Leslie Siegel

Leslie has a lot to say about her work and process, which is okay because she is so interesting! I was especially drawn to her collages using strips of paper. They are subtle and multi-dimensional--she works with very flat, simple layouts, but the textures she includes make everything really jump off the page. I loved reading in her interview about the way she came to work in such a linear way, first with ribbons. Read on!

Leslie Siegel
Brooklyn NY

Describe your work in 10 words or less.

I'm after the curious conversation between incongruous images.

What do you like to work with (magazines, photographs, vintage)? Be specific!

Yes to all three. I use all kinds of printed material but am only inspired to use very particular images and I know them when I see them. I'm attracted to discarded imagery that feels obscure and doesn't fall into any recognizable category. I'm drawn to basic, elemental, not-decorative materials and very often like the back of something more than the front. Right now I'm using the backs of old tempera paintings on paper made my boyfriend when he was 5. I'm also drawn to badly manufactured, ill-conceived materials that have a throwaway, rejected quality: a bad print run, stationery that didn't sell, stickers with no stick left, etc. I avoid the cliches of this genre including anything kitsch, velvet, paint by number, etc.

The appeal of this kind of media is giving a new home/creating another context for otherwise useless-feeling images that should never have been made in the first place because they create more waste and no one ever needed them. The best of this kind of material can be found in close-out stores that kindergarden art teachers go to stock up on popsicle sticks, looseleaf paper, foam santa parts and other small joys. I seek these stores out wherever I travel and have to make extra room in my luggage for overflowing shopping bags full of junk I might never end up using. (speaking of waste) At the other end of the spectrum I'm equally attracted to "high art" images contained in old gallery pamphlets of artist's past shows which I then combine with other unrelated imagery thus re-creating the original work--more appropriating; the appeal of all collagists. So of course I spend a lot of time in old bookstores, flea markets and yard sales looking for that hard to place image.

How long have you been creating collages and what made you start?

I've been making art since I was a little girl. My parents used to give me boxes of wood pieces and pipe cleaners and felt and I would sit around gluing them together. I was kind of lonely. My father rarely came home and my mother was depressed and distracted so art, chocolate and Gilbert O'Sullivan were my saviors. I started making a form of collage more than 20 years ago which were rows of ribbon glued onto plywood. I set out to make these pieces as a way to slow down and stop rushing through things--I was hoping that this deliberate process would help me find order and that I would become a more patient person.

After exhausting the curling ribbon options from the stationery store, I found my way to satin, velvet, felt, foam, industrial belt ribbon, lace, elastic, snaps, etc. Sometime later, after I lost my studio and had to work in a smaller space, I began collaging, still focusing on stripes, with paper glued onto paper. I have since opened up to a world beyond stripes which has been liberating but I still crave the order and clarity of stripes.

Are you solely an artist, or do you work in another profession?

I work as a freelance prop stylist/set-maker for print and digital media. If it's food photography, I get all the dishes, surfaces, etc; an interior, I choose the furniture or style the room-- I am responsible for creating the environment for whatever we're shooting, big or small. I am also currently co-producing a documentary film and have directed another short film.

Do you have any formal art training?

I went to The School of Visual Arts in NYC but dropped out after a year. I was never good at school because of various learning issues but I work well independently.

Explain your favourite techniques.

I use the sturdy and efficient German-made Kutrimmer 1038 Paper Cutter that I got for my birthday and that is miles away from the very bad one I was using from Staples. It makes a very pleasing thunk sound when you chop. I try not to be too exact or deliberate about cutting which is a moment that fills me with dread because I fear I'm cutting too much. But again, I'm impatient and I like to keep things moving and get into a flow. The flow is important because the process of moving images around and finding relationships can take a while. Music and coffee are key. I sometimes use big hole punches to create dimension by incorporating a smaller contained environment onto a bigger one.

I have been drawing a lot more on top of images and often scribble for a while as a way to loosen up before I begin composing. I especially like to draw with cheap pens and magic markers that are running out of ink. I try not over-think the juxtapositions--you kind of know when there's a particular chemistry that works but there are so many possibilities and you have to seize the moment when it works.

Then there are all regretted glued things that go into a drawer to be re-cut or configured later on. I have used many polymer-based adhesives over the years but my glue of choice is UHU acid-free glue stick which gives me the flatness I want and keeps the surface purely what it is without a layer of anything clouding the image. UHU is by far the smoothest of all the sticks and allows me to lift and re-stick repeatedly. I sometimes use a single-edged razor blade for rubbing images down but mostly I just use hands. Glue on the surface happens and must be embraced.

Describe your favourite piece ever created.

Besides the collage work, I like to take pictures of little moments while traveling and when I was in Coastal Oregon, we passed a nondescript little village called--I can't remember what it was called, but the inn keeper where we had stayed the night before told us to skip it, describing it as "blue collar." We thankfully went anyway and I discovered it was a crab-trapping port town and there were just stacks and stacks of these old wooden traps full of rope and tags and buoys. There was no sun--the sky was white, it was very misty and the moody daylight was very inspiring. Someone was playing old Elvis while giving their car a wash.

I took hundreds of details of the insides of old traps and dumpsters and afterwards, we bought a steamed and cooled dungeness crab from the little old shack there and ate it on a log at the beach. My favorite collage (the first image in the cut/glue series) is part of a series which incorporates idyllic nature photography from the 70s with images from 1950s-era floor tile catalogs. (see 'about' on website for more on this series) It is a good marriage of the fake and the real, nature and the opposite of nature.

What other artists do you admire?

Too many, no order. Daniel Buren, Gabriel Orozco, Christian Boltanski, Pippilotti Rist, Patricia Urquiola, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Walter Niedermayr, Tara Donovan, Andreas Gursky, Pierre Bonnard, Willliam Eggleston, Bruce Conner, Rosemarie Trockel, Robert Rauschenberg, Diane Arbus, Sigmar Polke, Jeff Depner, Louise Bourgeois, Pedro Almodovar, Cy Twombly, Milton Glaser, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Dieter Rams, George Maciunas, Roxy Paine, James Gallagher, Eva Vermeiren

Thanks Leslie!


sorry for all the blabbing, sheesh! thanks to april for posting.

It was interesting for me to read this and Leslie's work is so inspiring indeed. The simplicity and the clear lines are what impressed me more.

I'm a big fan of Leslie's work. I love how she reworks imagery to create something new and beautiful. Great interview.

Leslie, you and your work are amazing. How you've articulated all this about a genre I've just come to embrace as a place I finally "belong", reaches me on a level I am deeply comforted by. I look forward to following your work from here on. And thanks for the honesty. Again, amazing!

These works are really beautiful. I really like the fact that she actively seeks to avoid the cliches of the genre such as kitsch. Thanks for introducing me to a really fascinating artist!

Christi at theartcake.com, an art blog

Notpaper is a blog dedicated to showcasing the work of international collage artists. We strive to meet the artists and understand the thoughts behind the process, so interviews with artists are a big part of what we do. If you are new to the site, please enjoy our archives featuring hundreds of collagists!   more 


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