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  • John Schuh
  • John Schuh
  • John Schuh
  • John Schuh
  • John Schuh

John Schuh

Posted by Marie on March 17, 2010 at 03:45 PM

While the majority of collage artists still love to use the aging hipster’s back catalogue - B-movies, psychedelic imagery, obscure underground material - as their main source of inspiration to open the viewers third eye, Seattle based John Schuh strictly uses his own photography for his images that are brooding integrations of mind and matter. For some of his collages he photographs a single subject from a variety of angles, the background of The Flag for example, is composed of about 150 pictures of the downtown Seattle Public Library. For The Car he used a single photo as a template for the entire piece. As unusual and different his approach might be, the result is equally unlike anything you've seen before. Lodown had the chance to talk to the modest artist in early November 2009.

Unlike the very majority of collage artists, you're using your own photos only... how do you choose the topics you're working with? And do you already have an idea about what the result will look like when you start?

I'm just reflecting the world around me. What are we surrounded by? Cars, buildings, plants, water. The Flag was definitely a reaction to the media, especially television. Between news coverage of the Iraq War and the 2004 presidential election, I felt like I was being inundated with images of the flag, so in 2005 I made my own version. Sometimes I will base the overall design of a piece on one of the individual photos that I've taken to use as collage material. For instance, The Car is based on a photo of a 1975 Thunderbird. I started photographing cars and chose that particular photo as a template for the whole piece. For a piece like The Car, I make a detailed pencil drawing first to lay the collage material over. Other pieces are entirely improvised, or based on a very simple drawing. For Office Building, all I drew before assembling the collage was a large circle. For Cannon Beach, I simply drew the horizontal line.

Do you shoot digitally or do you still prefer to work with film?
Now I'm shooting digitally, but when I shot on film, I always developed the photos right away, so I still have stacks of film photos on the shelves of my studio, ready to use in new collages. I have also started printing the digital photos...  for a time I was just saving my digital shots onto CDs or my hard drive. So, at this point, I'm working with a mixture of digital and film images.

Would you say there's a narrative side to your work or is it mainly about aesthetics?

From the standpoint of creating the work, it's mostly about aesthetics, but the audience will find a narrative whether one is intended or not. I think I might be in the process of discovering my own narrative. It's only becoming clear to me as my body of work grows.

Finding a topic, shooting hundreds of photos for the collage... how long do you usually work on a picture? And did you ever look at one of your pictures and decide that it was actually too beautiful/special to use for a collage?
When I was working as a lawyer and creating art in my spare time, I spent months on each piece. Cannon Beach, for instance, was created over a period of about 10 months. Now I sometimes create a small piece in a day or two.
It has crossed my mind that particular photos are so beautiful that it's a shame to use them as collage material, but I decided long ago that the pieces have to serve the whole. Usually cutting the photo makes it even stronger and more interesting anyway.

For a couple of collages you used vintage comics... please tell me a bit about these projects.
The comics are mostly a nostalgic thing for me. It is interesting to see how comics have changed over the years. The newer ones are more like magazines, with a single image sometimes taking up an entire glossy page, rather than having each page divided into six or eight panels. Superman has evolved from a more or less regular-sized strongman into a hyper-muscled body builder like Arnold Schwarzenegger. For Slamdunk! I used the vintage panels as the background, with mostly larger, glossier material from recent comics going into the figure of Dr. J dunking the ball. Dr. J's hair is made from Superman's muscles. I based the piece on a late-1970s ad for Spalding basketballs that I remembered seeing and really liking as a kid. I think it's important to hold onto images that resonate with you in your childhood.

Continue reading on next page.

John Schuh

What do the cards hold in 2010 for Mr. Schuh?
I can't see into the future, but I am feeling very productive right now, having just finished the construction of my home studio.  

Regarding your family name I have to ask (of course) if you have German ancestors?
Yes.  The German branch of my family came to Chicago from Prussia and Bavaria in the late 1860s.

What made you decide to move from Wisconsin to Seattle?
A career opportunity for my wife.

And since we almost made it through 2009, here's a little Top10 mania for you:

Best Songs 2009
Wilco is my favourite album from 2009. What I've been listening to the most, though, are the live Miles Davis records from the early '70s, like Live Evil, Dark Magus, and Pangaea.

Most inspiring artists 2009
The art event that stands out in my mind from the past year is "13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol Screen Tests." Original music by Dean and Britta, performed live with the screen tests projected behind them. It was an interesting and moving performance that I'm glad I saw.

10 Things you loved about Seattle in 2009
Seattle is such a beautiful city, and very hilly, so there are great views from all over the place. Everywhere you look, there are mountains, water, the harbour, the downtown skyline or the neighbourhoods spread out on the hillsides. Smith Tower is one of my favourite buildings. It was Seattle's first skyscraper. It has a prominent place in the skyline, right at the edge of Pioneer Square, which is the older part of downtown. I also love Alki Beach, Lincoln Park, and the sculpture park that the Seattle Art Museum created a few years ago. The International Fountain is always a thrill. It's designed so you can walk down into it and get wet, if you want. I love taking my kids to the zoo and the aquarium. Seattle really is a wonderful place to live in.

words. Forty

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