Issue Four - OnlyGhosts
Ghosts on Paper: The Style of Collage Artist OnlyGhosts By: Sparks
As soon as we saw the haunting, ethereal collage work of OnlyGhosts, we unanimously decided that he was an artist we wanted to work with. When I met with him at his house and in-home studio in Ferndale, Michigan - just outside of Detroit proper - he showed me bins of clippings and images, folders of his finished originals and shelves of archived books and magazines for future projects.
In a world saturated with digital media, his hand-cut, physical style is refreshing and fascinating. With a Do Say Make Think vinyl spinning in the background, we sat down to discuss how he became a collage artist, his methods and what styles and mediums we may see from him in the future.
[Sparks] If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
[OnlyGhosts] I think a monkey? I like monkeys. Because they’re cute and furry and you get to live in the trees, which is fun.
[s] It seems like a chill life.
[og] It does seem like a chill life. … They’re fun and adorable, and pretty human, which I find interesting. They have hands and family structures, I don’t know. They don’t have bills, but they still have intelligence and bonds and they get to live in the fucking trees.
[s] Do you currently collect anything? Or do you have any hobbies?
[og] I guess just a lot of scrap collage materials. I buy a lot of paper goods. I don’t read a lot anymore, so I don’t have a book collection, these are just some of my favorites. Like, the Harry Potter books. Pretty much I just accumulate mass amounts of old magazines and books and ads. I don’t collect anything fun like crystals or… stamps. Stamps are not fun. If art supplies count and if scrap paper counts as art supplies, then I guess that’s what I collect.
[s] That’s fair. You’re true to brand.
[og] [laughs] Yeah, definitely.
[s] When you aren’t cutting and gluing, what do you like to do in your free time?
[og] I don’t watch a lot of T.V. or movies anymore. I get distracted too easily for that, I think. I play a little bit of Overwatch. I zone out and listen to music. Both while I’m making art and kind of doing nothing. I stare at my phone and go through Instagram. It’s a kind of depressing hobby, but it’s cool because I’m looking at other artists and there’s exposure to the art community. It’s not just mindlessly staring at my phone.
[s] Usually you’re looking at stuff of similar interest, anyway.
[og] Right, and it’s stimulating. It’s not totally mindless.
[s] When did you begin making hand-cut collages?
[og] It was purely by chance. My parents were having a garage sale and I took home some old books from the garage sale, just because they had a cool images in them. I thought maybe I could do something with them. I actually bought a set of photo frame coasters at the thrift store and made little coasters out of images from the science book. [The first collage I made] was an old painting that my grandma had done and I collaged over it with stuff from the science book. After I made those coasters, I made this. It was just kind of to make something to decorate my own house with.
[s] What year did you start doing that?
[og] 2012. Once I did that, I just started to experiment more with it and hit up thrift stores for materials.
[s] Is there anything specific that really drew you to the medium that you enjoyed about it?
[og] No, I kind of got into it organically before I really knew that it was a well-done kind of media. I wasn’t on Instagram or Society6 at the time, so I didn’t really know that analog collage was a real, trending thing.
[s] So you truly just fell in love with it and the style?
[og] I just started making it for me and I didn’t even share it for awhile at first. Then I eventually started to post things and actually scan them. I made a Society6 account and I guess that’s when I started getting more serious about it, when I had stuff for sale. Art-on-demand is a mixed bag and it’s not very successful for a lot of people, but it felt cool to have art for sale when I first started.
[s] Earlier, before we sat down, you mentioned that you like the style because it’s not, per se, “limited”, but you really only have what is in front of you to work with.
[og] I’ve compared it before to being in school, when you have to write a essay and you get to pick your own topic. I prefer having a guideline, tell me what to write about. It’s kind of the same thing for my art. I like being bound by the images that I find physically in print in front of me. It gives me some kind of structure or some starting off point. I find a piece I like and I can build around it. If I were to do digital, like I said before, and just pull images from the internet and I have access to literally anything, I wouldn’t have the guidelines I need to make something. I just wouldn’t know where to start.
[s] It’s almost more like making a painting in a way, you’re kind of taking the pieces and you’re building a landscape.
[og] It’s more exciting for me to stumble across a really cool image as opposed to being able to Google whatever kind of subject matter I’m looking for. It makes it more fun.
[s] Where do you get your materials from? Are there any specific things that you look for when you’re shopping?
[og] No, one of my favorite places to shop was this book vendor at the Warren flea market. They closed, but his whole shop was a completely unsorted mess. Dangerous piles of books. All his shelves were made of milk crates zip-tied together, it was kind of chaos, but I was always alone in there. It was in a crowded flea market, but it was tucked away and I could just sift. I would look through pretty much anything that he had. You could come across some neat stuff there. I think one of the weird things about collage is that we’re all working with the same materials a lot of the time. Everyone’s using National Geographic, a lot of people are hunting for source material that’s unique, that will make your work a little bit different.
[s] Are there any publications that you prefer? A science magazine versus vintage pinup magazine?
[og] I go for travel books a lot. I do like scientific illustration, which you can find in the nature section or the science section. I like retro photography, there’s a lot of cool, old Kodachromes in old Nat Geo issues, the colors are really beautiful. I love vintage people. Pretty much anything. I’ll spend a day at John King (an iconic used book store in Detroit) on every single floor, looking through whatever photography books I can find. National parks books, travel books, occult books. They have everything there.
[s] Your pieces are otherworldly and seem very cohesive. Do you sit down and search out specific images through the source material you have or do you just find images and go from there? What’s your process?
[og] I’m usually inspired already by a certain found image. It might be a person or a background or a cool floral, a snake, an animal, a skull. If I’m drawn to it, I’ll build around that. There’s not really a formula to it, it’s pretty organic. I’ll sift through the bins of clippings that I have and try out different arrangements.
[s] You let the pieces speak for themselves.
[og] Yeah, a lot of it falls together naturally. When I’m shopping for materials, I’ll buy pretty much anything. I’ll flip through a book and look at every page and if there’s two or three things in it that I like and think might use, I’ll probably buy it. I might end up finding other things in it that I like later and if not, I just recycle the book.
[s] Do you have any work rituals that go along with your process?
[og] Not really. I’ll put on music, for sure. I can pretty much work anywhere, as long as there’s room. If I’m feeling motivated and creative, I can start art anywhere.
[s] Does the music you’re listening to ever seep into what you’re doing?
[og] It does, whether deliberately or not. There are certain pieces that are titled specifically after songs or lyrics, where I made that piece specifically for that reason. The music, in that case, directly influenced how the piece came together. “Time Trap” is an example, it’s named for a Built to Spill song. And I knew once I saw this one clipping, this vintage hand holding a clock, I knew that I wanted to call it “Time Trap”. I have another called “Distant Light”, that’s named for a Dr. Dog song. There’s definitely pieces where it’s clear that the music or the lyric had an influence directly, even when it’s not intentional. Sometimes I titled pieces after a song after the fact and it wasn’t necessarily influenced by it directly. Music is important to my workflow.
[s] Would you say that’s what you’re biggest inspiration is? I know originally you said you wanted to create artwork for yourself, to decorate your own house, but what really gets your art goat?
[og] I just do art for me, just to have something to do. I mean, I share it! I like likes. But I sit down to create art when I feel like I have creative output to output.
[s] So it’s definitely more of a personal process.
[s] Are there any other art styles that you explore?
[og] Not really. All of the art training I ever had was in photography, so that still really appeals to me as an art form. If I could have a darkroom, that would be a dream come true. I think I’d be a lot more into it. It’s expensive. One thing I like about collage is that photography is all based on the found image in front of you and how to create an interesting composition, that’s what I do with paper. I haven’t really gotten into digital collage much. I’ve played with some of my analog work and designed an enamel pin and I’ve done stickers and other kind of digital stuff with some of my scans. So, I’m exploring that a little more.
[s] Are there any other mediums that you’ve wanted to study? For me, personally, I’ve always wanted to pick up oil painting. Is there anything that you’ve seen that makes you go - “I want to do that”?
[og] I think if I could re-do life, I’d be a musician. I think that’s a cool art form that I know nothing about. I always thought it would be cool to be in a band. Visual and audio art forms go hand-in-hand. I think I would really like to do more album art and things like that.
[s] Any bits of wisdom that you want to leave the audience with? Any closing thoughts?
[og] Collage is super fun! It’s not hard, so if you feel like you’re not good at art, you can probably do it. [laughs] Is that weird? Like I touched on before, I was really into photography and I love composition. I can’t draw, I can’t paint. But I love art, so maybe that’s why I got into collage.
[s] It just seems to come easy for you because you have a natural eye for composition. [og] I think what I do is cool. The materials are super cheap, you just go to a store and buy some old books and make something out of it.