Collage can be loosely summarized as the coming together of contrasting elements to make a new whole. Bold colors or patterns are pushed up against representational forms to create a world that doesn’t adhere to the laws of gravity or perspective. We recognize this in the 100-year-old canvases of artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris (who currently has a show up at the Baltimore Museum of Art). Perhaps because of these origins of collage, it’s especially notable when a contemporary artist combines elements of themselves in their work, not just material from the world around them.
Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann’s wall-sized collages and installations rework and play with her own life and history, visually summarizing the collision of her upbringing. Moving every two or three years through Asia, the US, and the Middle East as the daughter of an American foreign service officer father and a Taiwanese mother, homemaker, teacher, and graphic designer, Mann first dabbled with traditional Sumi-e ink techniques as a teen but didn’t learn to speak Chinese until college.
In her work, Mann simultaneously combines Eastern and Western influences, using extremely old mediums such as Sumi-e ink, invented in the first century AD in China, and contemporary ones such as Yupo paper, a plastic paper that is popular with water media artists because it repels water instead of absorbing it, allowing ethereal shapes that recall their watery origins to dry slowly.