Alexandra English uses collage to create surrealistic scenes where children go swimming in a galaxy, or genitals are replaced with mouths. Her humour, creativity and resourcefulness shine through in her fantastical images. Art Pharmacy talks to Alexandra about her collaging process, her Surrealist inspiration, and the importance of National Geographic magazines in the collage community.
What is your professional background, aside from your artistic practice?
I’m a journalist, graduated in 2012. I did graphic design as well, which is where the collages fit into it. Graphic design was going to be my thing, but then I moved to London, came back and decided I didn’t want to be a graphic designer anymore.
How did you become an artist, from the professional background of being a journalist and a graphic designer?
Once I fell out of love with graphic design in London, I still needed to create something. I worked with Christie’s Auction House, so I had all of their old catalogues. I took them home and cut them up. It was a bit of a roundabout way of getting there, and it was never intentional. It was basically a result of being broke in London.
Collage is your main medium. Could you walk me through your collage process?
I have a bunch of National Geographic magazines that my boyfriend found outside of his office at work. Three decades worth, just sitting there.Each time I start a collage I pull it all out. I separate images into piles – sometimes all landscapes, or colours. Then I start rearranging them. I sit there with a cup of tea, playing around with the images until I see something that fits. I never really know how it’s going to end up.
What is it about collage that appeals to you as a medium?
I’ve tried a lot of different things, because I’ve always felt like I needed an outlet outside of work. I’ve tried clay sculpture, but it didn’t give me a good sense of satisfaction. I’ve tried drawing and painting and I’ve always had photography going on. But I think collage is more tangible. I like the actual ripping up and cutting out. I get a good sense of satisfaction of having a big rubbish pile after a good night of collaging. There’s more of an element of chance when it’s hand-made rather than digital. Often I’ll have two great elements that won’t fit together, and I know that I could scan it in and fix it, but instead I just think that it wasn’t meant to be. These pieces will find a home somewhere else.
You describe your process as “auto-collaging”. What exactly does this term mean?
It comes from the Surrealist movement. They used to do auto-collaging, auto-writing, auto-drawing. The idea is that you don’t know what’s going to come out of it. You’re not quite paying attention, and that’s when it comes together. It’s very subconscious.
What is the meaning behind the name of your ‘Baader-Meinhof’ series?
You know when you come across a word or a weird piece of information that you’ve never heard before, and all of a sudden you’ll hear it again and again afterwards? That phenomenon is called ‘Baader-Meinhof’. The reason I used that name is because when I began using National Geographic magazines for my collages, I started noticing them everywhere. There are so many collage artists using National Geographic magazines.I realized it was okay because even if you gave two people the same magazine they would never come up with the same collage.
Your earlier series, ‘Eunoia’, is very different. In what ways do you feel that your approach to collaging has changed since this series?
They’re the ones I did when I lived in London, out of the Christie’s catalogues. In the catalogues there was just the image on a white background, so I didn’t have any landscapes or environments. I was working as office manager so I could take coloured paper, glue and scissors. I really was just using whatever I had with me. Then the National Geographic magazines came into my life and changed everything! It feels better to do the National Geographic style now. It feels more surrealistic, because you can create fantasylands. It’ssubtler, so you may be unsure of what exactly is being collaged. The Christie’s catalogues were good to get me into it, but it was very specific to the time. My material really shows whatever I had at the time – it’s like the story of my life.
What are you currently working on?
Up until recently I never really paid for material, which was kind of my thing. I decided that I would work with whatever the universe presented to me. But I started to run out of material, so the collages were suffering. I realized that if I want more materials I have to go and actually source it. I went to a second-hand bookstore at the end of King Street, thinking that I was just going to have a look for five minutes, and two hours later I came out loaded with material. I found the “Space” section, so I have all these second-hand space books now. I’m cutting out pictures of the Earth and different planets. I think every image of space is beautiful, so there’s always going to be material there. I’ll never sit down and intentionally do a new series, but I think that’s where it’s heading. A physical exhibition is also on my goal list for this year!
You can see more of Alexandra’s work on her profile page here.
Words: Ellen Oredsson