Like a strange, surrealist dreamscape, the figures in Alexandre Coll‘s pastel-hued collages are dwarfed by their eerie and wonderful surroundings. A woman perches impossibly on the bottom of the basket of an inverted hot air balloon. A gentleman in a jaunty top hat stands under a floating rock before a turquoise background. A fully-clothed woman stands on the stomach of a naked lady. The collages use images, shapes, colors, and weather to illustrate the psychological states of their characters, and fittingly, Coll’s 2015-2016 series, is titled El Mirall de L’ànima, or “the mirror of the soul.”
The pieces are all made by hand. The physical creation of collage is essential to Coll’s process. “I like the idea that I’m recycling the material, not just the image,” Coll tells Creators. This particular series was created using what Coll calls an “assembly-line process,” in which he selects characters and landscapes, then pairs them accordingly.
The surreal landscapes which surround Coll’s small figures speak to different emotional states, some straightforward and some illusive. In one, a young man stands on a windowsill, looking down; the sky is grey. The simplicity of the work is poignant. In other, more complex portraits, characters stare into the strange landscapes of their own minds, as if they are looking at a piece of modern art. A balding man stands in between rows of steps or pews and stares at a 2D picture of a woman’s nose and mouth. He is leaning back to study the image, mimicking how a viewer might approach Coll’s own work. This mirroring contrasts the character’s relationships to their emotional lives with the viewer’s relationship to art.
Inspired by the work of the Romantic landscape painter Caspar Friedrich, Coll’s work prioritizes the individual. Coll says that Friedrich’s “dialogue between landscape and character” was the inspiration for his series. His collages recall Friedrich’s famous Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, but while the figure in Wanderer is a heroic one, Coll’s characters feel more like regular people, dressed in khaki shorts or lab coats. They are often placed to the side of the collage, making them an important part of the piece but not its focus. Likewise, Coll’s landscapes do not have the wild romanticism of Friedrich’s; they are strange and undeniably modernist, harkening to surrealism and pop art, as well as the role of collage in modernism. The sometimes mundane and sometimes absurd aspects of Coll’s work is what makes it feel true to our modern emotional lives.