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Paste Up

In all her years of studying the great artists throughout history, Jackson Heights resident Susan Breitsch has taken something from each one of them – literally.

For nearly the past decade, Breitsch has been cutting images out of art books and arranging them into collages that appear as mosaic pieces of art history.

Sometimes Breitsch Photoshops the picture to slightly manipulate it. She then adds some paint to the collage and pastes it onto an archival board, which is made of durable materials and is used by museums for preserving artwork. While the entire portrait takes on an amusing tone, the title of each work carries a more sobering resonance.

For example, in “Two-Timer,” the figure of a woman is composed of images from the works of prominent 20th-century artists. The head of the woman is by Pablo Picasso, the blouse is by Robert Motherwell, the arms are by Philip Guston and the skirt is by Andy Warhol. With the woman pulling out a plug of a television set, the collage seems to parody contemporary culture.

Breitsch insists otherwise. “When I do these collages, I start with no idea, no preconception. I don’t want to prescribe anything to the viewer. I hope that there’s an entryway into them for people who don’t recognize the art imagery. I hope there is another layer,” she said. “Part of it for me is the fun of juxtaposing these different art images from very different periods.”

Breitsch’s admiration for the works of other artists goes back to her childhood in Ohio when her parents took her to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Although she later entered college as a sociology major, she took some ceramics courses which convinced her to study sculpture. After obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees in painting and sculpture, Breitsch moved to the New York area, where she has exhibited her work in various galleries and museums.

As for sculpting, Breitsch adheres to a creative process that is opposite to that of assembling collages. “When I was doing sculpture, I was more influenced by childhood or personal things,“ she said. “The sculpture was more preconceived. You get an idea and you sort of make it and then it changes as you’re making it.”

In some of her pieces from 2004 until 2006, Breitsch worked with a form of sculpture in the shapes of boxes. She admits one of her influences for creating the work was contemporary artist Joseph Cornell, who pioneered the art form of a box containing found objects.

Breitsch said she got the idea for making the boxes after attending an exhibit at the Whitney Museum about quilts made by a group of women living in Gee’s Bend, Ala. “They were just these gorgeous quilts that these women made,” she recounted. “The women had that purity of no other agenda than to make these beautiful things. I made those boxes in homage to those quilts.”

Similar to the technique she uses in making collages, Breitsch tore out imagery from art books and Photoshopped it to place inside and outside the boxes. As a finishing touch, she glued sequins all over the boxes – a process she says that took hours of work.

Overall, almost each piece of Breitsch’s work refers back to another piece of art that has affected her in some way. As she aptly puts it, “I get inspired mostly by other artists looking at art. It’s art about art.”

For more information about Susan Breitsch, her artwork and upcoming exhibits, you can visit her website at www.susanbreitsch.com.

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