Michael Anderson makes collages ranging in scale from miniature to monument, comprising found and recycled street posters. They’re so unabashedly pop that one was recently reproduced, blown up to 40 feet high and featured (with the artist’s permission) in a Target department store banner ad campaign in Times Square.
PHOTOS BY NOAH BECKER
But the 43-year-old, Bronx-born Anderson is foremost a collector of images, an index to the vast quantity of resources put toward wheatpasted street advertisements for movies and music events. His 2010 collage Red Abstraction features Benicio Del Toro’s face from the poster for Che, combined with Ashley Judd from DeLovely, dancing with Kevin Kline, playing Cole Porter. It’s all set against a background of bikini girls, a floating head, and rock stars. Anderson’s pastiche is a string of re-coded signifiers. Elsewhere, he’s remixed ads for Barack Obama’s political campaign with Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder, Wu Tang Clan and Britney Spears, in an ambivalent play on the race and class registers of their source material.
Anderson’s studio in the Striver’s Row section of Harlem, is a one-level garage, formerly a barber shop, which he calls the Harlem Collage Shop. Stack upon stack of movie, television music and miscellaneous street posters are piled up to the ceiling. On the table and makeshift shelving sits thousand of graffiti stickers collected in notebook after notebook. As we arrive he is at work at the large table that occupies the center of the room, tearing and gluing street posters together making his remarkable detailed collages. Anderson is hyper specific about where people sit or what they touch in his seemingly chaotic studio space.
NOAH BECKER: When you begin the collage works, how much drawing and/or planning do you do in advance?
MICHAEL ANDERSON: Composition is the most important thing in abstraction. We can use representational imagery in different ways to create abstraction. The overall artwork is an abstraction. The individual pieces may not be abstract but the overall picture is an abstract construction. Let’s discuss the image I made that features Snoop Dogg as an example, the one called Niggas Can’t Never Get Nothing.
BECKER: Ok then, when you take the image of Snoop Dogg from your anthropological style collecting of posters, the image of Snoop takes a new meaning when you give him five heads. Then he is shown with Britney Spears surrounded by fried chicken. Is this supposed be a non linear depiction of a white mistress and a black man? Do you think up the scenario in this piece in a deliberate manner?
ANDERSON: Yes the situation Snoop Dogg is shown in, relaxing at the dinner table with family, is thought out in a way that is more deliberate. That piece is more directed and not as abstracted as the other collages. It’s a story but it’s a non-linear story. The whole situation in that piece has Snoop with his family there and he’s got all this money and he’s got three heads. What’s happening in that picture is crazy but then there’s also this white woman there. There’s this Britney Spears thing going on the other side of the collage; she has this little dog with her. So there are visual things that relate to other aspects of the composition. That’s why it’s like a painterly process, I just make paintings with pictures from street posters.
BECKER: Your piece Red Abstraction (2010), presents Bo Derek on the lower right side? Is there a subtext that you follow in terms of what famous people appear together in your pictures?
ANDERSON: I don’t think about stuff like that for the most part. It could be but my thing is that I’m not concerned with who the people are, the composition usually means more to me than who is in it. The way the parts look together is really important to me. The way I force things in terms of scale would be impossible to accomplish in paint. Things going from small to large in repetition then layers of imagery on top of that. It’s all very complex in terms or layering and this level of precision is specific to collage in that way. I just think it’s another kind of painting, it’s a little bit different but it’s a little bit the same.
BECKER: Is there connection to the affirmative title for your show, “The Street Is My Canvas?”
ANDERSON: The thing is I decided to make my art out of a material from the street. A material that’s totally free, I would just take it and collect it and make things out of it. It took me a long time to figure it out, a long time to make the material and to really have a total grasp on it. It’s taken me a long time but the technique is quite refined now.
BECKER: In another work, Lady GaGa’s Looking Glass (2010), you have appropriated elements from other artists, not traditional mass media objects. How do these images enter into your work?
ANDERSON: David LaChapelle’s Rolling Stone cover featuring Lady GaGa is my source for this image of her. David is the best; I love him. We are friends and have some collaborative exhibitions in the works that will focus on what’s happening with collage right now. That’s mostly why I was drawn to use his image of GaGa.
BECKER: What collage artists do you consider your forbears?
ANDERSON: Romaire Bearden who lives here in Harlem, he’s like the grand master of figurative collage and Mimmo Rotaya who is like the grand master of abstract collage. They are like my grandfathers in collage. Also Ornette Coleman is one of my favorite things ever. Ornette and I really hit it off and became great friends.