Jim Jarmusch likes eradicating the heads. He likes to swap the heads of world leaders with Picassos or Basquiats, or just excise them fully, leaving a head-shaped void. A person with a coyote’s head rides behind a automotive, somewhat dejected. Warhol’s head is a favourite motif: twin Andys in sun shades standing stoically in a tunnel; Warhol’s head grafted onto a state official striding a tarmac; a person slouched in a chair, one of many artist’s Brillo containers mounted the place his head must be.
Jarmusch is greatest recognized for writing and directing pleasingly downbeat movies like “Night on Earth” and “Down by Law,” during which laconic protagonists meander by means of the weirder corners of the world, encountering fellow vacationers, or just the uncanny. For the previous 20 years he’s additionally been quietly producing collages like these, notecard-size items of delicately layered newsprint on cardstock that echo the same worldview, scrambling imagery to create alternatingly deadpan and revelatory compositions.
“I never intended to do anything with these,” Jarmusch, whose thatch of chalk white hair and blackout shades are nonetheless a well-recognized presence on the downtown scene, mentioned in an interview this summer time. “But I thought, well, why not share them? See if they amuse anyone.”
Jarmusch says he was content material to maintain this apply to himself, creating upward of 500 collages, most of which haven’t been publicly seen. However over the past yr, whereas on the Catskills residence he shares together with his spouse, the filmmaker Sara Driver, he was satisfied, with the encouragement of Arielle de Saint Phalle, with whom he has labored for almost 10 years, to arrange and current this pressure of his apply. The result’s Jarmusch’s first monograph, “Some Collages,” published this month by Anthology Editions, which collects more moderen examples made within the final seven years. “Newsprint Collages,” a solo present of the unique collages, his formal gallery debut, opens at James Fuentes on Wednesday.
And they’re in truth extremely amusing, in an spookily absurdist method. They recall “La Boutique Obscure,” the impressionistic dream diary the Oulipo author Georges Perec saved between 1968 and 1972, hallucinatory, barely terrifying, but in addition often humorous. Jarmusch’s collages are manipulations of one thing initially offered as truth — a détournement of photojournalism serrated and spliced into surrealist scenes that collapse time (a Victorian-era lady in a contemporary hospital room), or illustrate some psychic fantasy (releasing a primal scream whereas an viewers applauds).
Jarmusch has no qualms vivisecting species like a paper-based Physician Moreau (a person with the pinnacle of a Pomeranian led away in handcuffs). However one factor he doesn’t tamper with is scale. The collages dismantle the newsprint’s visible info however stay trustworthy to its unique dimension, which implies lots of them are minuscule, some near-microscopically so. It additionally means the expertise of taking a look at one is bodily intimate. The pictures drive you to crane your neck to decipher them, or convey the web page nearer to your face, as if receiving a secret. As objects go, “Some Collages” is stout, a macabre picture album. It’s sufficiently small to be thought of moveable, which supplies it a utilitarian forged, able to be produced to divine one thing essential or true concerning the day’s information. As Joseph Cornell wrote, “Collage = reality.”
“The interesting thing about them is they reveal to me that my process of creating things is very similar, whether I’m writing a script or shooting a film or making a piece of music or writing a poem or making a collage,” Jarmusch mentioned. “I gather the elements from which I will make the thing first. Like, shooting a film is just gathering the material from which you will edit the film, you know? The collages reduce it to the most minimal form of that procedure.”
Nonetheless, collage presents a horny comfort. Whereas a movie shoot necessitates refined and heavy tools, to not point out the cooperation of many individuals, the collages require solely solitude and a duplicate of the paper, a movable feast of broadsheet. “Mostly I do it in between the rigors of making a film, when I need to be left alone, or maybe people around me want me to leave them alone,” Jarmusch mentioned. “I made a lot of these over the last few years before my mother died, in Cleveland. I would stay with her in her house, and go into another room and work on them. It’s stepping aside the real world, so to speak.”
Jarmusch retains an outdated metallic flat file in his storage with drawers devoted to backgrounds, saved cardboard and “paper I’m attracted to,” newspapers he’s but to parse. “I have files of heads,” he added. He has a strict set of self-imposed guidelines: newspapers solely (no magazines), no sharp slicing instruments (he favors ballpoint pens which have gone dry, which “can cut in a crude way”). The impact is a fiber halo, the tears and separations leaving a roughness that makes the pictures seem to fuzz, as if in a dream. “I’m not quite sure why I even adhere to these things. It’s like an oblique strategy,” he mentioned, referring to Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s card-based methodology for uplifting creativity.
Jarmusch’s collages match inside a wealthy artwork historical past, which joins with the artwork world custom of appropriation, as sacred as it’s misunderstood, from Kurt Schwitters, who assembled delirious assemblages from trash, to Hannah Hoch’s and Man Ray’s Dadaist compositions, to Advert Reinhardt’s clattering, modernist “Newsprint Collage.”
“Max Ernst, Picasso and Braque, particularly, bringing other textures into their work, which carries through to one of my favorite artists of all time, Jasper Johns,” Jarmusch mentioned. “I like that little kids can make them. You can make them so minimal. In some ways John Baldessari’s are even more minimal than mine because he didn’t even bother to replace faces but just put colored circles over them — some of those I think are very beautiful.”
He went on: “In some ways my favorite artists of the 20th century are, on a philosophical level, Duchamp for the first half and Warhol for the second half. I must say I still find it hilarious when people still don’t understand that because Richard Prince reappropriated a photograph, well, why wasn’t that photograph worth hundreds of thousands of dollars before that? How come he gets all that money?.”
Earlier than he landed on filmmaking, Jarmusch meant to be a poet, learning underneath the New York Faculty poet David Shapiro (who additionally made collages) and Kenneth Koch, and traces his animating precept to their methods. “Koch once gave me a poem by Rilke, and said, bring me your translation in two days. I said, ‘But Kenneth, I don’t know any German.’ And he just looked at me with a kind of twinkle in his eye and said, ‘Exactly.’ And so the idea is take something, anything, and make a new thing out of it.”
Newsprint appeals to Jarmusch for its availability, but in addition its ephemerality. “I like it being so fragile,” he mentioned. “You know, the old joke of yesterday’s newspaper you wrap the fish in or whatever, it’s something intended to be discarded. It reduces it’s own self-importance somehow.”
The thought happens that this story might find yourself as a part of one in all Jarmusch’s collages, a neat closed loop. Does he discover it ironic that he’s talking with The New York Occasions about artwork he makes with copies of The New York Occasions? “It’s a little strange,” he mentioned. “But I think it’s funny too. I love that newspaper thing. I love it in old movies where they roll the presses and all of that.”
These qualities additionally give the venture an elegiac air. As native newspapers across the nation stop operations or migrate to digital-only codecs, Jarmusch’s collages change into a doc of a quickly evaporating medium. “I realized only recently that, gee, I’m using materials that are almost obsolete now,” he mentioned. “There’s something soothing for me in handling the paper, I don’t know how to explain it. Digital is too cold for me. I love it for many things, my last films have been shot with digital cameras and I’ve been editing on digital machines since 1996. I’m not a total Luddite.”
Jarmusch is within the pure visible collision of collage, however his supply materials inevitably troubles their innocence. Politicians creep in, together with photos of world strife, which could be interpreted as commentary. “I try not to think too much about the kind of juxtapositions I’m creating,” Jarmusch mentioned. “If they seem too pointed or too cute or something, I get rid of them. Sometimes someone says, ‘Oh, do you realize that’s the former right-wing prime minister of Australia?’ No, I don’t know who that was. Or other times I’ll just find a nice photo of Nico [the Velvet Underground singer]. I love Nico, I’m saving her head. And then I find something where I think, that would be nice for Nico. They’re kind of childlike, my way of putting them together. They’re playful.”
But he additionally admits, “Some of them are a little scary or dark. Some of them, I hope, are funny. The New York School poets taught me if there’s nothing funny in any of your stuff, then wow, how unfortunate for you.”
Jim Jarmusch: Newsprint Collages
By Oct. 31, James Fuentes, 55 Delancey Avenue, Decrease Manhattan; (212) 577 1201; jamesfuentes.com.