16 years, 6,000 collages, 1 Montclair artist: Peter Jacobs’ extraordinary ‘Collage Journal’
By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
For more than 16 years, Montclair resident and artist Peter Jacobs has been using the day’s headlines to create pieces of art, as well as pieces of history.
Jacobs uses images and texts from each day’s newspaper to produce a colorful, vibrant collage that reflects issues of the day.
He reached a milestone on Oct. 5, having created 6,000 collages ranging from political satire to abstract landscape.
When Jacobs started “The Collage Journal” on March 31, 2005, he felt a deep polarization throughout the country.
“There were wars going on, the environment was going to hell and so on,” Jacobs, then a collagist for 40 years, said.
During breakfast one morning, his wife gave him a challenge: to create a work of art every day.
“The newspaper was sitting in front of us. She put that out. It was a perfect connection to follow through with this in a way that helped me process and gave me a way to transform the paper into something else,” he said.
“I saw I had a familiar medium to work with and to have an interaction, a dialogue with the newspaper every day visually.”
For Jacobs, creating collages using the daily newspaper that set a time in history was a way to process the news, as well as meditate on that moment in the world and on his own soul.
“One day led to another, and then a year was done. It just started to be integrated as a kind of a good habit in my life,” he said.
Each morning, Jacobs sits down and constructs, and deconstructs, his visual response and internal feelings in that morning’s newspaper, and ultimately the collage. He often uses The New York Times, but also uses local newspapers, especially those he gathers when he travels.
He goes through the paper once, and then begins cutting out different pieces. He starts assembling those pieces, and might dig again into the newspaper for other things that he thinks will work either visually or narratively. The collages take two to four hours to complete.
At first, Jacobs’ collages were political and more of a narrative. His work centered on identifiable people, places and objects, he said.
“[George W.] Bush was president, and there’s kind of ironic, satiric imagery that I created using certain elements of both Bush and his wife,” he said. “Then [Barack] Obama became president, and there’s a piece with him and the Lincoln Memorial.”
As time went by, his work became more abstract pieces of art and less political satire pieces, Jacobs said.
He is influenced by the world around him, by what is going on in his own life and the news he reads, he said. For example, when he read an article about extinction, he created an image that has a bird in a very dark background.
He said he believes the visual elements such as composition, rhythm, color, form and shape are very integral to the perception of works of visual art.
His collages are colorful and playful, far from the black, white and gray most would imagine with a newspaper. Jacobs said he approaches his art like a painting. But instead of paint, he uses newspaper, transforming it into something that wouldn’t be identified as newspaper.
“I put three things together and I realize I’m going to be looking for a certain kind of green tone, or something that mixes yellow and green. Usually, I find things that are pretty close to what I’m looking for,” he said. “If I can’t, then I work with what I have and to find a new way to work with the piece that I started.”
He uses a pH balancing spray that neutralizes the newspaper acid and applies a UV satin varnish to finish the collage. Once he is comfortable with a piece, he glues it into a 12-page Strathmore watercolor book.
On the back he uses words and headlines cut from the newspaper and adds the date.
So far, the more than 6,000 collages reside in more than 500 Strathmore books that are stored in 32 cases.
Jacobs said even with the limitations of only using newspapers in his art form, he feels a sense of freedom.
“By giving myself those limitations, I find I have freedom in a sense that I’m not burdened with all the possibilities,” he said. “So, I feel the limitations have given me a greater freedom to explore within them. In fact, after 16 years, I still find new ways to visually use the papers.”
And, he adds, there’s “something magical about taking something that would wind up in the recycling bin and transforming it into art.
“There’s some conservation and sustainability in this art form, as opposed to utilizing new sources and depleting paint that could be toxic possibly.”
Jacobs said people have been very responsive to his collages. A recent exhibition at The Hunterdon Museum in Clinton,NJ, which showed 120 pieces, 12 of every year from the first 10 years of collages, was well-received, he said.
“It’s not esoteric art. It’s not intended to be. And so everyone from 7 years old to 70 years old was engaged and enjoyed it,” he said.
Jacobs said he hasn’t decided on an end date for this series, and that possibly the newspapers will stop production before “The Collage Journal” ends.
“I can’t anticipate, I can only wake up each day and see if I can still find a fresh way to absorb myself in this process,” he said. “There’s no expiration date that I have on this.”