Lance Letscher: Collage

Lance Letscher: Collage (UT Press Fine Arts Series) BY Brooke Davis Anderson, Lance Letscher. edited by Charles Dee Mitchell. University of Texas Press. Hardcover, 224 pages. $50.

The cover of Lance Letscher: Collage (UT Press Fine Arts Series)

If the Book is doomed, it could have no better funeral director than Austin-based artist Lance Letscher. He may be inclined to dismember the deceased, but he’ll leave behind a beautiful corpse. The raw materials for his intricate and startlingly colorful collages are mined, by and large, from his favorite Dumpster out back of a local used-book and -record store, where he collects discarded volumes—he’s especially fond of shiny-covered college tomes and beat-up high school books—for his studio-cum–chop shop. The resulting mosaiclike collages call to mind the work of Martín Ramírez and Adolf Wölfli in their near-vibratory geometry and imagistic density. Recognizable elements of books—their spines, endpapers, marginalia, illustrations, and pages of text meticulously shredded and recombined—are visible in many of these works, giving them the appearance of tessellated anthologies of bookness. In Maud’s Fortune, overlaid pinwheels composed of slivered book covers—many bearing pen marks, snatches of phrases, and broken words—seem to spin above a background of yellowed pages, composition-book scraps, and a child’s pencil drawing of a locomotive. A good portion of a grammar school lyric (“Merry Maud, one sunny day, / Plucking daisies by the way”) is legible next to an upside-down text sliced from, perhaps, an agricultural manual. A lifetime of literacy—from first scribble to adulthood, from the smell of kindergarten Crayolas to the purposeful study of workaday instructions—is filleted and condensed to produce a melancholic narrative, one that registers just how deeply our personal history is enmeshed with books, pens, and paper. In this way, Letscher’s collages bear a filial relation to Joseph Cornell’s work. Both artists assemble the detritus of daily life into enchanting tone poems that send viewers in search of lost time, some moment spent daydreaming in a long-ago classroom now just beyond memory’s reach.