Stephen Kroninger
15 influences
photo by Fred Viebahn

I thought I would dive in and take the Yuko Shimizu challenge. Unlike the others I'm going to limit my selections to specifically collage influences. To include painters and drawers and music and movies and radio and cartoonists and comics and caricaturists and animators and people I've met along the way would be an impossibility. There are just too many in each category and sub-category ad infinitum. As John Lennon famously said, "you see we're influenced by whatever's going." I probably first encountered that quote as a pre-teen or thereabouts in Alan Aldridge's The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics and it's stuck with me ever since.
 Breaking my own rule at the start, the biggest influence on my life and work is New York City. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, the sticks. To give you an idea there was a sign in Orefield, my old home town, that read "Hickville 5 Miles." It made me painfully aware that I didn't even live in Hickville. I lived five miles OUTSIDE of Hicksville. My mother told my wife some years ago that I'd been talking about living in New York City since I was six years old. I would chalk that up to the influence of television. In particular the Dick Van Dyke Show which I would watch in reruns every day at noon and even, as a boy, made up my own comic adventures with the characters from that show. I remember my Dad proudly showing off one of my Dick Van Dyke comics at the local Barber Shop one day. Made me proud too. That may have been the true start of my illustration career. Anyway, I'm not disparaging Orefield. It was a lovely place to grow up in, surrounded by great people, cornfields, wheatfields and covered bridges but in the end it wasn't for me.
1960s arcade card that I've saved all these years. I probably got this at Dorney Park in Allentown Pa.


George Grosz I first encountered his work at MoMA in the late seventies. It completely spun my head around. I'd recently dropped out of art school and was under the sway of Albrecht Durer. I'd spend hours upon hours excessivly cross-hatching when Grosz showed me the light and a different way. With few exceptions, illustration in the seventies was about overwhelming technique. Content was buried under dazzling motor corordination. Seeing Grosz was a revelation. He stripped away all that and put content front and center. This appealed to me greatly at the time. Still does.

Henri Matisse  "Paper cut-outs enable me to draw directly on colour...Instead of drawing an outline and filling in with colour...I draw directly into colour." Sounds simple but it was revolutionary. Drawing with scissors and no longer being wedded to the content of photographs or reproductions when considering collage.

one of her paintings from a collage "sketch"

Hannah Hoch How big an influence? One of our daughters is named after her. It's been a point of pride that when I had a one-person exhibit at MoMA the curator, Christopher Mount, wrote of my work, "They share with Hoch's collages a chaotic use of scale and an extreme sense of frgmentation: large heads are placed on small bodies, and individual faces are composed from varied sources, often both male and female. Like Hoch, Kroninger displays an adeptness at mixing discordant features to create anonymous, often menacing, visages." Hoch originally made collages and would then use them as a "sketch" for a painting. She'd project the collage image to canvas, trace and then paint it. Eventually she dropped the painting and exhibited the collages as her original art.
front cover
back cover

Not only was his work an influence on my thinking but also this story about the art for the Sex Pistols single Pretty Vacant .
"I've forgotten the ins and outs but Malcolm (McLaren) put me in the shit inasmuch as he told Virgin the night before artwork was expected that we wanted to go with "Vacant"; literally, late at nght. Typical Malcolm, he told me on the morning that I had to go in with the artwork. I had the buses from Suburban Press but I didn't think they were good enough for the front cover. So I was on my way to Virgin with half a sleeve. Just on the corner of Portobello Road where Virgin had their offices there is a little art shop and in the window, by chance, there was a small gold picture frame. I smashed it as I was walking down Portobello Road, got the logo and lettering from the 100 Club poster which I had in the bag with me and put them in the frame; ten minutes later I delivered it to the art department. It was necessity being the mother of invention again. I was incredibly lucky: the frame was almost exactly 7 inches by 7 inches, in the right scale for a single sleeve. We didn't have to scale it down at all." (The incomplete works of Jamie Reid, pg. 68)
 This sleeve hangs on a wall in my studio.
Jamie Reid

Winston Smith The first montages I saw by Winston Smith were on a giant poster/lyric sheet included in the Dead Kennedys album "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables." He was sort of their house artist.I was instantly drawn to his incisive sense of humor matched with a healthy distrust of politicians, the people who own them and the status quo. In his own words he "kidnaps innocent images from vintage magazines and diabolically glues them into compromising or politically revealing positions." Although best known for his work with Punk bands and political causes, he's even made some forays into the mainstream over the years as witnessed by this cover for the New Yorker.

 DIY Punk fliers. I used to love seeing these wheatpasted on the walls of NYC when I first moved here. I liked the the bulk of them were not designed by aspiring artists or designers but were simply slapped together by bandmembers in a quick, inexpensive way to advertise an upcoming gig. I also liked when they were partially torn from the wall and/or discolored by the elements, their images with fusing the slicker professional ads and movies posters of the day that they shared wallspace with. To me they were giant works of art, to most, I guess, they were unsightly trash not unlike the grafitti that adorned the subway cars at the time. There were others who appreciated them though. Many of the original fliers been collected in books and on websites for the ages.

Max Ernst. caption to the third image: The Voice of the Reverend Dulac Dessale: "Hey, little ones, where were you tomorrow?" Marceline and Marie (with one voice): "We are twenty centuries old today and a little more." (from "A Little Girl Dreams Of Taking The Veil," 1930) This book was given to me in 1982 by George Delmerico, art director of the Village Voice. Life hasn't been the same since.
Herbert Bayer "The Lonley Metropolitan" a favorite of mine.
I reserve the word "surreal" for the "surrealists." (See also Max Ernst above.) It's a pet-peeve of mine. I wince everytime I hear someone use the word "surreal" when they mean "unreal."  To my mind, Luis Bunuel provides the best definition of surrealism. After André Breton André Breton wrote in the Second Manifesto, "The simplest surrealist act is walking into a crowd with a loaded gun and firing at random," Bunuel said "no, the ultimate surrealist act is thinking it."
In this image by Bayer, by juxtaposing the eyes onto the palms the thumbs become ears, the fingers hair. The edge of a window in the background becomes the nose and part of the facade becomes lips and it does indeed depict the lonley metropolitan. Genius, pure, incredibly pure, and simple. Also Surreal.

John Heartfield.On the topic of pure and simple. The bottom image is a personal favorite, although, truth be told just about every piece by Heartfield is a personal favorite. The montage is three photos: the man, the money and Hitler. It's entitled "Millions Stand Behind Me." Simple and speaks volumes. Obviously I was greatly influenced by Heartfield's use of actual photographs for the heads of his subjects. It turns the individual depicted into a caricature of themsleves. No need for exagerration or comic effect. The subjects provide that for themselves. Collage is an ideal medium for visual political commentary. The artist takes an endless glut of images dissemitated by the media, removes them from their original context and turns them back on themselves.

Romare Bearden. A giant. Bearden used collage to depict scenes from his life. Another brilliant innovation. In a sense his compositions were more painterly and again not particularly wedded to his photographic source materials.  My favorite work, The Block, hangs in the 20th Century wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because of its size, it's three large panels wide, it is usually absurdly reduced to fit onto a single page. The best reproductions that I've found are in this children's book published by the Met. Lots of full page, details of this masterwork. All this and Langston Hughes!

Much has been written about the work of George Lois. A lot of it by Mr. Lois himself. Little needs to be said by me. Suffice it to say that his covers for Esquire in the sixties are a Golden Age of illustration all by themselves. A lot of these images aren't collage strictly speaking but the sensibility is similar.

Gilliam starts at 1:13. You may want to skip all that stuff that comes before.

Terry Gilliam. Monty Python's Flying Circus first aired in the U.S. on PBS when I was in high school. It was all the rage. I have a special fondness for stuff that was able to infiltrate Orefield and get into my head. Gilliam's cut-out animations are high on that list. The dvd pictured is here is close to an hour of wall to wall Gilliams work for that show. Pure bliss. I first met Gilliam on assignment for the New York Observer when he was in town promoting "Twelve Monlkeys." When he walked in the door I mentioned Harvey Kurtzman and you should have seen the love on his face as he related stories about his time working with him. For a taste of what I experienced that afternoon---The Telegraph: My MAD mentor: Terry Gilliam on Harvey Kurtzman

In the early nineties, filmmaker Lewis Klahr introduced me to the work of Harry Smith. Lewis made special mention of the relationship of the images with that amazing soundtrack. I'll be forever in his debt for that.
And this recording by Grandmaster Flash which had an enormous influence on my thinking regarding collage. It was released in 1981. I used to play it to death while working in my studio many years ago. I'll still give it a listen whenever I need a solid jolt of inspiration.

tracklist in the mix:
Chic - Good Times
Blondie - Rapture
Queen - Another One Bites the Dust
Sugarhill Gang - 8th Wonder
The Furious Five - Birthday Party
Spoonie Gee - Monster Jam
Incredible Bongo Band - Apache
Grandmaster Flash & Furious Five - Freedom
Sugarhill Gang - Rapper's Delight
The Hellers - Life Story
 But now I fear I'm slipping off into film and music and it took me long enough to assemble this post as is. If I go in that direction I'll be at this for years.
 The knock on collage had often been that "anyone can do it" and somehow it's cheating, cutting up photographs as opposed to burning the midnight oil with a pencil, paintbrush, pen nib or a camera. It was also believed, and may still be in some unenlighted quarters, that artists collage because the can't draw. Thirty years ago, a prominet art director proudly told me, "I don't like collage, I don't use collage." Being contrarian by nature this made collage all the more attractive to me. At the time there was a song by Elvis Costello with the lines, "while others just talk and talk sombodies watching where the others don't walk." Made sense to me. As a footnote that same prominent art director has since published many of my collages.
 Interestingly, collage, through its descendants photoshop and cgi, has arguably become the peredominant mode of artistic expression in the early twenty-first century. Recently, I went to see Ang Lee's LIFE OF PI. I was struck by the fact that I was watching a brilliantly executed collage movie.
There are many more collagists worthy of your attention but Yuko has ordained that we limit ourselves to fifteen. Off the top of my head---Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Barbara Nessim, Tomi Ungerer, Kurt Schwitters, Raoul Hausmann, Katherine Streeter, Robert Rauschenberg, M. Sasek, Frank Mouris, Mieczyslaw Berman, Eddie Guy, Peter Kennard, Mimmo Rotella, Peter Beard, Richard Hamilton, Lou Beach, Gustav Klucis, Brian Stauffer, Cathy Hull, Jess Collins, Richard Prince, Eric Carle, Herbert Matter. Ralph Steadman, Alfred Gescheidt, Pablo Picasso, Jack Kirby, David Hockney, Louis Armstrong, Alexander Zhitomirsky, Peter Blake, Erwin Blumenfeld, Sam Weber, Ellen Weinstein, Klaus Voorman, Jonathan Hernandez, David Hockney, Lucas Samaras, Jeff Koons, Robert Motherwell, Russian Constructivism, Cas Oorthuys, Nicolas de Lecuona... Some were a big influence on me, others on the world at large. You'll need to do your own searches for these and more, plenty more.

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