Amid the recovery haze from a double jaw surgery, Deborah Shapiro came up with an idea for a career in collage art. She thumbed through some magazines, not quite reading the articles (due to her pain-medication-induced cloudiness), but rather focusing on the color palette. She then thought about their potential transformation into something completely different.
“I noticed how colorful the pages were, and thought, ‘I could do something with this,’” says Shapiro, who runs Montrose Video, an Akron-area production company that makes web, promotional and corporate videos. Since reaching that epiphany, Shapiro has created a number of striking collages, many of which appear to be paintings upon first glance, with a varied cast of subjects: from stoic owls, birds in flight and landscapes, to foxes, fruit and images of femininity.
Although collage art is a recent endeavor, Shapiro has considered herself an artist for most of her life. She first went to college on an art scholarship, but then switched her major to communications and entered the video industry.
“My art background helped me in the video business,” she admits.
Shapiro has experimented with oil painting and acrylics over the years; the collage work is something wholly different.
“What I like about collage is you don’t have much control over what’s going to happen,” says Shapiro, who lives in Fairlawn with her husband, Mark, a videographer for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indians teams, who’s also a local musician.
“I need to make a story out of it,” she adds. “Lots of times you’ll find words within my artwork. You have less control over the paint colors. I’m at the mercy of whatever I find.”
Much like a painter who takes careful steps to select hues, Shapiro chooses magazine clips and pages with an eye toward the colors of her final composition. And the finished pieces become something entirely different than their print forebears, like a goldfish, an apple or a woman holding a cup of coffee and a cigarette, with her legs crossed (coyly named, “Three Bad Habits”).
From a distance, her pieces look like paintings, transcending their cut-and-paste medium. “There’s almost like two personalities to my artwork,” she says. “From a distance, you see one object, but when you get up close, there’s so much going on.”
Words, phrases and smaller images often are woven into the collages. Common themes are wildlife and nature, especially animals, which have a special place in her heart (she and her husband are parents to two rescue dogs). Shapiro also recognizes there are a lot of watches in her work, which could be attributed to the preponderance of watch advertisements in magazines, or maybe a hidden meaning about time.
From sketches to eyes
Once she decides on a piece, Shapiro starts with drawing rough sketches and uses computer programs like Photoshop to help develop a color scheme. She then flips through magazines to select the colors and textures. The pasting can take anywhere from days to weeks, even longer, depending on the size of the piece.
To create her collages, Shapiro starts with the background first and works her way into the foreground. And when she gets to the foreground subject, Shapiro says she likes to create the animals’ eyes first. Much like Shapiro’s own eyes, a strikingly vibrant blue, the animals’ eyes are often vivid, and seem to stare directly into the viewer.
“I figure if I’ve got the eyes, I’ve got the personality of the animal,” she says.
There are some restraints, which she manages to work within. “I didn’t realize until I started doing this how limited the colors are in magazines, and they’re coming from so many different sources,” Shapiro admits.
Although most of her career has been focused on running a video production company, Shapiro would like to settle in to more of an art career in upcoming years. For this, she plans to segue the business and marketing skills she’s picked up along the way.
For example, she uses social media to promote her work and to gauge what people like and don’t like.
There are other obstacles, but none that can’t be surmounted with the proper attitude. “I’ve been told I might be too old to be doing this, and I don’t have the right art education,” says Shapiro, who adds that these things only drive her closer to succeeding as a working artist.