Archive / July 2016

MERZBARN Drahtfrühling

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A2 MerzBarn Poster Test Full BLeed please lr




Kurt Crop 2


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“Drahtfrühling” A collage commission for the Merz Barn publication and in honour of Kurt Schwitters, by Hastings-based collage artist Martin O’Neill. The publication, a proposal for The Merz Barn as a potential international centre for collage studies and research.

MerzBarn Report / Artwork Commission / Text Excerpt

To be invited to create a collage for The Merzbarn by the dedicated people ensuring Schwitter’s legacy and spirit are preserved, was a real honour and privilege. A somewhat daunting task though, to do Kurt justice, & as I embarked on the collage, I sometimes had an eerie feeling of his cheeky spirit peeking over my shoulder and shaking his head.

About the artwork  Drahtfrühling

In making this collage I hoped to capture some of the essence of Schwitters Merz principle, the way he connected and reshaped the materials of every day life and found beauty in the most ordinary of things.

 I began by gathering and collecting – rifling through my own miscellany including German ephemera I collected in 1994, the Merzbarn photo archive & the local stamp and coin shop.

Creating a collage like this involves obsessively wandering – lost in scraps & cuttings, making decisions, creating connections, wrongs – rights, tiny personal compositional signatures or jokes, mulling over, stopping – or not, and that secret sensation of something coming to the end of it’s journey right in front of your eyes.

Often in this process it’s the leftovers that are so inspiring, the bits on the floor, and I’ve often wondered what Kurt’s carpet would have been like in his various ad hoc studios or front rooms – if there were any bits left over of course.

With this in mind I made a decision not to glue or fix the collage down, so it no longer exists, at least not in this form. Bits were swapped or nudged, picked apart, turned over, oddments were dropped on and plucked off – re-cut and tinkered with for a week or so alongside other projects.

Once photographed, the entire collage was tipped into a suitcase along with the bevy of bits that were lying around it. It will perhaps be reconstructed, but it will never be the same. This suitcase of bits may expand as further relevant or suitably irrelevant scraps are stumbled across. Perhaps it may grow enough to fill a gallery floor. I like the idea that it can be moved around and migrate, shape-shift, bits of material re contextualised in an unlimited creative process of change in the true spirit of Merz.

Elements from Drahtfrühling include:

A dry pressed Crocus from The Merzbarn – A present to my wife from Ian Hunter plucked fresh from the annually blooming clump that Edith planted in Kurt’s memory. Photos of Kurt and Edith at  Cylinders Estate. Postcards from Cumbria 1950’s. 40’s drawer liner. A Manx Cat. Scraps of German newspaper – Pforzheimer Kurier 1959 found in Germany, 1994. Elements from Kurt’s poster for ‘Kleine Dada Soirée’ Coiled spring donated by collage artist Jackie Parsons. Clipping of aerial reconnaissance photograph – Hanover 1943. Snippets of Merz publications. Anna Blume cover. 1930’s German bank notes. 1940’s word game. Cutting patterns. Luggage tags. Found letters. Dry stone wall. German bus tickets. Watney’s beer mat. Faxed imagery

Individual elements from the collage were ‘treated’ in different ways. This includes submerging fragments of paper in oil and then washing them and drying them. This oiling technique adds a richness, depth and transluscency to paper fragments, almost as if they’re permenantly wet or have been found in the rain – it results in creating an enhanced sense of layering and depth when elements are layed ontop of each other and also homogenises the fragments by uniting them in a common ‘tone’.

All artwork photography by John Reynolds.

MARZBARN Drahtfrühling Process


MerzBarn Report / Artwork Commission / Process



Last year I was invited by Ian Hunter & Celia Larner of Littoral Arts Trust to spend some time with them at the home of Kurt Schwitters‘ last Merzbau project. Merzbarn. Located in a remote woodland in the heart of the Langdale valley in Cumbria, we explored, talked, drank tea and herded sheep. Ian and Celia are amazing and devoted to ensuring Kurts legacy here is secured for future generations with the plans to build an international centre for collage studies and research. It’s a truely magical place, you can feel Kurt’s creative spirit everywhere. It feels like the rural home of British collage.