An Architect-Turned-Artist Embraces the Medium of Collage – and Pops Up All Across the City

Jonathan Hayes was waiting outside a newsagent’s at midday on 23 May, while his friend did some shopping on Rathmines Road.

A mum and her young daughter, of about 10 or 12, passed by. “The daughter was looking at a poster while the mum was not paying much attention to her,” says Hayes.

The daughter read the bottom of the poster. She asked her mother what the words meant.

The mother, shocked, told her to stop looking, says Hayes.

The poster was a collage showing a grainy picture of a locker room from a magazine cutting from the 60s or 70s.

In it, a hairy-chested guy sits in a locker room, a towel wrapped around his lower half. His arms are folded. His eyes stare at the ground.

Behind him, a man and woman from another cutting are superimposed behind the lockers. They embrace and kiss like something out of an 1980s romantic movie.

“Socially distanced and quarantine horny,” read the words at the bottom of the collage.

The mother grabbed the confused kid by the hand and led her off, telling her daughter that it wasn’t appropriate, says Hayes.

“It’s just funny to hear stories back like that,” says Sorcha O’Higgins, the creator of this collage and a friend of Hayes.

O’Higgins, a freelance writer and artist, makes quirky art pieces like this for a living.

Her work can be seen all over, from the walls of the Hard Rock Hotel in Temple Bar, to the cover of Totally Dublin magazine, or on dance music album covers. And also, on posters that hang on the city walls and sometimes shock parents.

The pictures are chopped, cropped and spliced to create strangely familiar but distant universes.

Making art like this requires you to see the world in a different way. Yet, O’Higgins did not always intend to have a career like this.

“The fact that I can say, ‘I am now working as an artist’ is not something that I thought I would ever be able to say,” she says.

A Change of Heart

O’Higgins’ career began not in art but in architecture.

She graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) in 2008, but like many others emigrated to London to escape the recession.

With a degree and a job in a big city, O’Higgins wondered why she felt unsatisfied, she says.

“I thought I hated my job and I thought I hated living in London. But it was actually the lifestyle that I didn’t like,” said O’Higgins, on the phone last Friday.

The rat-race, office-space lifestyle didn’t suit her. “Growing up in Ireland our paths are already really defined,” she says.

Photo by Eduardo Garcia

For her, choosing a career was a “typical middle-class thing of you becoming a doctor or a lawyer or an architect, and I was doing that but it made me very unhappy”.

After three-and-a-half years of walking her path as an architect, O’Higgins decided she needed a change.

She left London and moved to Mexico for four months, ignoring a niggling voice that it was madness when she knew no Spanish, and knew nobody there.

At first it was for four months, she says. But six months passed and she wasn’t ready to return home, she says.

Hungry for more travel, she packed her bags for Buenos Aires in Argentina, where she taught English for two years. It was also here, though, that she met an artist that would introduce her to the world of collage art.

“This artist made collages with loads of different kinds of media. He would use stamps. He would use stencils. He would use loads of different kinds of stuff,” she says.

After having a beer with this artist, O’Higgins went home, grabbed a pair of scissors and any postcards and papers that were lying around.

She began to work.

O’Higgins Artwork: A Method Behind the Madness

One of O’Higgins’ favourite collages she’s made is for an album cover: Fouk - Release the Kraken.

Asian army men, an enormous bridge and a ghostly black and white woman all sit in a shopping trolley. Where the wheels of the trolley should be, legs are sticking out.

A mango yellow background makes this whole bizarre scene pop.

“I just really loved the colours. I think it all came together really well,” says O’Higgins.

Arranging the images together to make a collage, like the album cover, is what O’Higgins is truly passionate about.

There are two stages to making a good arrangement for a collage; collecting the images and composing them together.

Images for collages come from all sorts of places, O’Higgins says.

“One guy gave me like 400 or so fashion magazines because he was moving to New York. Everybody’s parents or grandparents will have years and years of National Geographic [magazines] in their attic,” she says.

Markets, second-hand book shops and eBay are among the many places that O’Higgins looks for images. “ I see the world through collage now,” she says.

O’Higgins will cut these images out. The next step is piecing them together.

“I see collage as like an exercise in curation and composition, everything you work is like existing materials already,” she says.

The images are placed together and rearranged by the process of trial and error.

“I’ll start to arrange stuff on the page and then I’ll take a photo of it. The photo provides that distance between you and the image so you can separate yourself from what you are working on,” says O’Higgins.

Hayes says: “ Collage is tricky because it is not initially your artwork. It’s all about composition and colours, you have to have a really keen eye for that. I think she’s doing amazing at it,”.

Future

Back on Rathmines Road, Hayes is looking at the daughter being led away from the poster by her mother holding her hand.

“That made the kid want to look at it even more,” says Hayes.

O’Higgins says that she will continue to decorate Dublin with her artwork, she has more of her quarantine posters printed out and ready to be put up around town.

“What I like about the stuff in the public realm is that it does more. The art has legs. People engage with it on a different level,” she says.

Her goal at the moment, is to travel more with her work

“I would love to travel and do projects abroad. That would be the goal, I suppose,” says O’Higgins.

O’Higgins still thinks about Buenos Aires everyday, she says.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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