Vahge is a self-taught artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She creates intricate and striking collage using contemporary images and iconography. Her work has been requested by clients, includingUniversal Music,and featured by galleries around the world. We are delighted to feature her entrancing piece, “Majesty” in our Mermay exhibition.
Interview by Waiton Farrell
WF: Hi, Vahge. How are you doing during shelter-in-place?
V: It’s definitely been a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s offered a unique and oddly surreal opportunity to focus on new work, practice self care rituals, and genuinely connect with loved ones. There’s an underlying feeling of freedom under constraint that is comforting. It’s also elicited a humbling perspective of a shared communal experience, albeit a traumatic one, and I am uplifted by the stories of resilience, compassion, and human kindness. On the other hand, it’s been a difficult and trying time, especially after losing one of our dearest friends earlier this year to COVID-19, an experience that has been deeply and profoundly painful. He was an incredibly special person, a truly unique human, a friend who touched all the major moments in our lives, and an unwavering supporter of my work from the very beginning. My husband and I had the virus a few weeks ago, which was very scary, especially after that loss and with my husband’s lung weakness, but we both managed to get through it and are now on the other side. The last few months have certainly been difficult, but they have also allowed for a lot of deep reflection, shared love, and learning.
WF: Your work has a distinct power that evokes reverence for your central figures. How do you develop your concepts to create these deity-like figures?
V: I began experimenting with centralized figures in my portrait series (2010-2012), which were an extension of my earlier fairy tale based, theatrical stage-like work (2005-2009). In the portrait series, I began developing more fully realized characters, each with a distinct personality and history, and pushing them into the foreground. The portrait series helped me grow into my current figure-centric works, which go deeper into spiritual and reverent realms, and incorporate elements of mysticism and sacred geometry. My present work is less about telling a character’s story, and more about using a figure as a means to explore wider themes of nature and spirit, life and death, mystical energy, and the feminine.
WF: Collage is a fascinating medium, and your pieces, despite being two-dimensional on panel, have a sculptural quality. How did you decide that this was the best method for expressing your vision?
V: I experimented with clay sculpture very early on in my life, and have always loved forms of expression that let me impose intricate, minute control and manipulation. I was never drawn to collage in its traditional abstract form, but rather, I saw collage as a means to create the unique, colorful, figurative images I saw in my mind using paper as a tool. I aim to maintain the realism of the images that already exist on the paper, while reassembling those images into surrealistic paper paintings. It’s a tricky balance that takes time and trial to perfect and requires a lot of respect for the medium. But the challenge is so alluring to me and the process is incredibly rewarding.
WF: Going back to our 2013 exhibition, TAROT: ART OF FORTUNE, you created the breath-taking image that represented the Judgement card. Do you return to such symbolism throughout your work, with each image having distinct meaning, or does it change with every piece?
V: My “Judgement” collage for the Tarot show in 2013 was one of my first experiments with more spirited and mystical work. Around that time my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I was also struggling with my environment and mental health. My perspective changed, and my work started to reflect my evolving views of life, death, and existence. Since that time, I’ve tended to sustain certain symbolism in my work, themes of celebration, life and death, the spiritual realm, totems, symmetry, and geometry. Each piece is a new exercise exploring these themes, and it’s been very therapeutic for me.
WF: What mythologies, parables, or fairy tales give you inspiration as you develop your concepts?
V: My older work (2005-2009) was directly inspired by fairy tales, myths, and dreams. The same thread of whimsy still flows through my newer work, but its influence is more refined, and has morphed into a more personal mythology. I used to dream whole collages and frantically try to assemble them in waking life before the images floated away. Now I work more moderately, reflecting carefully on an idea, color, or theme before even starting work on a piece. I am able to hold onto ideas longer, and spend more time developing them and growing them into my new work. Mythology and storytelling will always be the foundation of my work, but their influence has evolved to be much more personal and true to my own history.
WF: I absolutely love your piece “Majesty” for MERMAY. Can you explain some of the symbolism associated with it, particularly the three central figures?
V: Thank you so much! My piece “Majesty” is loosely based on the Three Graces, representing beauty, elegance, and creativity. It is a celebratory piece, and made in honor of my lost friend as a bright memento mori. The central figures stand unified, bedecked with funereal flowers and holding a lush rose as an offering, with the central figure’s face partially covered with a death mask. As with all of my recent work, the piece contains symbols of life and death as respectful acknowledgements of the inevitable cycle of nature and existence. I have recently been drawn to the color pink, a hue generally representative of nurture, emotional healing, compassion, and love, all qualities I have been actively seeking in my personal life over the past few years. The gold in this piece accents the pink, helping to enhance the overall feeling of brilliance and reverence.
WF: Who were you most inspired by as an artist?
V: The Greeks have a word, techne, that best translates as art, skill, or craft. I have always revered this word, and admired artists that focus on craft over concept. I am hopelessly drawn towards artists whose technique displays mastery of detail and a penchant for darkness and deep thought. I especially appreciate artists who endure struggles, whether mental, physical, or a mixture of both, while still achieving their craft; I often find in their art a deeper wisdom and understanding that is both illuminating and familiar to me. Above all, I love artists that tell stories, storytelling is one of the most pure and ancient forms of artistic expression, and is filled with magic.
WF: The intricacy and layers of your collage are very impressive. How long do you dedicate to each piece of art you create?
V: A collage typically takes around two to three weeks to complete. I’ve refined my technique over the years, so the actual gluing only takes a few hours; the conception, gathering of images, piecing together, and layered arrangement takes the majority of the time. Once assembled, I like to sit with a collage for several days before gluing it down, going back to shift things that look out of place, and experimenting with different details and ideas to see if they work better with the image in my head or what’s developing in front of me. Sometimes for ease of movement, I’ll glue down larger background pieces so I can focus on the smaller details. The central figures are usually the last to be attached, and I can spend days fussing over them, adding or taking away tiny accent pieces.
WF: What projects or exhibitions are you most excited about in the coming year?
V: This one! “Mermay” is my first show in over two years, and I am thrilled to be a part of such a strong and talented group of artists. A few years ago I made the measured decision to limit my public showings to a very select handful of galleries, in order to focus on my independent work and my mental health. Working with Modern Eden is always such a seamless and professional experience that I always feel like I can focus on my work and its truest expression. When I was invited to participate in “Mermay,” I had just lost my friend to the virus and the timing felt very right. I was able to channel some of my grief and immensity of feeling into an intentional creation, with the separate aim of celebrating him through this collage, and I am very thankful for this opportunity.
WF: What wisdom would you like to share with beginning artists who are interested in collage or sculpture?
V: Never stop learning. Expose yourself to as much art as you can, in all forms. Educate yourself on technique and ask experts for their advice. Define your purpose. Stay true to yourself and your craft, and develop goals that align with your purpose. Take care of yourself and surround yourself with supportive peers. Above all, savor the satisfaction and release that come from creation, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
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