COLLAGES AND BOXES (1969-1983)
Collages and boxes are important among Raphael Collazo's early works because they foreshadow the use of collage, assemblage and appliqué in his mature paintings.
The Performers Gesvaldo is a fine example of the figurative drawings of 1969 that immediately preceded the artist's earliest collages, in 1970. Such delicate, figurative works were shown with the collages in his first one-person exhibition, at the Galería Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1971. The collages titled Lady Lovely & Lover and The Best from Vogue are of that period; and it is certain that Palace Theater, Room with Brown Floor and an early state of Picture Box, without the figure, were in the exhibition.1 A favorite motif of Collazo's, and one that returns in later work, is a room opening onto another room which opens onto yet another room and so on, endlessly. The artist exploited this effect, similar to the infinity of reflections in two facing mirrors (which he used literally in Picture Box), to achieve both spatial and psychological dimension.
By 1972, Collazo was assembling boxes with the "intimate nuances"2 of Joseph Cornell's (1903-1972). This homage to a revered artist began before Cornell passed away, at the end of that year, and continued throughout 1973. Among these Early Boxes; Swaneria: Marina's Dream is a tribute to Collazo's mother, seen in a bathing suit in the lower left, with plastic swans, ballerinas, parakeets and toy Spanish fans set against a landscape painting and a map of the constellations. The opulent Elephant Palace displays a multifarious collection of souvenirs and ornamental objects, including a bejeweled elephant. French Castle juxtaposes a Renaissance castle and a noble steed of the Feudal Age with an Industrial Age auto junkyard, inducing contemplation about time and the "progress" of civilization. Planetary Box is a reminiscence on early scientific investigation with references to astronomy, chemistry and electricity. Royal Brighton Swan Box rises to an indefinable poetry.
Appearing to date from the same period are an assemblage, The Jester, perhaps inspired by Watteau's commedia dell'arte paintings, and a collage, Grid of Twelve Collages. In the latter, the many references to flight throughout the ages and the eighteenth century French figures create the acute sense of passing through time that Ernest Acker-Gherardino identified in Collazo's work.3 The dancing figure in the lower right corner is echoed in Arcana Mundi more than a decade afterward and the butterflies presage the Nymphal Instars paintings.
Against color fields of copper and turquoise, 18th Century Abstract, of 1975, contains an Abstract Expressionist cherub and a collage of eighteenth century French figures reminiscent of those in The Best from Vogue and Palace Theater. The Rococo was a continuing influence on the artist, despite his supposed farewell to it in Goodbye Rococo, of 1986.
The prophetic Annunciation, circa 1976, is collaged in the upper right corner with a print of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece of the same name, the inspiration for this ambitious work. Referring to Collazo, Acker-Gherardino wrote: "As he describes the painting of this picture: he had done a large rendering of Leonardo's Annunciation, so fascinated was he with this master work of the Renaissance painter. Then, he proceeded to 'bring it up to date' by overpainting with sgraffito-like gestures. He 'attacked' the rendered work as time attacks everything, symbolically obscuring it in skeins of event, enriching it with experience."4
In 1980, the artist delighted himself and his friends with a humorously-titled creation, Low Fat & Fish Eye, in which a goldfish swims upside-down in an aquarium and, in the room behind, a decidedly not "low fat" personage is seated. A yellow "wall" suggests yet another room in an "endless" series. This work, therefore, contains four distinct spatial entities: the aquarium itself, containing its watery realm and inhabitant; the room containing the aquarium; the room containing the figure; and the distant yellow "room", which could just as well be the sun-filled world outside, opening onto space and at the same time containing all of the interior volumes. Collazo thus achieved great depth and, thereby, psychological dimension: an introspective pondering of the infinite.
Low Fat & Fish Eye was followed by a second series of boxes during the latter part of 1980 and throughout 1982. The Late Boxes include Everything in Life, with an upside-down récamier sofa, a sideways horse and a harmonious crowd of memorabilia; the witty St. Joseph of the Concourse, with a cellophane-covered saint, plastic ivy and lace doilies; the luxurious triptych Whose Favorite Bird was the Peacock?, with artificial leaves and ferns, an ornamental, plastic peacock landscape, a latticework trellis and peacock feathers; and the bucolic Villa with Saint & Picket Fence, with a rustic dwelling, a field of plastic ferns and eucalyptus branches, a lath fence and a collaged saint. The latter two works demonstrate the artist's movement away from his earlier, strict adherence to the Cornell-like box. My Soul's Desire, a collage with a print of the mysterious and spiritual fifteenth century French tapestry The Lady of the Unicorn and decals of fish and a butterfly, came in 1983.
Collazo's use of collage and assemblage continued in the mature paintings, of 1984 to 1989, reflecting his love for Rococo embellishment; now elevated to impart a richness of meaning, rather than decorative effect. In the Early Tapestries, such as Court and Lost Ground, he applied model landscaping materials onto his canvases; and in the Middle Tapestries, such as How to Draw & Paint, Archeology and Terrible Lizards, he collaged pages from books and fragments of dime store tapestries. In the Late Tapestries, such as Squid and Arc (K), he assembled freeform constructions and covered them with tarpaper and cutouts from his drawings; and in the Epic Tapestries, he incorporated a surprising variety of collage materials -- even the triangular palette from which he had been painting Veduta.5 Fragments of wallpaper and the cheap tapestries became transformed into objects of marvelous beauty in paintings such as Bug World and The Magic Is Back.
Rosemary C. Erpf, the artist's dealer of that time, later wrote: "Collaged elements were also present. Pieces of gold molding and street-vendors' plastic flowers were presented in the scale and manner of salon paintings. These decorative fragments were unfettered by the irony usually associated with kitsch, because of the painterly hand in which they were integrated. In a painting titled Goodbye Rococo, fragments of velvet printed rugs peaked out under globs and layerings of paint. Gestural strokes of paint all but covered pieces of ornamental plastic."6 In later work, Collazo formed the paint itself into appliqué elements. Erpf states: "A faint pink figure barely materializes in the pastel-colored... [All Souls' Day]. However, the thrust of this painting is not the figure, but that of painter become mosaicist. Gluing irregular-shaped discs to the canvas, Raphael took his passion for collage and paint to their extreme."7 In later paintings, the discs became shell-like, as in Lepidoptera, or fossil-like, as in You Pushed Me, Devonian Times and New World Rider.
This passion continued to the end of the artist's career, as seen in his last paintings. A Walk in the Woods combines a blue plastic guitar pick, miniature glass flowers on wire stems, glass-headed pins and cabochons. Concordia Domus has thick, rounded, paint masses that resemble stones, small leaves glued together to create a convincing effect of pine cones and rough-surfaced layers of paint that form the illusion of tree bark. Walking Stick contains only the timeless, stone-like forms more typical of the Black Figure series. Finally, his masterpiece, Forest Rendezvous, is composed of ornamental plastic flowers and birds, paint appliqué, metal house numbers, lead rosettes and, surprisingly, a tiny wooden bird that spins around.
The Collages and Boxes of Raphael Collazo: Notes
1 Ernesto J. Ruiz De La Mata, Collazo, Sunday San Juan Star Magazine, page 14, San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 14, 1971.
2 Ernest Acker-Gherardino, letter of recommendation for Raphael Collazo, probably for Art Students' League Merit Scholarship, New York, c. 1975-1976.
3 Steve Bush [nom de plume of Ernest Acker-Gherardino], unpublished manuscript, "Excerpt from the Steve Bush article on Raphael A. Collazo's Annunciation in November '84 issue of Blue Food art magazine", New York, 1984.
5 Rosemary C. Erpf, manuscript, Raphael Collazo, New York, March 1990, written for the unpublished catalog of the memorial exhibition Healing Garden, Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, New York, March 23-April 14, 1990, curated by Nilda M. Peraza.