Shirley Moskowitz’s most imaginative and individualistic work included her numerous collages. She began working in the medium in the 1960s, when, as Sam Gruber has written in an essay reproduced in full on this site, she
began tearing up water- colors and putting them back together to make paper collages. Many of her first works, such as Nautical Abstraction (c. 1961), utilized a multi-layered technique in which the primary picture surface was cut in places to allow images to appear behind, while an overlay of applied paper and other materials built out the picture surface. The primary images of these works were still executed in watercolor, with collage acting as a highlight, adding texture and depth. With collage, Moskowitz also created highly detailed realistic landscapes, usually based on on-site sketches or watercolors from her diverse materials for the collage is astonishing, and adds a rich surface. Another series of imaginative collages utilizes hundreds of cut pieces of paper to create a single image, and each piece of paper itself contained a smaller image-either photographic or drawn.
Her work become more elaborate, fanciful and intense after she began spending six months of the year in Italy, from the early 1980s.
Through the mixed media of print, painting and collage, these works document-in much the way –a medieval book of hours did-the seasons and festivals that pervade Italian rural and small town life throughout the year. Into this setting, in a whimsical way, Moskowitz has increasingly superimposed her own life and history, incorporating images of friends and family at what otherwise would be remote and exotic events. Unlike an ethnographer who strives to distance herself from the subject of her study as Moskowitz often did in her landscapes and cityscapes through the 1970s–she now fully immerses herself in her subject, blurring the line between familiar and exotic, past and present, family and strangers. In Moskowitz’s recent work family is extended–both to unknown people, and to distant and historic settings. The process of personal integration involves no homogenization – quite the contrary, as Moskowitz scenes are active to a degree of discordance. Like the cacophony of a Brueghel village scene, everything is included and anything is acceptable.
She described the process: …All of my subsequent collages, in contrast to those I did prior to 1978, are based on personal experience and are a controlled mixture of a variety of texture and media, composed in such a way as to affect the viewer from a distance while at the same time inviting him to participate in the action-to experience through color, dynamic contrasts of light and dark, textures and techniques, a reality that may seem fantastic but is still real.” On technique, she explained: “1 tore up three monotypes which I had done of sheep and reassembled the pieces interspersed with cut photos I had taken of the shepherd, thus creating the collage Pastorale ltaliana (1987). This was followed by Processione (1987), based on a procession of the Madonna which I had photographed in southern Italy. Carefully composed and printed as a monotype, it was then embellished with bits and pieces of photos, linoprints, and old chamois rag, sandpaper, a 500-1ire note, and even a gold chain.” Beginning with those works Moskowitz has turned out a steady stream of remarkable compositions – each a full world of its own. These works, which are so full of images and bustle with life, are the result of a long deliberative process-far more complex and time consuming than Moskowitz herself suggests in her description. In most cases, each work is rooted in a real place which the artist knows, has visited, and has drawn. Her sketches are worked up to full scale drawings, then redrawn in ink on glass and printed as monoprints. The monoprint provides the scaffolding on which the collage is built. The placement of each item is planned, and often anticipated before the mono- print is made. Slowly, the surface of the monoprint is built up in collage, often amplified by a bit of watercolor work or pen and ink. The print is layered, adding surface depth to the perspective already incorporated into the original drawn scene. Worked into this assemblage – either as active participants or ephemeral onlookers – are images of neighbors, friends and relatives.
We are only slowly beginning to post Shirley’s collages here. One reason for this is the difficulty in obtaining good photographs of them — most of the major works are framed under glass so cannot be photographed easily; others are in scattered collections. We do have images of some of the collages as unfinished works in progress, and we may post some of them.
Click picture to enlarge image