Explore Hundreds of Exquisite Botanical Collages Created by an 18th-Century Septuagenarian Artist

Image via The British Museum

At age 72, Mary Delany (1700-1788) devoted herself to her art practice, taking up a form of decoupage to create an exquisite collection of botanical collages from dyed and cut paper. She interpreted many of the delicate specimens she encountered in Buckinghamshire while staying with her friend, the Duchess of Portland, through layered pieces on black backdrops. From the wispy clover-like leaves of an oxalis plant to the wildly splayed petals of the daffodil, the realistic works are both stunning for their beauty and faithfulness to the original lifeforms.

Known for her scientific precision, Delany labeled each specimen with the plant’s taxonomic and common names, the date, location of creation, name of the donor, and a collection number, the latter of which was used to organize all 985 collages in her Flora Delanica series. Together, the works create a vast and diverse florilegium, or compilation of botanicals and writings in the tradition of commonplace books.

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Digital Collages by Beto Val Splice Vintage Illustrations into Surreal Hybrid Creatures

Image © Beto Val

Ecuadorian artist Beto Val alchemizes vintage illustrations into bizarre compositions that blend fruits with fowl and aquatic life with land animals. Using imagery available through the public domain, Val cuts and repositions fins, wings, and scaly talons into surreal creatures: round owl faces peer out from pineapples, autumn leaves sprout from tropical birds, and a rendering evocative of a biological chart displays fish with bodies made of strawberries, brains, and an early, industrial locomotive.

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Collaging En Plein Air

Thames River, Gibbons Park by Sarah Cowling, 10″x10″; collage. Courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Cowling on Why & How She Makes Collage Outside
En plein air (French for “outdoors” or “in the open”) has a long association with painting. In Kolaj 35, Sarah Cowling from London, Ontario, Canada writes about the experience of joining fellow en plein air painters outside to make collage. “I quickly realized that collage outdoors had to be approached in a completely different way from collage indoors. In the studio, I could select and layout colours and themes on my table. Then I would sort, reject and create a layout, usually responding to a core piece. En plein air requires a response to the landscape and the careful choosing of papers. Papers have to be brought out and tried one at a time and glued down quickly to avoid wind gusts. I find that working outside forces me to abstract more and work in blocks of colour.

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Daily Newspapers by Myriam Dion Unfold into Meticulously Woven Narratives

Detail of “Des collines arborées sont ravagées par le Dixie Fire en Californie, Le Monde, 28 août 2021” (2021), collage of newspaper and Japanese paper cut with precision knife (x-acto), paper weaving, paper folding, drawing, gold leaf, 41 x 26 inches

Thin, interlaced strips of Japanese paper, gold leaf, and the occasional watercolor detail extend the life of a broadsheet when in the care of French-Canadian artist Myriam Dion (previously). Through slicing, weaving, and gluing, the daily publications find new meaning and relevance as the artist overlays their pages with intricate lace patterns. These precise motifs obscure much of the text, leaving only a prominent headline or single image entirely visible. Painstakingly constructed, Dion’s works question the notion that news is inherently fast-paced and fleeting and instead, offer visual depth, dimension, and intricacy that mirrors the nuance of the stories she highlights.

Using pages from Le Monde, The New York Times, and other organizations, Dion draws on both historical and current events in her most recent pieces. A winding, pleated form responds to the unyielding destruction of the Dixie Fire in California with cuts evocative of flames emerging from its folds. Another accordion-style piece commemorates the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, with black-and-white photos of the justice trimmed in gold.

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Layers of Intricately Cut Paper Evoke Strength and Vulnerability in Christine Kim’s Elegant Collages

“Boundaries of Ours” (2022) Image © Christine Kim

In intricately cut collages by Ontario-based artist Christine Kim, flowers, foliage, and crown-like adornments encompass anonymous portraits. Painted floral motifs on carefully torn pieces of paper paired with slats of wood appear like lath exposed beneath ornate wallpaper, providing a backdrop for the elegant silhouettes. The elaborate designs of the figures’ headdresses suggest wrought iron with delicate strands of plants or ribbon partially obscuring their faces. In her series Paper Thin, Kim explores myriad techniques for working with the ubiquitous material.

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Chimerical Creatures Combine Feathers and Fur in Isabel Reitemeyer’s Uncanny Collages

Image © Isabel Reitemeyer

Berlin-based artist Isabel Reitemeyer is known for making uncanny collages that splice images of animals and bodies into humorously enigmatic compositions. In her recent series, songbirds with guinea pig heads perch on twigs, horses with enormous bunny ears stand in fields, and a retriever looks out at us from the body of a chicken. The assemblages, which are often small in scale and made from found photographs and cutouts, are deftly aligned so that the outlines of the animals fit together seamlessly.

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Artist Forages Fallen Flora and Arranges It Into Exquisite Portraits of Animals and Insects

Montreal-based artist Raku Inoue 井上 羅来 highlights natural connections in his stunning arrangements. Using found materials, he organizes leaves, petals, and twigs into the shapes of different animals, from scarlet birds to multicolored fish.

Before making these plant-based arrangements, Inoue practiced drawing, painting, graphic design, and sculpture. “Nature has always been a great source of inspiration and one gloomy day, it given me a sign,” he tells My Modern Met. “The rose bush in my backyard was getting rustled by the wind so I went outside and foraged the petals along with a few stems and leaves. I used those to make my very first floral insect sculpture which ultimately jump-started my floral creations that I am known for today.”

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Surreal Collage Portraits Offer a Look Into the Mind’s Eye of People From the Past

Creating a collage allows an artist to recontextualize something—to give it new meaning beyond its original intent. Artist Shane Wheatcroft blends and rearranges vintage advertisements and editorial spreads into new and often more mysterious meanings. Some of his most striking pieces fuse portraiture with seemingly disparate symbols of interior spaces, home goods, and beyond. The results are an alluring combination of the past from a contemporary point of view, remixed with surrealism in mind.

Wheatcroft’s collages offer a look inside the psyche of the people he portrays. In many of these images, the hair and attire of the person are kept intact; it’s the facial features that have been replaced by the imagery of someone turning on a television or waiting to serve a cup of tea. Each set of cutouts is different, but there is a constant throughout. One eye of the person he’s depicting always remains, telling the viewer that we’re looking into the mind’s eye of the character.

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Expanded Photography:
Collage and Cut Outs

Matthew Shlian

“The peculiar characteristics of photography and its approaches have opened up a new and immensely fantastic field for a creative human being,” wrote artist artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978) in 1934. Höch was a pioneer of collage and, notably, one of the few female members of the Berlin Dada movement. The subversive group emerged amidst the harsh landscape of WWI, disillusioned with social structures, politics and artistic conventions. Höch is recognized for making some of the earliest photomontages – spliced together from magazines, fashion images and illustrations. Here are five artists who offer a fresh take on the collage tradition: cutting, pasting, crumpling and overlaying to create new configurations.

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Reading Anne Ryan’s Poetic Collages

Anne Ryan, “Untitled (no. 544)” (1951), collage, 13 x 16 1⁄4 inches (courtesy the Estate of Anne Ryan and Washburn Gallery, New York)

In the annals of postwar New York art, collage artist Anne Ryan is inaccurately described as the prolific poet of the 1920s who gave up verse to make visual art in the 1940s and ’50s. It’s undeniable that Ryan’s visual art — especially her collages — established her prominence in the final two decades of her life, a legacy honored on the 20th anniversary of her death, in 1974, with a solo exhibition at leading American museums. 

In these subsequent decades, Ryan’s art has been presented in one-person and group shows to laudatory and frequently rave reviews.

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