Giving Form to Chaos

"My worktable becomes a disaster area when I’m working and I am always pleasantly surprised when art crawls out of that mess."

David Wallace, whose work is featured in issue #44, is a collage artist, graphic designer and musician living in Pittsburgh, Pa. His work has been shown in many cities in the U.S. and overseas including Pittsburgh, Nashville, Atlanta, St. Louis, Columbus, Long Beach, Asbury Park, Brooklyn, Cork and Berlin. His collage work has been published in Cutting Edges (Gestalten), Masters: Collage (Lark Books) and Exhibition 36 (North Light Books). As guitarist and contributing visual artist with the performance troupe Squonk Opera, Wallace tours across the U.S. and internationally.

Artists who collaborate with Creative Nonfiction generally read the essays first, then come up with their illustrations. How did this process work for you? Did certain phrases or ideas stick out? Do you have a favorite essay in this issue?

I read through the stories and wrote down evocative phrases and imagery that came to me. I was careful not to use imagery that seemed too obvious. I intended for the illustrations to complement and enhance the stories.

In “Blot Out,” I liked the idea of these characters watching silently as they walk through the market, being careful not to blow their cover. I particularly liked the line “We are entities that waddle and watch but do not speak.” I put two sets of eyes inside of the niqab in my illustration to give the feeling of claustrophobia and fear.

I’m particularly struck by how your work captures the feel of our culture right now—mashups, collaborative projects, disembodied snippets from across time and space. What role does the internet play in your art or your inspiration?

It is hard to imagine not having the internet in our lives and I can’t remember what it was like before. The internet enables me to discover new artists and ideas that I might not have had access to previously.

Can you give a specific example of a time this happened or explain how you go about discovery? Is it total happenstance or do you have some sort of search process?

I have mostly discovered new artists by accident. I have found many because their websites were linked on other artist’s pages or on the website of galleries that I am researching.

What’s your creative process usually like? If you had to give it a label (something like evolving doodles, energetic emission) what would it be?

Giving form to chaos. My worktable becomes a disaster area when I’m working and I am always pleasantly surprised when art crawls out of that mess.

In six words, give us your artist statement, world view, or life’s story.

It is what it is. Period.

What initially drew you to collage?

I don’t remember how I originally came to collage but I always loved the idea of combining disparate elements to create a new reality.

What book or work of art do you find yourself returning to?

Not any particular book or piece of art but artists and designers like Eduardo Recife, Kerstin Stephan and Fred Free are a few current favorites who inspire me.

Everyone has different qualifications for what makes a piece of art great. What are yours?

If you can’t imagine living in a world without that piece of art in it—it should feel like it has always existed.

Of your own work, what’s your favorite piece?  Why?

The piece called “At what time” is one that I particularly like because its creation was so spontaneous and easy. Everything just fell into place. I wish they could all happen that way.

In what ways can visual art tell viewers a story?

I enjoy art that is evocative and allows a viewer to create his or her own story. Certain images or combinations of images can mean different things to different people and evoke different feelings.

Do most of your art pieces have stories behind them or do you start creating and see what happens?

I just start and see where the art takes me. I don’t necessarily like didactic art. It feels like it limits how one can approach a work of art if the artist defines its meaning too much.

Have you ever gotten in trouble for using or copying pieces in your collages?

No. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t use copyrighted imagery in my work. Most of my source material is pretty old.

You’re also a guitarist and have worked with Squonk Opera. How does music influence or interact with your art (or vice versa)?

Music is always playing when I work. It is a must. I don’t know if it necessarily influences the work at all. Some of my favorite artists are Radiohead, The White Stripes, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Flaming Lips and The Decemberists. There is a good chance that any one of them will be playing in my studio while I am working.

Many of your collages include Victorian images or themes. What draws you to that period?

The Victorian imagery was part of an earlier style that I no longer work in. I think at the time, I liked the idea of subverting the proper gentlemen and ladies by putting them in absurd and surreal scenarios. 

How do you come up with the clever titles for your collages?

They are all found phrases. Like the collage imagery, these phrases resonate with me and I collect them until I find the appropriate piece of art to use them with.

And finally, what art forms or artists do you wish more people knew about?

The art of talking about my work is one that I wish I knew more about.

About the Author

David Wallace

David Wallace is a collage artist, graphic designer, and musician living in Pittsburgh, PA. His work has been shown in many cities in the U.S. and oversees including Pittsburgh, Nashville, Atlanta, St.

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