Book Review: Urgent 2nd Class

Urgent 2nd Class book cover

Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera by Nick Bantock. (2004). San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-811-84305-8

The back cover of Nick Bantock's Urgent 2nd Class invites readers to "take an art class with the master of aesthetic curiosity" and claims to show readers "how to alchemically transform the unexpected into your own idiosyncratic art". As delightful as I find this book--and I really do like it--I would not count this among the collage books that delve deeply into technique. It does survey various materials to collect, provide artists with a few pointers now and again, and is rich with the author/artist's sample artwork that will spark readers' imaginations. Bantock has a light, humorous writing style that made this book a breeze to read through. You will want to go back and spend time with the images.

 Left: The Harem Window by Nick Bantock; Right: The Postman's Nightmare (above) and Forward from Egypt by Nick Bantock in Urgent 2nd Class.

Left: The Harem Window by Nick Bantock; Right: The Postman's Nightmare (above) and Forward from Egypt by Nick Bantock in Urgent 2nd Class.

In his introduction, Bantock writes: "I love the idea of creativity that honors the effect of time and makes mischief with history. Growing up in a society where hard, cold, and shiny are often valued, I find myself gravitating toward the opposite. Snow-blinded by bleached white paper, I crave smoky patina and shadowy aged surfaces." (p. 1)

He is not out to change "real" history, but to "move forward and backward into an artifact's history" to make curiosities--faux mail, dubious documents and other anomalies--and breathe new life into tattered, near-worthless, no longer loved materials: maps, letters, expired banknotes, labels, postcards, games. He urges readers to dig around at thrift stores and garage sales and ask shop owners for their supply of maps (or other items) too worn to make it on the store shelves (no need to spend top dollar on material that is destined to be altered). Collected material may include: invoices, business forms, passports, marriage and death certificates, institutional and commercial paperwork, postcards, maps, magazines and books, photographs, stamps, commercial artwork, and more. He has a particular fondness for handwriting and I love that he still uses an old typewriter to type out text for some of his works.

 Left: Cover Up by Nick Bantock in Urgent 2nd Class.

Left: Cover Up by Nick Bantock in Urgent 2nd Class.

Urgent 2nd Class taps into the more traditional ideas of collage and assemblage with roots in Surrealism (Bantock mentions Max Ernst in his chapter on Engravings). Bantock takes disparate images (sometimes) and combines them in new and interesting ways. He is also just as likely to keep a found document as is, or nearly so, if the piece needs nothing more. He urges artists to play around with the perfect placement of a collage piece before gluing it down. "Anyone," he writes, "can slap a collage onto paper--only time and practice will allow you the skills and understanding to elevate your expression into one of dialogue and harmony." (p. 111)

Urgent 2nd Class shows how Bantock has approached the use of old documents and ephemera in his collage and other artwork. It is a charming introduction to an art form he says has barely been identified and described. I think readers will enjoy this book and find inspiration in the quirky, humorous, and sometimes odd imagery held within.

Have you read this book? Let me know what I got wrong (or right!).

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Cheers!--Janyce

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