By Sarah Gonzales
Invented by the Chinese more than 2,000 years ago and made popular by Pablo Picasso in the early 20th century, the art of collage has a long and global history. Today Guitta Corey, an Anchorage-based artist, continues to explore the limitless ways of "painting with paper" in her delicate, yet bold, collages.
Originally from the East Coast, Corey began her artistic journey with printmaking and pastels in the Southwest before discovering collage in the Far North. Living and working in New Mexico, she maintained a long distance relationship with her (now) husband in Alaska that eventually brought her to Anchorage 30 years ago. Corey was "not quite a mail order bride, but almost!" she says with a laugh, recalling the climate and culture shock of her migration.
The shift in locales also meant an adjustment in how Corey created. "I was used to working 'in situ' or outdoors," she explains, but the cold weather and long winters meant that she took her pastels inside, working from photographs and memory instead. Corey's skills also include printmaking and in 1980 she opened Solstice Press. Here she collaborated with various artists to make prints of their art using stone lithography, a time-consuming process involving acids, inks and rosins. The artist draws or paints on a carefully prepared stone that will be used to make a limited edition of prints before being sanded down and reused for a new piece.
The combination of working with messy pastels indoors (the chalk dust would leave a film on every surface), and printing the ideas of other artists (leaving little time to print her own) led Corey to seek out new mediums in which to work. While operating the press she had the opportunity to collect papers from all over the world and this was "probably where my affinity for working with beautiful paper came from," Corey remarks. She realized that she could work with paper in a wholly different way – instead of applying paint onto the papers, she could use the papers as paint – and her exploration into collage began.
She closed the press in 1994 and with the rich variety of colorful, multi-textured paper she'd amassed, her evolution to collage was a practical decision. "I don't know exactly what led me to visualize using these papers in a naturalistic, representational manner as I had been doing in pastel," she says. "It was perhaps necessity being the mother of invention – I had these wonderful papers and I liked working with them and it was something I could do in my home."
Corey speaks of her papers in a delightfully reverent tone, ascribing traits and moods to each sheet she has collected. They come from Japan and Thailand, Mexico and the Philippines, and she even considers her finished collages to be "a sort of collaboration" with papermakers from all over the world. Their paper plus her ideas combine to depict Kachemak Bay, the sun setting behind Sleeping Lady or autumn leaves in a gracefully literal collage.
"The papers have a lot of the elements that you see in the natural landscape; there are textural elements and colors that are very much a part of the natural world," she says, describing the uniqueness of her materials. "Some of the papers have inclusions in them, so they actually have leaf or bark; some have bits of gold or silver leaf – they capture light the way that leaves on water do."
Corey continues to evolve as an artist and has recently added glass serving pieces to her repertoire, a method that allows her to showcase the papers in a new manner. "I use the same adhesives and papers that I use for my collages, but I also use gold leaf and stamps. It's a chance to use the more decorative papers," she says, explaining the process of creating these pieces. "I apply the papers to the back of the plate. After they dry, I seal the back with a hardening agent and several layers of urethane." The pieces are both decorative and functional, says Corey, encouraging their use as sushi or smoked salmon platters.
No matter the form, it is ultimately all about the paper inspiring the work, says Corey. "I have some papers that I bought purely on speculation. It's like a Rorschach test and I'll look at the papers and I'll see them as light or mountains or birch trees or water. I may not have the idea for the piece yet, but I see it in the paper."