rye had been shooting so-called street photography for some time, with New York’s endless, public drama serving as the artist’s abundant subject matter. However, more recently, Rye’s own original photographs have made their way into photo-based, collage-like works. Like most photographers today, Rye shoots digitally, later using computer software to assemble collage-like compositions.
Rye has long enjoyed the spontaneity and candid nature of street photography, practicing it “as a way of capturing my world and environment through the lens of my personal experiences.” Nevertheless, a point came at which Rye felt a waning sense of inspiration and motivation.
The artist recalled, “Collages seemed to be the answer. When I started creating art from layering, mixing, and manipulating multiple photos and scattering them with other illustrated elements, I didn’t really think I was making collages, although I guess that’s what they were. I just wanted to produce work that wasn’t constricted by the confines of what is acceptable ‘street’ or ‘documentary’ photography. I needed more me in my work, and sometimes that meant, literally, my image.” Several photo-based, collage-like works incorporating photo self-portraits emerged from these efforts.
The snippets of city scenes that turn up in Rye’s compositions provide just enough visual information to quickly conjure up and convey an urban atmosphere, with a patch of grafitti here or the wiry grace notes of tenement buildings’ fire escapes there, and black-and-white elements gently tinted with pink, purple, or other electric hues whose transparency brings to mind delicate watercolor washes (as in “rose,” a work made this year). Rye’s face appears in the dark depths of “me, in you” (2022), hovering alongside some sexy-lurid, neon-red hearts, and floats in and out of the color image of a silhouetted, plain, boxy building in winter in “me, in me” (2022).
The artist said, “On occasion, I incorporate poetry into my work or I lean more heavily on the graphic design in my collages, but mostly they are constructed using photography and color. My work is truly an act of self-expression, as it reflects my emotions in a real — and surreal — way. I generally operate in a [mode of] low-grade depression and anxiousness, although I wouldn’t say [I’m] pessimistic or nihilistic — but, maybe. I have a love-hate relationship with love. These concepts or emotions always come out in my art. Though some pieces can be bright and maybe even happy, there’s always a sense of anxious pensiveness underlying them all.”
For now, the spirit and the techniques of collage art seem to be meeting Rye’s creative and communicative needs. The artist observed, “Collage is a very accessible and approachable form of art. At its [most] basic level, all you need is some scissors, some glue, some images, and yourself, and you can show anyone how you see the world, show them a piece of who you are. That’s all I’m doing, but in digital form, with images I capture with a camera.”
The artist Aubrey Ashlyn Rye’s website can be found here.
Rye’s Instagram account: @pladtree