Whitehot Magazine

Book Review: Devandalized: 1987-2017

HOPE, ENTANGLED, 2014, stickers and signaling tape from NYC on canvas 48” x 48”, 122 x 122 cm.

By STEPHEN WOZNIAK May, 2023

Devandalized: 1987-2017

By Egon Zippel
Introduction by Evan Senn
Foreword by Noah Becker
264 Pages
Artvoices Art Books Publishing 2023
 

“Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance upon a plane, which, apparently, does not suit them.”  – Max Ernst
 

“In the 1930s, the poster was called the newspaper of the street, something that really reflected society. And what I realized at the time was that the posters, as an art form, were always going to evolve and so there would always be something new to explore.” – Jacques Villeglé

 

“I don't know why we, in the art world, cannot unpack things and sort of make hybrid notions of a practice. We're very rigid. It's funny, though; in music, we have no problem sampling, mixing, and remixing. But in the art world, why can't we take little parts of history and mix it together?” – Mark Bradford

 

As you can surmise from the above quotes, collage imparts a different meaning and use for every artist who incorporates it in their work. For some, it helps allude to imperative personal dream states, while to others; it may refract social mores or even smash-cut history. And so, it goes for Egon Zippel.

After the invention of paper in 200 B.C. China, the use of collage has been employed in worldwide creative cultures for everything from Japanese calligraphic page construction and Gothic cathedral leafing to hobbyist memorabilia assembly and Victorian photo pastiche practices. It developed in the way we recognize today, however, through the deceptively naive, yet masterful efforts of a select few Dadaists, Cubists and Surrealists of early twentieth century Modern Art.

Georges Braque was among the first in this later effort, applying faux wood grain to his charcoal drawings, while his contemporary Pablo Picasso began using fabrics and news headlines in his paintings by the 1920s. One thing led to another and artists like Hannah Höch, Max Ernst and Jean Arp made collage, frottage and decalomania all centerpiece techniques that enabled them to criticize oppressive government leadership, gender inequality and crass commercial marketing, among other social issues, in their work.

 

 OBEY, 2011, Stickers and poster fragments from NYC on canvas 48” x 72”, 122 x 182 cm.
 

About a dozen years later in the 1940s, Nouveau Réalisme artist Jacques Villeglé recognized the layered, mounting wasteland of advertising posters, handbills and news circulars on walls across the streets of Paris. His about-face choice was to deconstruct – or décollage – these effective records, not so much to “oppose their political or commercial subject,” but create “the anonymous tear” that revealed interesting composition, word association and color anew. His intention was to elevate it to the level of art, however high or low it may hang in our cultural consciousness.

Contemporary Romania-born German artist Egon Zippel lies directly in the lineage of these pivotal creators, yet his work is as different as the times from which he came to the places he continues to go. There are now greater concerns on earth today: population density, consumer culture, electronic communications, urban dwellings, travel modes, wants, wastes and worries. They can easily overwhelm us, yet they can also greatly inspire, as they have for Zippel over the course of his more-than-three-decade, multimedia arts career.

His special mode of “devandalizing” collage work as well as “Polaroid” drawings make up a large part of his new book, Devandalized: 1987-2017, now available. As a sturdy visual record of both his studio practice and voluminous output, we get the added bonus of a poignant essay about Zippel by curator Evan Senn and a few words by the artist about his approach and craft.

 

 

ÜBER-TAG II (THE Original), 2016, Stickers from NYC on canvas, 20” x 20”, 50 x 50 cm

Since 2011, Zippel has collected and organized thousands of posted stickers from the walls of Berlin, New York, Milan, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and dozens of international cities. Unlike cinema posters or printed news items, the stickers assert themselves as a cultural declaration; from the adoration of pop star Morrissey, or Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant, to “Love Me” tagger graffiti and even failed investment bank giant Goldman Sachs. Zippel arranges and shapes these parted or whole stickers in his beautifully composed “paintings” series with additional spoked and writhing signaling tape and acrylic paint backgrounds on canvas. The wide exhibition view of these works show us that the metaphoric and literal connections among the pieces act as a network, giving viewers the idea that the many voices shouting from the streets have a team that relays the messages, forms and folly that Zippel urgently needs to deliver.

 DIRTY BK, 2016, Stickers and signaling tape from NYC on canvas 20” x 20”, 50 x 50 cm.

The other part of Devandalized features hundreds of tiny, intriguing, and almost autonomic “Polaroid” drawings that Zippel has obsessively created since 1987 to capture true, discrete moments of his experience. But unlike photographic Polaroids, Zippel can and often edits “reality by adding or eliminating information from a chosen scene. I can draw parallels. I can choose to record different slices of reality, and work with text, concepts, and associations.” In the vein of the Surrealists, he also makes many of these drawings with closed eyes and even while driving down the Autobahn freeway, dampening some senses and intensely alerting the others in order to make his art. Largely drawn in blue or black ink, some of these little works act as written notes, while others assist the development of larger works later executed on canvas. But, in the end, they help Zippel achieve a level of freedom, ironically, in a single size and media, “In a world with an abundance of technical possibilities, it is immensely rewarding to limit myself to a very restricted format.” I must say that many of these adorable, earnest, child-like efforts give viewers a feel for the sincere and playful nature of the artist that may be less apparent in the paintings. It could be their scribbled, yielding quality or simply that they offer an inside look of the artist’s ideas and sense perception all at once, exposing a certain vulnerability.

Ultimately, Devandalized: 1987-2017 is a significant book about a compelling artist’s process and practice. Not quite a tome to be followed by a dense sequel in a few decades, but certainly a comprehensive view for a long night of looking, learning and lounging by the coffee table. 

Devandalized: 1987-2017 can be purchased from www.artvoicesbooks.com and at bookstores everywhere. WM

 

Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

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