Joy Hecht's Collages

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday June 28, 2017

The 2017 Summer Invitational: Pimp Your Sketchbook, in which artists show their personal work and open a window onto their creative process, continues with Joy Hecht, who travels the world for her work. She doesn’t exactly keep a sketchbook, but puts her experiences onto paper using scissors and glue instead.

I wouldn't say that I regularly use sketchbooks as part of my art practice. But then, I also wouldn't really say I have an art practice. I'm a graphic-designer-wannabe who ended up with some advanced degrees in city planning and a career as an environmental economist. I work on foreign aid-funded projects in the developing world, and bounce around to all kinds of improbable places at their expense. 

But I love places – that's why I studied city planning – and when an artist friend suggested I take up urban sketching, I started making lousy watercolors of the places I traveled. Then one day a year or so ago I meandered into collage, and, as they say, I've never looked back. For me, collage is the way to capture the spirit of place. No more pretty paints and fine line black inks. Now I tear up bits of newspaper and shopping bags, brochures and magazines, old music scores and gold foil chocolate wrappers (oops, my vice revealed!), pretty much any interesting paper I can find, and use them to show where I've been. So let me take you on a tour.

I started doing collage in Beirut, which is a fascinating, vibrant city, where I had a wonderful time despite my somewhat irritating job in a dysfunctional government ministry. My first collage [above]  was really mixed media – paper, leaves, bark, watercolor pencil, ink, and I have no idea what else. It's a little garden behind a modern exhibition gallery in a totally bizarre neighborhood – there's some pretty weird stuff being constructed in Beirut, unfortunately. A security guard tried to tell me that I wasn't allowed to sit on the ground and make art there – maybe I wasn't supposed to have been there at all, I dunno. I played dumb, and acted like I couldn't understand a word he was saying. Maybe he actually wanted a bribe? No idea. 

Over the next year I was in and out of Beirut quite a bit, with enough time to get together with the newly-created Lebanon Urban Sketchers (check them out on Facebook, they are great!). Here's another of Beirut [above] – one of my favorites, because it is just so Beirut! The city rises out of the Mediterranean, and along the coastline there are some very steep hills. So there are long staircases instead of streets, with apartments and restaurants and offices opening onto them. This staircase, with its little café, was just down the street from my airbnb apartment in a trendy neighborhood called Mar Mikhael. I love the chaotic mix of old buildings, newer ones, construction cranes, steep steps, and lush plants. I spent a series of peaceful evenings there drinking beer, snipping at bits of paper that went flying in the breeze, and making a mess with glue.

On my travels I often stop in Paris to visit friends, so I've done a few collages there. This one [above] is actually my favorite of all my collages, to me it perfectly captures the feeling of the place – a lovely neighborhood in the 13th called La Butte aux Cailles. Once a village, it was engulfed as the city grew, but still feels like a village.


I made a couple of quick stops elsewhere in Europe on my travels this past year. So here’s a collage of Camden Market in London, on a cold Saturday morning [above]. I had a great time with the winter clothes – finally, a way to use all kinds of crazy colors that usually don't fit in the muted urban palette! (I love those red and purple boots on the lady to the right – I want a pair!!! Except I invented them, so I suppose I'd have a hard time actually finding them in a shop.)    

I’ve spent a lot of time in New York over the past year.  It's where I grew up, my mom is still there, and at almost 95 she's been having some issues. So I hung around The City (there is only one, to a New Yorker) for months. This is 72nd and Broadway, not far from my old neighborhood [above]. For me it's a classic view of the Upper West Side.

Oh, and the map that became the back of that truck – that was actually a map of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The text on the buildings is from the New York Times, of course. I try to keep my materials local!

For me, collage isn't about perfection in perspective or shading or realism. It's about getting a big piece of the layout in place, and then working with that to choose the next piece, and to decide what the place is really about. Which isn't always what it looks like in a photo.

If the place is peaceful, it's fine to leave out the details that might distract from that peace. And when it's crazy, chaotic, and insane – like all good cities – it's fine if the lines are skew-whiff or the staircase is crooked or the bikes are all tangled together!

See more of Joy's collages here




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