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Friday, November 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

It's all coming together for collage artist

Seattle Times staff reporter

Artist interview


The collage art of John Schuh, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 29, Artemis Gallery, 3107 S. Day St., Seattle (206-323-0562 or www.artemisgallery.net.).

Sports Illustrated, masking tape and a bare wall.

For John Schuh, these were the tools of a future collage artist with a knack for creating stunning works of art out of simple subjects and scores of color photographs.

As a child growing up in Madison, Wis., Schuh would occasionally dabble in art, sketching pictures, mostly, but he never considered himself artist material. In Schuh's mind, being an artist meant having a special gift.

"As a kid, I thought I didn't have artistic skills," said Schuh, 35. "I thought it was something you had or didn't have."

One day while hanging out in his bedroom, Schuh cut out images from Sports Illustrated and began affixing them to a wall with masking tape. Even as the tape began to lift and the images pulled away from the wall, Schuh thought he might be on to something. "Even as a kid I had this collage instinct," Schuh said.

He was right.

A collection of Schuh's collages are on display at Seattle's Artemis Gallery, in the Mount Baker neighborhood, through Nov. 29.

It's a debut solo show for Schuh, who works part-time as a lawyer and devotes time on evenings and weekends to his art at the West Seattle home he shares with his wife and young son.

Collaging, the process of assembling and layering photographs or found objects to represent an idea or theme, might not have the cachet of oil painting or sculpting in the art world, but for Schuh, it's an art form he's passionate about.

The technique requires focus and patience — some of Schuh's pieces have taken several months to complete, others a few years.

The process begins with an idea. Typically, he selects a simple, straightforward subject that is universally identifiable, such as a car, a building or a flower, each of which is the focus of three of Schuh's six pieces at Artemis Gallery.

The next step is to photograph examples of the chosen topic. For his piece "The Car," Schuh shot hundreds of makes and models of automobiles and carefully cut and arranged them to build the car's bumper, hood, windshield, headlights, even surrounding roads.

For each collage, Schuh shoots about 20 roles of film, which produces 400 to 450 images. The collages are generally 40 inches by 60 inches, a size that Schuh finds works best to capture the essence of a subject. The art is striking not only for its size but also its bold, crisp colors.

In his piece "The Flower," Schuh photographed flowers in yards throughout Queen Anne and then carefully cut out each flower and pieced them together to create one large bloom.

The result is stunning; deep reds, sunny yellows and green the shade of a fresh-cut lawn pop when framed in black and set against the gallery's white walls.

One of Schuh's most popular pieces is a rendering of a New Yorker cover constructed entirely from old New Yorker covers.

While each collage represents a single subject, each piece contains so many elements that the viewer can look at it again and again and discover something new each time. Stand back and it's a flower or a tower; move in closer and the details come into focus. Schuh calls it, "active viewing."

Collages appeal to people because they are accessible, Schuh said. The viewer doesn't need a background in art history to understand and appreciate the art.

"One of the most interesting reactions that I really love is when someone will say, 'I'm not into art, but I really like yours,' " he said. "It appeals to everyday people."

Artemis Gallery owner Annabelle Richardson first saw Schuh's work several years ago when she was working at a frame shop and Schuh brought in his "New Yorker" piece for framing. Since then she kept nudging him to get a collection together for a show. There's a sophistication and humor in his work, Richardson said.

"(John's) work is so intriguing," she said, "and something I've never seen before."

Schuh is currently fleshing out ideas for future collages and figures he's got many more in him before he puts the camera down and calls it a day.

"I've got a lot of collage ideas that I want to execute," he said. "I could see doing collaging into old age."

Tina Potterf: 206-464-8214 or tpotterf@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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