The combination of material and abstracted imagery in Andrea Burgay’s complex and richly layered collage work makes the passage of time tangible – traces of destruction along with a sense of potential renewal. She shares with Art Spiel some of her main art processes, core ideas, and current projects, including her recently launched art magazine “Cut Me Up,” a publication with a fresh twist.
AS: We can establish that you were born in Syracuse, went to school at SVA, and currently reside in Brooklyn. Can you share a bit more about your background – especially, experiences that you see as most influential on your art?
Andrea Burgay: When I was four, my mother made a game for me that we called a “puzzle-go-round.” She would take eight “frame puzzles” and lay them out on a round table. The pieces would be mixed up in a bowl at the center of the table and I would sort them to assemble each puzzle in its frame. We also made collages together. I specifically remember an alphabet collage book I made where I’d arrange pictures of objects that started with the letter “A” on the “A” page.
My father is a musician and music director of a Catholic church. Music has always fueled my art, as has the mysticism that I associate with religion and spirituality.
I grew up in the suburbs where my friends and I haunted thrift stores and made art out of what we found in our basements. I also spent a lot of time with books, reading and absorbing, which I think had a big impact on my love of paper media and collage.
As I went on to study art, I became exposed to more visual art then I ever could have imagined. My interests in psychology, specifically trauma and recovery, Buddhist philosophy, and travel, have also been influential. But my primary identity as an artist is strongly based in the formative experiences of my youth, when art was a fundamental tool to make sense of the surrounding world, and myself.
AS: You defined some of your work since early on (2011) as “collage”. What did “collage” mean to you at the time and how has it evolved into your later, more sculptural work – like “Destroy Edit Transform”?
Andrea Burgay: When I first started to work primarily with collage, I was using images from magazines to create palettes of colors, textures and forms. Collage allowed me to create a sense of surrealism, as the photographic images were often subverted by their use within complex, abstract compositions.
Over time my collage process evolved. It became a creative means to sort through chaos, extract value, and arrange fragments into new forms; unifying a variety of materials from different contexts.
In the body of work “Destroy Edit Transform,” I became interested in how the transformation of physical materials could change the emotional energy I associate with them. These pieces connect to my personal history and serve as a way to reframe the past.
The piece “Remains (Keep It Together),” for example, has a central component that is a pile of paper and fabric, with a photographic image of children on top. This component loosely references stacks of papers and books in my childhood home, which were both intriguing and chaotic. From this, threads extend outward to small framed and unframed fragments. These fragments, once part of the central piece, are now sorted, organized and disconnected.
In these works the physical actions of collage—arranging, organizing, constructing, removing, destroying and rebuilding—became central components of my practice, as metaphors for spiritual and psychological processes.
AS: Tell me about your series from 2013, “Becoming Ritual” – genesis and process.
Andrea Burgay: The aesthetics of celebrations, both religious and secular, were an inspiration for the “Becoming Ritual” works. I was interested in how the designs, patterns, and colors associated with costumes and rituals hold spiritual and symbolic meaning. As ritual and celebration mark life’s passages, these works merged organic bodily forms with symbolic, spiritual elements. Organic processes—growth and decay, the cycles of life and the body—also influenced these works.
After several personal experiences of loss of close friends and family, I began to investigate Buddhist philosophies of life, death and rebirth. I also spent some time in New Orleans and was deeply moved by the ornate costuming and decoration associated with the celebrations that mark so many occasions there. These philosophies, celebrations and aesthetics shaped my interest in creating works that acknowledge both the eventual deterioration of all things, including human bodies, while celebrating the beauty of life itself.
Like many of my works, these pieces combine found and handmade materials. “Becoming Ritual” began just after a residency with Robert Blackburn printmaking workshop. Through printmaking, I discovered a variety of woven papers that became substrates for the sculptural, layered collages in the series. I also found that printmaking processes like lithography that require planning and follow through to achieve a specific, predetermined outcome, were difficult for me, as my working processes typically entail a long series of actions and reactions. I began making watercolor monoprints and many of these initial prints were failures. But they had beautiful areas of transparent colors, brushstrokes, and vibrancy that I began to integrate into my collage works.
AS: You seem to work in series – is that correct? Can you elaborate on how you approach an art project?
Andrea Burgay: The concepts that drive each series arise fairly organically. It’s usually through the process of making, or writing, discovering where my interests lie. For a while, I give myself free reign to work with whatever materials appeal to me. I collect things; then I go through my stacks of books, magazines, and paper to compile an array of things that grab my interest. I start to arrange them to see what connections can be made. When it feels like I need to take action, I cut or glue, until something starts to happen.
My initial impulses often fail me, so I am always on the lookout for the hidden side of a piece that is much more compelling.
I write down words as I work – the actions I’m making, the feelings that come up, ideas I’ve been thinking about. I hang up inspirational pictures on the wall as I work. And slowly the framework takes shape.
A series that I’ve recently finished connects my studio practice with the surrounding urban landscape. Initially, I had been photographing the torn and layered advertising posters that so often naturally become lovely abstract compositions. I printed photographs of these and hung them in my studio. I began integrating decollage techniques into my work, adding and removing layers of papers.
I then began to excavate and collect pieces of street posters – hanging them on my studio wall. I found a “home” for one of my small collages by adding it to a large torn poster fragment. I also adhered small torn pieces of the posters to layered collages, integrating collected and found materials with painted handmade components. As I worked with these materials I began to understand my relationship to them, why I found them attractive to work with.
This paper ephemera’s original relevance had been lost or abandoned, connecting it to the cycles of disintegration and decay that permeate my work. The material speaks of the passage of time and the possibility of redemption for the obsolete. I integrate the past histories of these materials into the present.
I follow an idea until there is no energy left in it; or I can feel that I’m trying to replicate something I’ve already made; or, as happened in this case, the physical source runs out. As my neighborhood, Bushwick, is in full new construction mode, there are no longer layers of paper on old boarded buildings. This, too, is the end of a cycle.
AS: You started Cut Me Up, an exciting magazine which you describe as “visual call and response dialogue in printed form.” Collage project with a surprising twist – please elaborate.
Andrea Burgay: I just launched Cut Me Up magazine in July at Kolaj Fest, after developing the project and creating the works for the inaugural issue, and I am thrilled with the response so far. The first edition sold out in less than two weeks and my publisher has already issued a second edition.
As you mentioned, Cut Me Up is a platform for visual call and response. Each issue will present a call—a curated selection of original collage images that will become raw material for reader-artists to respond to by cutting, reconfiguring, and transforming them into new artworks. The newly created responses will form the content of the next issue.
The inaugural issue featured eighteen collages that I’ve made over the past two years as an offering and as a starting point for this ongoing conversation.
AS: What are your goals for Cut Me Up?
Andrea Burgay: Cut Me Up aims to provide intimate points of entry to an artist’s work. I want artists to see Cut Me Up as a way to engage with each other through visual language, which for many of us is our strongest form of communication.
Cut Me Up will encourage us to look closely at each other’s work, as we search for points of connection and inspiration from which to begin something new. This format shifts us away from the preciousness of the art object, encouraging us to imagine artworks as malleable, evolving structures.
Cut Me Up will allow me to showcase some of the amazing artists I’ve met who work with mixed media and collage. I’m excited to have the chance to publish work by artists I admire, either in the physical magazine, or on cutmeupmagazine.com. I am working on outreach to curators, critics, and other arts professionals to expand the reach of the magazine and help the featured artists get wider recognition.
AS: I love your Goddard quote on the first page of Cut Me Up: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” It seems to me that this motto underscores your artwork too. How does your publication project link to your artwork in this sense?
Andrea Burgay: I love that quote, too. It speaks to the concept that anything can be a starting point for a process of transformation. It is the act of working with something and giving it attention that alters its meaning or gives it value.
AS: What are you working on now?
Andrea Burgay: I am working on the next issue of Cut Me Up right now with a co-curator and with the third issue I’ll be turning it over to the first guest curator who will be issuing his own call. I’m also beginning to formulate a proposal for an exhibition of artwork from Cut Me Up in the near future.
In my own studio, I am working on a new series of large-scale collages that reflect on my personal history. These pieces loosely reference destroyed walls of domestic spaces. They are an attempt to integrate the darkness and destruction within my family history, with the sense of beauty and love that simultaneously existed.