“You only need to assemble, or even easier: distract”. In conversation with collage artist Vesna Vrdoljak

”Double Desert Sun” collage by Vesna Vrdoljak


More than collages of images, the works of Vesna Vrdoljak are collages of feelings and experiences. Fascinated with images, she doesn’t just want to reflect on them, but transforms them into her own scenarios. “I don’t go by nighttime dreams
because it’s daydreaming that I like,” David Lynch said. Not just a dreamer, Vesna is more likely a day-dreamer, who acts upon her wildest ideas. This immediacy is captivating. Images upon images upon emotions and memories of a lifetime, like the contour of the mountains behind the Croatian Adriatic coastline from her personal background that has cut into her subconscious and regularly finds room in her work’s narrative. The paper she prefers to work with, old, faded and rich in texture, is filled with its own history, too, ready to bear new stories. Vesna’s collages represent a creative form that often starts with a photograph but questions the limits of photography itself, each composition, with its alteration of shape, aesthetic and atmosphere, becoming a visual fiction that is partnered with just a telegraphic description that feels more like a graphic element, something that demands the viewers to ask questions rather than offering them an answer. Both raw and sophisticated, without rules, created with a generous act of authenticity, Vesna Vrdoljak’s body of work reflects an ability to capture on paper ideas and contradictions in a purely visual form, with the deliberate avoidance of “perfection”, thus preserving a childlike aspect that is absolutely human and honest and creative.

In our interview, Vesna and I talk about collage as a freeing, non-traditional forms of creativity, about photography (from learning the basics of it from her father to it becoming her creative canvas), about nature as a constant source of inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock, why people feature rarely in her works, and what we have lost in the modern age.


Left: ”More Green”. Right: “Nude” by Vesna Vrdoljak


Vesna, is creativity the freest form of self expression?

I think, to begin with, that all forms of self expression are free. They come from the individual and thus are personalised. Self expression is a choice. One could also choose not to express oneself.

To express oneself with words or manners/gestures, you choose your words or gestures.

Choice is a form of creativity. Every outing is creative. In general, there are no rules when it comes to creativity, so that is almost the same as freedom.


What is it about the medium of collage that attracted you in the first place?

No rules. Everything goes. The idea that you do not need to express yourself in the traditional way of creativity: painting, drawing; making the shape yourself. For a long time, I saw those ‘traditional forms’ as true creativity. As a child, I was very bad at drawing, it frustrated me that I could not draw persons or objects. Therefore I did not see myself as being creative.

For me, with collage everything is already there. You only need to assemble or even easier: distract. The images I use almost speak to me and tell me what to do.


Left: ”Welcome”. Right: “Desire” by Vesna Vrdoljak


I find collage fascinating, working with photographic material yet going behind the familiarity and freeing it from conventionality. You make images of images. And yet, I would like to ask: Did you ever consider photography as a path to pursue?

Yes, the first ‘profession’ I thought about was becoming a photographer. My father owned quite a few analogue cameras. When I was young, he used to photograph and develop his own pictures. He taught me some basics like the different types of lenses, about distance and focus. I think he planted a seed to observe and capture. I remember being fascinated by making a picture and later finding it materialised in my hands. I did consider attending a photo academy, but I thought I was not up for the technical part.


“ No rules. Everything goes.
The idea that you do not need to express yourself
in the traditional way of creativity: painting,
drawing; making the shape yourself.”


Your collages are very minimalist, often times the combination of two parts. Does it have to do with an affinity for the source material, with celebrating it yet giving it a new creative life?

Yes, sometimes I even want to ‘make a collage’ with one piece. But then it’s not a collage although you could say I ‘curate’ a piece from its context. It’s interesting to think about whether it would still be a collage. Somehow I feel that honouring and destroying is very close together. An image can be so beautiful, so perfect that I get the urge to cut. “It’s so beautiful I have to kill it.”


”Primavera” collage by Vesna Vrdoljak


Does an image per se inspire you or is it an idea, a conversation, a place that sparks your imagination and then takes shape in the form of a collage?

I have different ways of working. Usually it is an image that inspires, invites me to work with. Sometimes it can be random or small things: the way someone dresses, a line in a book, a building. Forms of nature inspire me subconsciously. I found out I very much like the contours of mountains. Then I realised it comes from years of a reoccurring view: the Adriatic Sea of Croatia with the background of the mountains.

I am also very sensitive to colours and hues. I could start with an image and then in my mind’s eye I can see immediately a specific kind of green or orange. Then I search my archive to find this colour. It must meet my need for a specific kind of texture of the paper. That is also the reason why I work analogue. The feeling of the paper, the thickness, roughness, smoothness or the degree of antiquity can determine whether it contributes to a satisfying image.


“Somehow I feel that honouring and destroying is
very close together. An image can be so beautiful,
so perfect, that I get the urge to cut.
‘It’s so beautiful I have to kill it.’”


Working analogue is very liberating, I believe, and it allows for the unexpected to occur more spontaneously. What’s the most important thing that we have lost in the digital age?

In the digital, there is no momentum. The digital offers unlimited possibilities. It doesn’t force us to make well thought choices. There is no beginning and no end. Everything is possible and accessible at any moment. Speaking for myself, it makes me very restless. As a result, I feel blocked.

I have just read a piece in a book about a woman in the ‘70s whose highlight in the routine of the week is reading her magazine. I love that. So what we have lost are things that are tangible and precious and have a place in time.

The digital is continuous; it is ever-present yet never-present. The digital is a virtual promise of nothingness. The inexhaustible enslaves us.


Left: “Green Palms”. Right: “Temple Inn” by Vesna Vrdoljak


“The digital is continuous.
It is ever-present yet never-present.
A virtual promise of nothingness.
What we have lost are things that are tangible,
and precious, and have a place in time.”


”Gypso Orange More” collage by Vesna Vrdoljak


Where do you find the images you work with? Is there a favourite magazine or other publication that dominates your archive?

“Les Albums des Guides Bleus”, Libraire Hachette, 1954. My favourite year. Beautiful photo books. I have them from almost all French regions, with the Provence as my favourite. But Egypt is also one of my favourites. The paper is so soft and velvet-like.

“Belles fleurs de nos jardins”, 1957, from Larousse. Lovely, powerful black and white and colour photography of flowers.


Are there any artists who have been particularly important or inspiring for you?

Lots of them. Louise Bourgeois, for keeping her sanity because of working while being a mother and mentally suffering. Tracey Emin, for her boldness and confessional artwork. Patti Smith, an icon, Cy Twombly, for his simple drawings and dreamy photographs. Rothko, for his strong and clear paintings. Andrei Tarkovski for his nostalgic Polaroids. David Hockney, Willem de Kooning, John Baldessari, Joan Mitchell.


”Pyramid” collage by Vesna Vrdoljak


What else inspires you visually? Film, for example?

Yes, very much film. Film noir, La nouvelle vague. 50’s films. The dress style of the 50’s.
Colour in films. Nastassja Kinski’s pink angora sweater in Paris Texas. The Red boots in the snow of Vincent Gallo in Buffalo 66. The pastel tones in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

But I also love the simplicity of black and white movies. Like Jim Jarmush’s Stranger Than Paradise.

And the weird and mystery in David Lynch’s movies.

I love typography over images. There was a period when I was very much into the opening titles of film. I love words on images, moving. Over landscapes. Very promising.


Being inspired by film comes very naturally I believe, especially if we think of how important editing is in filmmaking. “Montage” is more suggestive of a word in this regard. Have you ever connected physical cutting – and I do believe that the appropriate words would be “cutting into” an image rather than cutting an image – with cinematic montage?

Yes, always. A phrase that comes to mind and has been very inspiring to me is from Alfred Hitchcock, who said: “Cinema is life with the dull bits cut out.” When I first heard this, I could very much identify with it and felt that was the reason why I love cinema so much, the romance. Or the romantisation of it if you will.

This phrase also marks the beginning of my working in collage. Getting my hands on images with parts that I found dull or unattractive and I wanted to cut them out; it was a natural urge I felt.


And have you ever worked with film stills?

No, I have not. Film stills are usually too perfect or too familiar to work with. They are clear scenes and do not leave a lot of imagination as opposed to, for example, photos from unknown family albums or pictures from a book and cut out of context.


Left: ”Tour”. Right: “Singularity without words” by Vesna Vrdoljak


“Alfred Hitchcock said:
‘Cinema is life with the dull bits cut out.’
When I first heard this, I could very much identify with it.”


”Statue Pastel” collage by Vesna Vrdoljak


What sparked your imagination more than anything else when you were a child?

Stationery. All kinds of writing tools and notebooks. For me, stationery stores were and still are like candy stores. I used to write notebooks full with scribbles before I knew how to read and write words. I loved the repetition of the letters, making short and longer (imaginary) words.

My grandmother was an English teacher. I would browse through her English novels and was attracted to the pages and the words I could not read. Hearing or reading foreign languages was always very exotic and full of promise to me. A whole life and world is hidden behind those words and the way they are pronounced. Often in my work I use cut off words as a graphic element but also to add some mystery in the form of the half or partially pronounced.

I like language, different languages, translations. Looking for the right word to describe what you mean, especially in writing.

People and their manners. I was always observing people: how they talk, move and dress.


And yet people feature rarely in your collages. Why?

I am more interested in the mystery of people than in showing their faces. The depiction of people is usually very outspoken leaving no mystery. And leaving no space for the viewers imagination. If I feature them, they would be so significant, whereas I do not think people are very significant, not more than plants or trees.


”Flower in Space no. 1” collage by Vesna Vrdoljak


Your childhood passion for writing, reading and the written language can be related to your using paper as your raw material. Books count as beautiful objects, too, not just for their content. Are there any books in particular that have stood out to you, apart from your grandmother’s English novels, for their cover and overall design?

Many books, but not one in particular. I often choose a book by its cover and overall design. It is for me very significant to hold a book that feels nice and looks attractive. I feel like it is an addition to the reading experience. It can go as far as when there is a book I want to read but I am not attracted to the design, I read it on my e-reader.


“The depiction of people is usually very outspoken, leaving no mystery.
And leaving no space for the viewers imagination.”


What are you currently reading?

I usually read about 4 or 5 books at the same time. A paper book, one or two on my e-reader and another one at my studio, some inspiration for work. This way I always have a book for different moods. Most of the time, there is also at least one book I should finish reading but I am not too interested, but I have obliged myself to finish it and therefore usually takes quite some time.

At this moment I am reading: Long Island, from Colm Toibin, the sequel to Brooklyn, Martyr by Kaveh Akbar, The City and the House, by Natalia Ginzburg. Ginzburg is, I think, my favourite writer. This book is not the greatest, but I read almost all her work and this is leftover.


Left: “Jelly”. Right: “Mountain Inn” by Vesna Vrdoljak


How challenging is for an artist to do commissioned work? How does it relate to your personal, freelance work?

I love the alternation of personal and commissioned work. I appreciate the direction proposed by commissions. I would never make something I don’t like so even commissions will always stay personal. I like the challenge of making something I would not come up with. Like, for example, I am doing a series of illustrations about food now. A topic I would personally not choose to work with.

My first commissions were quite challenging, being insecure about what the client wanted. But along the way I have found out I just make what I think is good and I use myself as a graduator. Because you never know how the others thinks.


“Appreciate books, reading, history,
doubt, insecurity, nothingness. Being bored.”


As an artist who trusts her own intuition, both in your freelance and commissioned work, what advice would you give someone who is just starting to find their creative path?

That is a very sensitive question. Since it is about finding your own creative path, I think it is better not to give any advice. For me, advice generally does not work very well; in fact, it usually makes me insecure and doubting myself. It blocks me when somebody tells me what to do even if I know it is well meant. So I would just say, follow your instincts and do what feels right for you. And if you do not know, take some more time. Go outside.


In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?

Books, reading, history, doubt, insecurity, nothingness. Being bored.

Appreciate what is working and not automatically wanting more, better, newer, faster just because it is available.


And what is it that still fascinates you?

Kindness and care for strangers.



Instagram: @vesnavrdoljak



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