Beautifully Constructed Collages Capture the Street Life Bustle and Old World Serenity That Is Italy

 By Jane R. Snyder / May 2016

“Travel certainly supplies me with my themes, but so do memories.”

Carolyn Beehler Photograph by John Jackson

Carolyn Beetler; Photograph by John Jackson

Viewing Carolyn Beehler’s work from across a room you will wonder whether she prefers oil or acrylic paint. Once you step closer, it is hard to believe that every image, every highlight or shadow, is actually rendered using cut paper as her only medium. You can feel muscles beneath clothing and enjoy the warmth of sunshine spilling into a café or street scene.

This doesn’t surprise Carolyn’s family members, who have encouraged her creativity for a very long time.

“My first memory is collaging a trash can for my dad’s birthday in fourth grade. I rummaged through Mom’s magazines, mostly Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens, and cut out images that were, in my eight-year-old brain, very Dad-ish—a basketball, palm tree, Snickers bar, stuff like that. He still keeps it in his office.”

That “trash can” might wind up in a retrospective exhibition someday.  Carolyn, who earned her BFA at O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tennessee, is a tall, energetic artist who is permanently excited about the world she encounters.

“I admire Caravaggio’s portraits and am curious how exaggerating light and shadow can heighten the drama of collage, which is too often a medium relegated to cuteness or satire.” 

You won’t find any cuteness or satire here, but only extreme attention to detail and a trompe l’oeil sensibility. This young woman is serious about her art, and the depth and dimension in each piece prove it. Is Carolyn drawn to any particular themes?

Naples, 2015, Collage, 48” x 36”

Naples, 2015, Collage, 48” x 36”

“Travel certainly supplies me with my themes, but so do memories, which I think are travels that happen in your imagination. I like to think these come together to create original images, not just ‘here I was’ paintings. Presently I work with travel photos I’ve taken. I finished my collection on Italy and am working on pictures from when I lived in China. Sometimes I retouch them or merge two images together on Photoshop. I need to experiment with that more—the trouble is making sure the image is convincing, and that means getting your lighting and perspective spot on. Once I begin collaging, I allow memories and personal convictions to inform the process.”

With your nose inches from her work it looks complicated, but the tools she uses are not.

“I like to keep it simple—one pair of scissors, Mod Podge, a couple of brushes, and a UV protective gloss for the final layer. Those purple scissors were wicked sharp at first—I once cut off the tip of my thumb with them. I was hacking up old papers I should have sent through a shredder. I forgave it.”

Lecce, 2014, Collage, 18” x 24”

Lecce, 2014, Collage, 18” x 24”

Carolyn’s “palette” can’t be found in any art supply store, and the texture of found typography adds even more to tempt your eye.

“I’m a purist, so just magazines, or sometimes I splurge and use brochures from trips I managed to save. Book paper is just too thick. Magazines like Interview, National Geographic, and Architectural Digest work well. I owe a lot to good photographers and graphic designers, because the better the image or font, the more dynamic the collage.” 

Stunned by the complexity of her collages, we wondered what inspires her. Here is just a partial list of what stimulates her wide-open and inquiring mind.

“Istanbul. The rainforest. Sia’s voice. People with exceptional vocabulary.  Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Baklava. Sir Ken Robinson. Cambodian architecture. Maggie Smith. Boots. Jim Morrison minus his personal life. Vegan recipes. Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk. Also, the idea that imagination could be a truer reality than the real world we walk amidst.”

Asked if she has a favorite quotation that empowers her artistic spirit, she didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“I believe artists need to be vigilant for the first signs of taking shortcuts. It’s tempting to do so when you think, Yeah, but so and so client won’t care or know the difference. You get faster over time, but I’ve found that my projects suffer when I try to wrap them up too fast. When tempted, I remember what Michelangelo said: ‘Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.’”

Lecce, 2014, Collage, 18” x 24”

Lecce, 2014, Collage, 18” x 24”

If time, money, and safety weren’t current concerns, Carolyn knows exactly what she would do.

“I would make a two- or three-month accompanied trip around Europe and the Middle East to investigate and photograph the migration of refugees. I would like to do a collection based on my findings.”

All of her art is fueled by this type of adventurous curiosity.

Wide-eyed, Carolyn said she has “no idea” where her career will be ten years from now, but it’s certain her path will be both colorful and well traveled.

For more information, visit Carolyn Beehler’s website,

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