When you hear the word collage, most likely images are brought up of newspaper clippings, old Elmer’s Glue, and a ton of glitter that will never leave you. Emerging Richmond mixed-media artist Blythe King instead is taking collage work and photography to a new level by incorporating such elements as gold leaf, circle motifs, and pages from catalogs from the 40s, 70s, and 80s.
In her newest exhibit Two Sides of the Same Coin, which recently opened at Quirk Gallery, King uses her unique collage style to not only examine the female form, but also to lift it up and praise it. Taking a cue from her influence Andy Warhol, the Pittsburgh native pulls commercial images of women from old Montgomery Ward catalogs of the 40s, 70s, 80s and brings them to life with elements of Eastern iconography. Feeling inspired by the unique level of empowerment felt from these images, she raises them to their goddess level by enshrining them in beautiful gold leaf.
Flipping through a 1940s catalog one day was what sparked the idea for these collages for this avid collector.
“I spend a lot of time looking through images, and I have a huge collection of catalogs,” King said. “I found this catalog in my neighborhood, I brought it home, and I was just fascinated by it. It was the first time that I had seen women depicted [with this] dignity and strength to their poses that I hadn’t seen before in advertising. So I kind of felt like I uncovered this little blip of time and it felt like I needed to show people these images, they need to be seen again.”
King is also originally drawn to collage work because of its inherent double meaning, the familiarity, and the accessibility. She uses the foundation of these recognizable, commercial images to lure in audiences. Much like the multiple layers of the collage work are complex, as is the multiple layers of the women in question that she chooses to focus on.
While it is hard to deny that King’s work is of course visually and aesthetically striking, it is also out with a not so undercover mission. As society enters deeper into a stronger, more unified and intersectional renaissance of feminism, King uses her art to support the cause and unify all women in today’s stormy climates.
“I feel like I have a mission. My work is especially urgent right now. It’s finally a point in history where we are no longer tolerating violence against women. Women’s voices are being heard,” King said. “I feel that it’s even more important that I continue this work and make this work, and allow people to see it.”
King, who studied religion and art at the University of Richmond, has exhibited in South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and DC. Prior to delving into collage work, the mixed media artist produced tablet covers from vintage women’s shirts for her Louisiana-based online textile startup, iSockits. However, as some things naturally do, when the business found its end almost like clockwork, she ran across the first catalog that would inspire her series.
“I didn’t have a focus then. It was something that I did. That business, I did everything so it was pretty all consuming. The business sort of ran its course and it was about that time that I found that catalog in my neighborhood in Church Hill, and it got me thinking.”
While lifting women’s voices up is her aim, King admits that it may not be initially obvious when audiences first see her work. Because the medium is not always so obvious, she admits that sometimes the perception is different depending on what medium audiences think it is. However, she does have a large hope of what audiences will take away from her art.
“My biggest goal through my art is that it affects our culture, that it actually changes the way people see, so that actually has an effect on a larger scale. I feel like if you would understand that all women are gods that that will change the status of women in our culture. And you can do it through just one person at a time,” King said.
In addition to the Two Sides of the Same Coin exhibit, King is also working on a book about her artwork, which she hopes to have ready by the summer. The book will feature all of the pieces showcased in the then exhibition, which you can check out at Quirk Gallery through May 6.