Collage artist Sammy Slabbinck is like a director, placing found imagery from Mid-Century advertisements in a contemporary context. The result is a composition that meditates on the past and considers the absurdity of popular culture.
Installation Magazine: How has your background impacted your current art practice?
Sammy Slabbinck: I never went to art school. I did go to university and studied Art History for a while, but most of the courses involved memorizing dates and names, so I dropped out. It actually pushed me away from the arts. I come from a family of artists, so creativity and a penchant for aesthetics comes quite naturally to me. No school could ever replace that. I had my own art gallery for three years, which forced me to examine art and the art market from an entirely different perspective. By the time I started creating artwork myself, which happened quite late in my life, I had seen quite a few things, and had compiled a pictorial database, so to speak.
When did you first begin working in collage?
I started about two years ago. At that time I was setting up the postcard company that I still run. I was always on the lookout for nice images and then I started combining those photos and then my first collages were born. It began as something I did just for fun, but then it triggered a creative spark and I haven’t stopped since. An artist always tries to evolve. Looking back at the early pieces I made is quite strange. Trying to become better at what you do is one big journey. The more you see, the more you create, and the higher your standards become. When working with collage, the source material, alongside the technique, plays a huge role in the work that is created.
What possibilities does the collage medium present for you?
Complete freedom. No rules apply, anything goes as long as it’s coherent. And I get to spend a lot of time going through vintage magazines, which is always fun.
When did you know you were an artist?
When I first started creating, it became an obsession, I wanted to work all day and night. This is the route I must follow in order to advance my vision. I don’t think this urge to create will ever stop; it’s all about the journey to explore and to improve my skills.
What source materials do you draw from?
I’ve been collecting vintage magazines and books for a long time, even before I started using them for my work. I’ve always been attracted to the imagery from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I started going to garage sales about fifteen years ago looking for vintage furniture, but most of the time I went home with magazines and books.
Some of your pieces juxtapose the political and the absurd. What role do politics play in your work?
I don’t consider myself to be a political artist but I do like to put extra layers in my work. Sometimes it can go as far as a political satire. I do like to play around with the absurd and put some humor in my work.
Many of your pieces deal with perceptions of and depictions of female beauty. What is your relationship to the production and consumption of gender?
The female form has been an inspiration for many generations of artists. I am no exception. I like to elevate the pictures that I find in vintage men’s magazines to another level. A nude picture from the 70’s, lacking style or class, can suddenly be transformed into a sculpture when put in the right setting. I am not really interested in the pure depiction of beauty or of nudity. It’s when you add certain elements or give the body another function that the overall image can become intriguing. Sometimes showing less makes you see more.
Advertising and print media are inextricably linked. What does your collage work say about advertising culture?
Mid-Century advertisements have a certain look that appeals even up to this day. There is a sense of innocence in them that’s very inviting to work with. Putting these images out of their normal frame and juxtaposing them with modern elements can give a nice and surprising effect. The characters in these ads can function as actors in the collage. As the director, I can give them a second life by putting them in a new surreal landscape.
Your work has been published in several magazines. What has your experience been working in print media?
It’s hard sometimes to adjust your work to the needs of an article or the demands of an editor, but seeing your work in a magazine is always a thrill.
How do you know when a piece is “right?”
Structuring images is the hardest part of all. There is no real fixed strategy; it all boils down to a gut feeling. I keep trying to find new ways to create a balance between different elements. Most laws of composition can’t be ignored even in a surreal collage environment. Some collages are made instantly, while others take weeks before I find the right combination or balance. A sort of complex simplicity is usually what I aim for. The images have to interact naturally and work together to serve the bigger picture. And then at a certain point one can get lost in the image- this is a good sign to stop and call it a day.
Do you seek particular objects, images, or themes consciously or do they emerge in your work more organically?
Every collage artist has a certain style, and how one combines images happens subconsciously most of the time. I never really start out with a certain complete piece in mind. Normally one image will trigger my imagination and a story will unfold in my head. I have a photographic memory, so when I see one picture, another image I had previously encountered might come to mind. Then the tricky part is finding that image in a large stack of magazines. I have never been a big fan of very busy collages with lots of elements; I prefer to keep it clean and to the point. A collage with two layers can sometimes be much more effective than one with ten layers.
How do you hope your audience consumes the work?
I would love to see my own work for the first time, to be my own audience for a day and see what they do for me! But I hope people can enjoy them and that I can let them dream for awhile, make them smile or offer an escape from their daily routine.
What’s next for you? Do you have any shows coming up? New projects?
I plan to keep working hard! The interest in my work is slowly growing as I get more exposure. I recently had my first solo show here in Belgium which was a nice experience. I am also working on a new sort of cut and paste collage technique which is in its experimental phase, but looks promising.
All images are courtesy of the artist