In conversation with Marcus Dawson


A few weeks ago, the American collage artist Marcus Dawson took his
time to talk with us about his love for Jazz, the beauty of cut paper
in your hands and why sometimes collage making feels like
this top-secret puzzle that you’re trying to solve with no
reference picture on the box.

A collage of some of Marcus’ collages.
The portrait picture of Marus was taken by @aricromartie


Marcus, please tell us a bit about yourself & most importantly, how you got into collage making.

I’ve always loved art from a young age. I’ve always been sort of a creative, whether it was making art, writing, or other creative expressions. How I started out with collage art is that my mom was a vacation bible school teacher and they had arts and crafts lessons during their sessions. She decided to teach her class how to put together collages that correlated with her lesson.  We put various images together from magazines to make unique collages. So that was my first introduction.

When I made my first collage it opened me up, it felt liberating.

I was able for the first time, express myself without words…just images. Then later on from there, I brought this old type writing table from a Thrift shop and I made a huge collage on top of it. I put my whole life story into that collage. Looking back, it was like a collage time capsule.

After creating that piece, I didn’t create for years. It wasn’t until 4 or 5 months ago on a Sunday afternoon, while doing some self-care, that I began to collage again. I decided to make a collage out of this beautiful image of a jazz musician. I made the collage and just posted it up on my social media stories, I didn’t even put it up on my main page. After I posted it, people began to respond: “Wow, we didn’t know you make art like that!” and I was like: “I didn’t even know I made art like that!! From that moment I was in love with this form of art. I felt alive and liberated when I took seemingly scrap pieces of paper and made them into my own little works of art. It was like I found a part of myself that I had been missing for far too long.

Collage making became like therapy for me. I not only got to express myself but just knowing that something I made could bring joy to someone’s life is a feeling I don’t take for granted.

Her flowers, 2022
Analogue Collage, 8 x 10 inches
Butterfly lady, 2022
Analogue Collage, 9 x 12 inches
Never grow old, 2022
Analogue Collage, 8 x 10 inches

Some artists try to convey a certain message with their works while others like to leave room for the viewer’s own interpretation. How about you?

For me, I want people to feel joy when they see my work. I use a lot of bright colours, I love bright colours. I just want to tell a stories and let people come up with their own interpretation of the art. I, as the artist place certain things in my work that are deeply personal to me, but you know, the viewer of the art may not know that. So, it is always interesting to see what people take away from each piece. I always say “I don’t want people to just see the art, I want them to feel it.”

I’ve noticed that you use pictures of famous actors, singers & authors in many of your collages. Please tell me a bit more about that.

It started off as a coincidence, just finding people that inspire me. Then, once I got started, it was like, I started pulling more people that bring inspiration to me. I’m in love with portraits. I enjoy classic portraits of kings and queens and also saint portraits. I’m also a huge Jazz music fan, so jazz artists are always a source of inspiration for me. Usually when you see movies or documentaries about Jazz musicians, it typically focuses on the trauma of their lives. You see them at their lowest and if you are lucky, you might see small clips of them making music.

For me, when I create Jazz portraits I do it with the intent to change the narrative. I put them in the most lavish, colourful, and exquisite clothing I can find. It is my way of bringing life and dignity back to their stories.

They are not merely their struggles. they are the brilliance that they brought not only to music but to the world. They lived and made music that lives on beyond them…. They have a legacy worth celebrating.

A Song for Dizzy, 2022
Analogue collage, 9 X 12 inches
Lady Vaughan, 2022
Analogue collage, 9 X 12 inches

You also write. Can visual art offer you anything that writing can’t?

The art, for me, is storytelling without words. When I’m writing, I’m writing the words and trying to evoke a certain feeling when people read. With my art I do that without the written language.  With both forms I want to tell a story so it kind of balances each other out – different forms but the same goal.

Nowadays, many artists create digital collages. What is it that fascinates you about creating analogue collages?

I’ve fallen in love with analogue collages because there is no better feeling than actually cutting images and putting them together.

I love the way the paper feels in my hands when I am cutting it. I also love the process of putting the collage together. It honestly feels like this top-secret puzzle that I am trying to solve and there was no reference picture on the box, it’s just me and my creativity at work to make it all come together. As far as digital collage making, I haven’t really gotten into it, but I’m not opposed to the form. I just find that making analogue collages are so relaxing and just feels organic and earthy to me.

Love In Flight, 2022
Analogue collage, 8 x 10 inches

Are you also exploring other forms of visual art besides collage making?

For now, I haven’t really gotten into painting but I do in the future want to incorporate it into the collages. It’s something that I want to challenge myself to do because I haven’t been a big painter, I can’t really draw that well either but I want to incorporate it, whether it’s building the scenery around my collage or the background, it’s something that I want to get into.

You also have a day job. How do you balance it with your art and have you ever considered working as a full-time artist?

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, she owns a book store and we were talking about work and I was telling her: “Honestly, I need the collage.” Because what I do in my 9 to 5 is so technical, and not creative at all. I need the balance of creativity because If I don’t, I will just be going crazy.

If I could be a full-time artist, sign me up, haha! But right now, I’m working towards it. I always think of the quote, “Do what you have to do, until you can do what you want to do.” So that’s what I kind of live by, so I’m doing what I have to do right now until I can get to a point where I can be a full-time artist. So hopefully soon.

Now, please tell us a bit more about the art scene in North Carolina, where you live.

Slowly but surely, I’m getting into the art scene here. I’ve been in connections with local artist. There’s a co-worker of mine who actually does Needlework art so she and her friends have been connecting me with people in the art scene here. There are so many brilliant artists here in North Carolina. One of my big inspirations is Ivey Hayes, he’s a painter, and he was from North Carolina. He inspired me to use bright colours fearlessly. There are so many artists that have come from North Carolina, so I am honoured to be amongst them.

Sir Sidney With Love, 2022
Analogue collage, 9 x 12 inches

Please tell me a bit more about your creative process, from an idea to a finished piece.

Sometimes, I come across an image that sparks something within me and I just cut it out. I may not have a plan for it at the moment but I know that sooner or later something will come. It might be in the back of my mind and I’m going through the day, you know, working, going places, and that image will keep coming back to me and once I sit down and move paper around the story begins to unfold.

I created a piece recently, where I was determined for it to look a certain way. I began to put things down on the paper, and all of a sudden it completely changed from what I thought it would be. I just kind of let it flow and just whatever comes, comes. I just remain open, really, open to being inspired. I feel like when I’m so set on creating a specific thing, a specific piece, sometimes it kind of limits me in my creativity but when I’m just like: “Ok, whatever will happen, will happen”, just have an outline but just allowing that creativity to flow, that helps.

In the art scene we talk very much about finding your own style- is that something that you worry about or try to “find”?

It’s something that I thought about, but when I look back at my work, subconsciously, it kind of connects. Even though the pieces may not be connected in theme, there’s certain colours that seem to come up again or certain style, it just kind of flows, but I’m not like: “I have to have this certain style.” But when I look back at my work there is certain aesthetic.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hope for the future is to participate in my own exhibitions next year so that people can see my work in person rather than just online. I also would like to just grow as an artist and stretch myself in my collage making.

Get in touch
with Marcus

Instagram: @marcusdspeaks

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