Cecil Touchon fits into a lot of categories, but would you expect anything else from the founder of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction, who spent the early part of his career as a member of Fluxus in New York City? Three works from his “Post Dogmatist Painting” series will be on view in September at Lanoue Fine Art, 450 Harrison Ave. #31, Boston. Artscope managing editor Brian Goslow “Cornered” Touchon by phone at his studio in his new home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
TELL ME ABOUT THE WORK THAT’LL BE ON DISPLAY AT LANOUE FINE ART …
Cecil Touchon: These three particular
paintings that I’m sending up right now, which the gallery selected out of about 10 that were available, happened to all have an underlayment of paper from antique 1880s Webster’s Dictionary pages. That’s not particularly important, because it could be any paper, but since my work, at the moment, is based completely on typography using pre-existing type faces, then chopping those up and arranging them into abstract designs, it’s a refer- ence to the whole idea of language and how language can be broken down into visual language that’s not really literary, it’s visual.
WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
CT:A lot of my work is kind of in a continuum. What I do is, I produce works on paper first, like a small collage, often with found material, or more recently, with a lot of my work, I actually fabricate the papers myself and then manipulate them and chop them up and use them as the grist for the mill, so to speak. After I make the studies, the collages, then I photograph them, put them on the computer, and then, depending on the proportion of the painting, I alter the proportions of the collage image digitally so I can easily mark the composition out onto the canvas or panel. By the time I get to the painting, at least the composition of it is pretty clear. Once the painting starts, the actual surface manipulation and that sort of thing, that’s where it becomes the painting and not the study.
HOW DID THIS ALL BEGIN?
CT: I started this idea of chopped-up lettering pieces in 1999. It was based on when we first moved out to central
Mexico and drove through Mexico City at two in the morning. They have a lot of big, massive billboards along the highway going through Mexico City. When the advertiser doesn’t pay their monthly bill, or their subscription is up, instead of painting over it, they just go and rearrange all the panels of the sign so that it’s just a big jumble.
I thought they were really cool looking. Plus, I didn’t speak Spanish, so it was converted away from a foreign language into becoming the visual language that I was already familiar with. When I looked at these big, massive panels of just chopped- up letters that had been rearranged by 4 x 8 sheets of plywood or whatever they’re on, I told my wife, “You know what? In the future, people are going to see those and they’re going to say, ‘There’s a Touchon.’” I said that’s going to be my new style.
HOW DID YOU TAKE THE IDEA OF THE REARRANGED SIGNS AND MAKE IT INTO SOMETHING YOUR OWN?
CT: At first, I tried to find the real signage material to work with. At a certain point, I decided, why would I do that when I can just work at a smaller scale and then just make the paintings and not worry about the original materials, which is what I eventually decided to do from about 1999 to 2004, when I first started making the paintings of the collages — which was kind of an odd idea itself. I had to work out my whole aesthetic of how do I convert this image into a painting but still retain the information from the collage so that you can understand why all the parts are put together a certain way
HOW DO THEY CHANGE WHEN THEY BECOME A LARGE-SCALE PAINTING?
CT: Once the image is drawn onto the panels, I use a lot of sanding techniques
and abrasion to kind of give a feel of a built-in natural history to the thing — which of course, is being fabricated — but it helps to convey the sense of the original papers. Then, the paintings themselves become more fleshed-out in terms of shading and the color relationships and that sort of thing.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE PLACE OF COLLAGE AND ASSEMBLEGE IN TODAY’S ART WORLD?
CT: Collage and assemblage is the dominant art form at this point because, basically, all film, advertising and how everything works on TV is basically a big collage of jumbled ideas that aren’t even related to each other. We’re living in a collage world, and the whole Internet’s just a big assemblage or collage. When you’re just moving from one random image to another, that’s a kind of collage way of looking at the universe, it’s just a patchwork of disparate things that don’t even belong together.
DO YOU EVER GO TO SHOWS AND LISTEN IN ON PEOPLE’S INTERPRETATIONS OF YOUR WORK?
CT: Yes, and it’s interesting because most people’s ways of looking at anything is kind of like how people make faces out of clouds that are floating by. It’s not really about the cloud, it’s about whatever imaginary thing that they dream up. People bring to it what’s already in their head — and you can’t really prevent that.
(To read the complete Cecil Touchon “Cornered,” please visit our online zine at zine.artscopemagazine.com).