Research and Reflection – Photomontage

Some notes on Photomontage and prominent photomontage artists..

Photomontage was borne out of the Dada movement in Berlin in 1916. Dada was started in Zurich Switzerland where a small group of artists and activists had gathered during the first world war. They used their creativity to to protest against the war, using irony, satire and improvisation to shock the public into recognising the contradictions of ‘civilised’ and ‘rational’ Europeans slaughtering each other in war. Dada art typically shows contempt for the established order and is often called ‘anti-art’.

Berlin dadaists were more politically orientated and had revolutionary social change in Germany as one of their main goals. John Heartfield (originally called Helmut Herzfelde) created one of the first photomontages for the cover of catalog for the ‘First International Dada Fair’. Photomontage was subsequently used a lot by Dada artists.

Photomontage was also used a lot by Russian Constructivists. The Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate in 1917 due to failures during the first world war. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, took control in late 1917. Russian civil war followed from 1918 – 1920, between the Red Army (the Bolsheviks) and allied governments supported Whites. The Whites ultimately failed and the Bolsheviks established a communist state (maintained through the suppression of dissent by violence and intimidation).

The Bolsheviks used propoganda posters to ‘sell’ communism to the people. New artistic styles were required for the new utopian society. Constructivism built on the previous abstract style of Suprematism. (Suprematism was devised around 1915 by Kasimir Malevich and used blocks of colour a ‘non-objective’ style of baring no representational relationship to the natural world. The term suprematism relates to “supremacy of pure feeling in creative art”).

The Constructavist style tied art to the industrial world, rejected self-expression and therefore fitted well with revolutionary propaganda. Graphic designers became artistic leaders.

Constructavists such as Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko produced propaganda posters, designs for workers clothes and designs for government buildings.

In Russia, photography was revered because of its ability to produce depersonalized images which married well with communist collective ideals. Photomontage was therefore a natural tool for the Constructavist artists.


John Heartfield

One of the Berlin Dadaists but best known for his later political art photomontages created from 1930 to 1938 exposing facism and the Third Reich.



Hannah Hoch

Hannah Hoch was another Berlin Dadaists who used Photomontage. Höch explored the concepts of gender and the ‘New Woman’ in Germany society, presenting complex discussions around gender and identity.

Hannah Höch. German, 1889-1978
Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands). 1919-1920
Photomontage and collage with watercolor, 44 7/8 x 35 7/16” (114 x 90 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2006 Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin,
© 2006 Hannah Höch / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: Jörg P. Anders, Berlin

Marlene (1920)

Alexander Rodchenko

A Russian Constructivist of the 1920s who used photomontage.

An advertisement for the Lengiz Publishing House sometimes titled “Books”, which features a young woman with a cupped hand shouting “книги по всем отраслям знания” (Books in all branches of knowledge), printed in modernist typography.

Varvara Stepanova

A Russian Constructavist.

On the lower left of her poster, under the phrase “through red glasses” (i.e. the world as seen by Bolsheviks), she drew three figures dressed in her prozodezhda (workers) costumes. The gender of the central, female figure is discernible only by the rounded line of her jaw and the slight fullness of her short hair. Their four anti-revolutionary white counterparts appear on the right side, dressed in upper-class clothes. Here the lone woman is strongly differentiated from the men, with round breasts, a tiny waist and wide hips. The female icon of those who see through red glasses is a productive worker no longer confined by conventional signs of femininity.

Later photomontage was adopted by surrealists who brought together disparate images to reflect the workings of the subconcious mind.


Untitled 1976 Linder born 1954 Purchased 2007

Untitled 1976 Linder born 1954 Purchased 2007

Annagret Soltau

– Mutter/Tochter – mit Großmutter und Urgroßmutter

“In these pictures I unite four generations of the female line of my family, who represent a female chain. I began with my daughter and ended with her great-grandmother. As a contrast to the patriarchal system of inheritance, I wanted to show the matrilineal connection and the interaction between the generations: the young girl already has the old body, and the old woman still has the young body inside her. The aim is to ensure that this painful process remains visible.”



Exhibitions – World Illustration Awards 2017

This was the first time I had seem an exhibition of illustrations and I was quite bowled over by it! The range of styles and techniques, the riot of colour, the humour and wit was all amazing! I was struck by how, in daily life, I am surrounded by these incredible illustrations and I barely notice – there were images on display that had been created as editorial work for newspapers which probably would have been glanced at by most people before the paper was tossed into the recycling.  I now have a whole new appreciation for illustrative work!

For me, it was also a great privilege to be able to read a little about how the artists created their work and the techniques they used. It was particularly noticeable how much of the work was wholly or partially digital.  I particularly enjoyed watching a timelapse video of a digital illustration being created, starting with a hand drawn pencil sketch that was scanned in and then coloured in using Photoshop. Something I am going to have to try myself!

These were the stand out pieces for me:

Tony Rodriguez – Bill Murray: Mark Twain Prize

I particularly like the pen and ink style of this illustration, in particular the creation of texture on the skin using fine pen lines. I also like the ‘busy’ background. There are more details about the image are artist here.

Richard Allen – Wave

This image was created as a cover image for Sunday Telegraph Money section. It took me a little while to understand what I was looking at but when I realised it was  Trump’s hair taking the place of Hokusai’s Great Wave – I thought it was genius! Given how Trump’s bellicose rhetoric  is threatening the stability of the Korean peninsula at the moment I thought this was an incredibly clever and witty image.

Oivind Hovland – Skaanevik Fjord Hotel

I really liked this child-like illustration of life around the hotel. I liked it’s ‘busy’ nature with  lots going on and lots to look at. I also really liked how there is so much detail packed into the image but it is using simple shapes and a simple colour palette. More details here.

Alice Yu Deng – Tashirojima: The Cat Island

I have to confess that I probably really like this because I like cats and I like Japan 🙂 That said, I do like images where there is quite a lot going on and I enjoyed looking at the sunbathing cats in their different poses. I also thought this was a very clever way to depict the Japanese ‘cat island’ where cats and people live in harmony. More details here.

Sam Pierpoint – Visit Bristol Christmas Campaign

This model wasn’t actually on display at the exhibition but I saw it on the website and thought it was beautiful. More details here.


Exhibitions – Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

The Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum (seen August 2017) displayed works from the last 30 years of Hokusai’s life when he is considered to have produced some of his most memorable works. Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is widely regarded as one of Japan’s most famous and influential artists, producing works right up until his death at the age of 90.

About Hokusai

At the age of 18, Hokusai was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings. Shunshō, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors who were popular in Japan’s cities at the time.

Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This change of subject marked a significant change in the ukiyo-e style and in Hokusai’s career.

Hokusai was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. In 1820, Hokusai changed his name to “Iitsu. It was during the 1820s that Hokusai reached the peak of his career. His most famous work, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, dated from this period. Among the other popular series of prints he published during this time are A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces and Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces. He also began producing a number of detailed individual images of flowers and birds.

Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo Period in Japan’s cities into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals.

My thoughts on the Exhibition

It was wonderful to see Hokusai’s beautiful prints ‘in person’, especially the very famous ‘Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa’ (smaller than I thought it would be!).

However, for me the stars of the show where the pieces that Hokusai created at the end of his life, particularly the ‘Old Tiger in the Snow’ and the dragon emerging from storm clouds. Although there is some speculation that his daughter Oi may have assisted in creating these works, they are incredibly delicate and detailed. His tiger seems to be full of joy, bouncing through the snow, and his dragon, emerging from storm clouds, with it’s almost human face, is full of life and movement.

I also particularly liked all of his images of birds and animals as they were full of life and personality.  For example, in the image ‘Weeping Cherry and Bull Finch’ the finch is not sitting passively on the cherry branch but is hanging almost upside down.

What really stood out for me with a lot of the works on display, was the sense of fun and joy in the images. I was quite surprised to see images of laughing ghosts and cartoon-like ‘manga’ figures. The images were all beautiful, delicate and a joy to see.

Some Notes on the Colour Wheel

The colour wheel arranges different colour hues around a circle. Three primary colours are placed at equally spaced points around the circle. When two primary colours are mixed, they create a secondary colour. Mixing a primary and secondary colours creates tertiary colours.

There are two important colour models, which have different primary colours and therefore different colour wheels:

Additive Colour:

Additive colour is based on how coloured light behaves and combines to form different colours. It is important in digital media or stage lighting. Primary additive colours will combine to form white.

The primary colours in the additive colour model are red, green and blue (RGB). Secondary colours are cyan, magenta and yellow.

Subtractive Colour:

Subtractive colour is based on how coloured pigments, such as paint behave. Artists typically use a traditional subtractive colour model, such as Itten’s colour wheel, where the subtractive primary colours are red, yellow and blue. Primary subtractive colours will combine to form black.

Printers use a more accurate CMYK colour model where the primary colours are cyan, magenta and yellow.

Complimentary colours are those positioned opposite each other in the colour wheel (which colour model??) These colours effectively cancel each other out so are said to have the most contrast.

My own experiments with colour mixing using watercolour paints (subtractive colour). Alchemy!


Itten’s Colour Theory

Some notes on Itten’s Colour Theory..

Johannes Itten (1888 – 1967) was a Swiss expressionist painter, teacher, designer and theorist,  associated with the Bauhaus school. He worked extensively in exploring the use and composition of colour.

A synopsis of his book ‘The Art of Colour’, published in 1961, is below:


Itten developed a number of theories regarding the use of colour and how colours are perceived, including:

Colour Effect

How a colour is perceived depends on how it interacts with the colours around it. colours effectively influence each other.

Subjective Timbre

How a colour is perceived depends to some extent on how the viewer interprets it..

7 Types of Colour Contrast

Contrast of Hue: The contrast between colours where hues are clearly differentiated from each other. This is most prominent between the primary colours. As colours start to be mixed, their hues move closer to each other and this contrast is diminished.

Contrast of Light and Dark: The constrast between how light and dark colours are. Black and white have the greatest contrast here.

Contrast of Warm and Cold: The contrast between warmer reds, oranges and yellows and cooler blues, purples  and greens. How warm or cool a colour appears also depends on how it is affected by the colours around it. (A violet next to blue may seem warm but next to red may seem cooler).

Complementary Contrast: Contrast between colours which are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Simultaneous Contrast: The effect that a colour can have on its neighbours whereby the eye perceives the neighbouring colour to have a hint of the complimentary colour of the initial colour. This effect can make a black placed next to a red look slightly green.

Contrast of Saturation: contract between pure, intense colours and ‘diluted’ colours created by adding white, black, grey or a complimentary colour.

Contrast of Extension: The extent to which a colour a used. much of it is present. Balance is achieved when the brilliance of a colour is matched with the extent to which it is used. For example, yellow has more brilliance than purple. Using less yellow and more purple will create balance.

Colour Harmony

Colour harmony refers to creating colour themes by using colours that are related to each other on the colour wheel.:

Dyads: Two colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Triads: Three colours selected from equidistant points on the colour wheel.

Tetrads: Two pairs of complimentary colours on the colour wheel whose connecting diameters are perpendicular to each other.

Spatial Effects of Colours

Certain colours placed together give the impression of some colours advancing and some retreating, The background on which colours are viewed also contributed to this effect. For eaxample light tones on a dark background advance forward. Warm colours often advance next to cool colours which sem to retreat.

Colour Expression Theory

The mental and emotional effect that a colour may have when paired with other colours, e.g. yellow and orange denotes warmth and the sun, yellow and red is a very vibrant and loud combination, yellow and white is more subdued.




Graphic Designers – Paula Scher

Paula Scher is an American graphic designer born in 1948. In 1972 she started her career at CBS records working in the advertising department. Two years later she moved to Atlantic Records where she became art director and designed album covers. Several years later she moved back to CBS to work as art director for the covers department.

In 1984 she co-founded Koppel & Scher producing identities, packaging, book jackets, and advertising. In 1991, she joined Pentagram as a partner.

In addition to her commercial work, she creates and exhibits large, hand-drawn maps covered in handwritten text.

I particularly like her bright, bold, flat colours and busy images with lots of text.  I like how there is a sense that she ‘draws’ with the text. There is a sense of a Victorian poster loaded with writing with some of her work.  I really like her hand-drawn maps. There is so much text that it is very engaging to look at.

Interesting Things – Nick Tankard

I saw a print of this illustration recently by Nick Tankard and was overawed by the detail in it. The image is made up of the tiniest fine ink lines. It must take countless hours to produce. I would never have that level of patience (even if I had the skill to create something like that!). I thought the resulting light and shade in the image was amazing.

Nick Tankard: Place Charles De Gaulle, Paris

There are more illustrations from the artist on his website here: