Rachel Orr: Cut & Paste
An interview with Washington, D.C. based artist Rachel Orr, on her revival of the collage artform.
By: CHRISTOPHER CASEY
"Papercut" film featuring Rachel Orr by Peter Hershey. Video for use of The Khollected Magazine by Peter Hershey.
D.C. collage artist Rachel Orr says that her childhood passion for creating posters for school clubs and teams led her down the path of constructing collages. The vintage flair of her pieces reflects beauty standards of women throughout history, with twentieth-century cultural icons like Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor appearing alongside one another. Her traveling collages features these pop culture figures in a variety of different places, such as one of an Old Hollywood starlet hanging out of a traffic meter coin slot. Orr also works at The Washington Post on two of their offshoot projects; she is the design editor of By The Way, a travel publication published through the Post, as well as the lead art director for women’s newspaper The Lily.
Last year, Orr created 100 new collages over a period of 174 days, exposing her art to a wider audience on Instagram. While she sometimes uses digital platforms to create collages, she says that the traditional art form of cutting and pasting existing images from vintage magazines and books is special to her. She says that the accessibility of making collages is appealing to her, as reconstructing existing work is its own skill, independent of one’s talent level for drawing or painting. Collages, in her view, allow an artist to construct a new vision, using the influence and image of many that came before them.
Images of Rachel Orr's collage work. Images granted for the use of The Khollected Magazine by Rachell Orr.
Tell us a bit about your background in the visual arts.
RACHEL ORR: I have wanted to be an artist since I was a kid. I discovered my love for graphic design in middle school when I started redesigning posters for sports and clubs. I knew I was going to be involved with design in some way for most of my life and I’m thrilled that I get to design every single day.
How did your fascination in collage art begin?
I’ve been a fan of collage for a few years, following artists on Instagram and incorporating collage into editorial illustrations for my day job. In April of 2019, I decided to participate in the 100 Day Project and create an analog collage everyday for 100 days. It took me 174 days but I absolutely love it and have been creating collages ever since.
How do you acquire your materials to produce your work?
All over the place! Mostly used bookstores. Second Story Books and Capitol Hill Books are a couple of my favorites. I look for a lot of large format art books. Those are the best. I sometimes buy vintage magazines off eBay or from places like Miss Pixies. A few friends have given me some books, which I always love.
What does collage art mean to you as a medium?
I love the idea of taking something that already exists in one form and cutting it up to make something new. There’s something so lovely about that. I also think it’s super approachable as an art medium because you don’t need to get bogged down with not knowing how to draw or paint.
Where do you draw your influences and inspiration for your work?
Most of my inspiration comes from my friends and other artists. A few of my friends have gotten into collage and that’s been really rewarding. We like to call it “the perpetual cycle of inspiration.” I’ve also met a lot of other collage artists through Instagram. There’s a community for everything once you start to look for it.
Do you produce digital collages apart from your physical ones?
Yes. I do both! I actually started creating digital collages first but really wanted to have a creative practice offline so that’s when I started the 100 Day Project. I still do both but there’s definitely something special about cutting something out of a book and using a glue stick that will never get old.
How does the digital medium influence or change your work?
It’s definitely a different experience. Sometimes I prefer analog because I get so overwhelmed with the amount of material I could potentially use in digital collages. There are trade offs though. For example, it’s definitely easier to try different layouts when making a digital collage because nothing is ever final.
There seems to be a curious sense of adventure in your search. Tell us about that.
I appreciate that. I’m curious about a lot of different things and like to use my art to explore those in various ways, whether it’s through collage or making zines or my latest endeavor, which is writing and illustrating a comic!
As a multi-versed artist, what do collages offer as an artistic medium that other mediums like illustration do not?
I think it’s a more approachable medium especially for people that might not consider themselves creative. It takes away the pressure of being good at drawing or painting and lets you just focus on creating something new. I think anyone can make a collage! I find it really meditative.
Have you ever found collages to be limiting? If so, how do you overcome this limitation?
Sometimes I will find that I’ve glued something down and want to change it after the fact and can’t. That’s challenged me to look ahead and to try several different layouts before making it final. I take a lot of photos during my process. I’ve heard there is some flexible glue but I kind of like this challenge to be honest.
The D.C. art scene is one with large institutional impressions, i.e. Smithsonian museums, the Renwick, etc. As D.C. is continuing to grow we are seeing several artists like yourself popping up. How do you see D.C.'s art scene continuing to shift?
When I think of D.C.’s art scene I think of people who have been here for years making art, whether it’s Jason Reynolds, the artists at 52 O Street, the women behind GirlAAA, Rose Jaffe, No Kings Collective, Morgan Hungerford West and A Creative DC, Reggie Black, Maggie O’Neill, JD Deardourff and so many others. I could go on and on about all the creative people in D.C.
Tell us about your work with The Washington Post's publications such as By The Way and The Lily.
I’ve been at The Washington Post for six and a half years. In that time, I’ve helped launch and create the visual aesthetic for a couple of verticals, like The Lily which focuses on stories about women and By The Way, which focuses on bringing you travel news, tips and city guides from locals around the world. I love working on both of them and telling stories in new and visual ways.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
In no particular order: I love doing the dishes, I love New Jersey even though I’ve never lived there and still stick up for it no matter what and I take a bath almost every single day.
What kinds of messages do you hope to convey to viewers through your collages?
When I’m making collages, I’m usually processing something I’m dealing with or wanting to experiment with. So, for me, it’s more about my own emotional process than really thinking about how it’s coming off to people viewing my work. Of course, I love to see when someone really identifies with a collage but I don’t do it with that intention.
How does using bold imagery such as vintage Playboy magazine cutouts further the messages you wish to convey?
And by bold, do you mean nude? Ha. I love exploring sexuality, constructs of beauty and what it means to be a woman so that is definitely a common theme in my work.
Are there any upcoming projects you are working on?
I’m always working on projects and experimenting with different ideas, as you can see on my Instagram. I’m currently working on a mini-zine about how to start collaging. I also started placing some collage cutouts in the wild and taking photos of them. There was a lot of interest so I sent a few to several people and asked them to send me photos from their walks. This has been really rewarding to see especially during coronavirus. So, I’m working on putting those together into a collaborative zine!
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