Piece signs

Collage exhibit assembles symbols and archetypes from scraps of paper

“Shaman Bear”

“Shaman Bear”

Paper Art by Molly Amick shows through Jan. 31 at Has Beans. Reception: Saturday, Jan. 14, 5-7 p.m.
Has Beans Coffee & Tea
501 Main St.

Type the words “collage definition” into the ever-reliable Google search engine and hit the return key and the first response that comes up is: “a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric onto a backing.” Sounds innocently prosaic, like a grade school arts and crafts activity designed to use up a surplus of Elmer’s glue and keep idle hands busy.

In the hands of a genuine artist, however, collage can be one of the most surreal forms of visual art. The juxtaposition of mass-produced images in ways never intended, nor even conceived of, by the original creators was explored by innovators such Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque as early as 1912, and brought to the forefront of the surrealist movement by master collagists Max Ernst and Man Ray in the 1920s.

But collage is neither a dead nor dying art form. The coming of glue sticks (partnered with X-Acto knives) in the 1970s followed by Photoshop and myriad other digital image-manipulation software programs in our digitally dominated era has made collage-making so commonplace as to become nearly universal (and consequently unnoticeable) in commercial and promotional art. Take a look at band fliers from the past 30 years and you’ll find copious examples.

So it was refreshing to walk into the cozy and aromatic confines of Has Beans Coffee & Tea in downtown Chico and discover the very contemporary and innovative art of Molly Amick adorning the walls above the two-seater tables. Amick’s art takes collage-making to places that appreciators of modern art will find eerily familiar and simultaneously refreshing and novel.

Her technique is to utilize images snipped from vintage cocktail napkins worked into assemblages that depict scenes evoking archetypal shamanistic visions. As Amick puts it in her artist statement: “I’m excited by the spirit of the natural world and the mystical elements of gods and goddesses and all those ancestors who came before us.”

In “Shaman Bear,” a bear-headed skeletal figure is symmetrically flanked by twin black bears within a circle of golden light in a scene suggesting a forest formed of pillars reflected in a pool adorned with butterflies and fish and Celtic symbols. The predominantly blue hues of the image lend an air of mystic serenity to the piece.

“Ornithos” uses symmetrical design elements ranging from decorative Día de los Muertos skulls, multicolored butterflies, clouds, sunflowers and honeycombs to frame a sparrow-headed, skeletal-bodied central figure. Magenta, lime green and orange hues give the image a lively sense of energy that is evocative of positive contemplation of life’s infinite mysteries.

In “Bon Voyage,” the central skeletal figure this time retains a human skull, with a raven seated on its shoulder. The background of the figure is formulated from scraps of indecipherable text, reminiscent of antique cartography, while the foreground is dominated by luxuriantly fluffy red poppies with an orange butterfly complementing the stately posture of the raven. The effect is surreal, tranquil and compellingly ambiguous.

As Amick said to me, her art is meant to encourage personal interpretation. “Art is akin to poetry for me—layers of feelings sometimes hidden until they appear on the page and take their form.”