London artist Alice Stallard’s exhibition of collages which opened this week at Fitzrovia’s Nancy Victor Gallery has the intriguing title “Head For the Horizon, I’ll Meet You There”. This relates to the journey taken by the artist in making the artwork and the interaction with the viewer on seeing it.
Alice explains: “The pieces are about the objects that people carry with them to tell their stories by, or to bring good luck. There’s part of me in it but hopefully people can look at it and create their own stories from the work.”
Alice studied painting at Brighton University, going on to take a Masters degree at Norwich School of Art & Design, and later a teaching qualification at Goldsmiths College. She currently has a work on exhibition at Tate Britain as part of the Tate Collective Spotlight display.
Her oeuvre encompasses drawing, illustration, painting, printmaking and sculpture, but she has chosen to exhibit new collages. This is particularly appropriate as there is a local connection with the birth of collage (from the French coller: to glue) around a hundred years ago. It was Picasso and Braque, no one is exactly sure who made the first snip, who first experimented with the process in 1912.
Around this time critic and artist Roger Fry — the principal figure behind the design enterprise of the Bloomsbury Group the Omega Workshops at 33 Fitzroy Square in 1913 — gave fragments of decorative wallpaper to his grateful pal Picasso, who would use them in his early collages.
The starting point of the works is a small physical object which Alice photographs and prints on to a sheet of archival paper in monotone. This might be a prism that her father gave her; an exquisite milagro (the religious folk charms used as votive offerings in Mexico) in the shape of a heart; a toy tiger or any other talismanic item small enough to hold in the hand and fit in a pocket. They have a history and a resonance for Alice, which is passed on to others, for them to respond to and interpret. Part of the human condition is that we collect things, and Alice has no shortage of source material, having accumulated a fascinating collection of ephemera, toys, small sculptures and models, each selected for both its visual appeal and its unique back-story.
Alice then collages images around the object, playing with scale and colour, sometimes adding a screenprinted element, to create a new narrative. Figurative collages almost inevitably have a surreal quality due to the juxtaposition of images that are often unrelated in size and subject, what André Breton described as “The chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”.
The themes of the works echo this: everything from Muhammad Ali morphing into a boxer to butterflies turning into a fighter plane as they pass through a prism. As well as the original item, the donor material often has special meaning for Alice: “A picture over 20 years old suddenly has its moment”. In some cases these are pictures she has had since childhood, making the collage even more significant.
The textural qualities of the donor images are also an important element: papers from different periods have a very different feel when stuck down. There is a major contrast between the edge of an old banknote that has travelled around the word, a cheap paper bag and an old magazine. Some pieces will be mounted on wooden blocks, rather than framed behind glass, so these tactile qualities are retained and can be experienced by visitors.
Alice’s family has connections with the West End dating back to the 1960s when her parents lived in Gerard Street, in a flat above a drinking club, in Soho’s Chinatown area, as students, staying until 1975. They loved this area, and her architect father, Robert Stallard’s interest extended to writing his dissertation about the then fast changing urban landscape of Soho. He compiled a map detailing many of the premises in the area, offering everything from delicatessen to delights of the flesh, and took photographs documenting the disappearing old shops and businesses.
The prospect of exhibiting in an area linked to her family history is very important to Alice, and echoes the story telling and folkloric aspects of her work. It gives her an opportunity to create her own history in Fitzrovia by showing where her heroes lived and socialised, and make her contribution to the great artistic heritage of the area, following in the footsteps of Duncan Grant, Nina Hamnett, Augustus John, Johnny Minton and so many others.