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Artist Profile: Gretchen wagoner

The collage artist and painter invites viewers to create their own interpretations of her work.​

by Rachel Kalina


Most artwork found in the shape of a square hanging on a wall is meant to be admired from afar, but that’s not the case with Gretchen Wagoner’s mixed-media collages.


Each piece draws the viewer in and gently demands an interpretation of its many layers. A signature Wagoner collage may feature an elk in the foreground with an elaborate chandelier in the background — and that “elk” just may be an illusion: a silhouette cut from bold, pink flowers on a magazine’s page.


The Long Island City, New York, artist says that her viewers tend to create their own stories when looking at her work. “Everybody makes up what they want it to be in their heads,” Wagoner says. “I like that aspect of it.”


Although Wagoner was partially inspired by surrealist art to start using collage, she also found this technique allowed her work to become more abstract. “When I used to paint, I wanted to paint representational,” she says. “But it always seems liked the pieces would be too literal. They didn’t have the mystery I wanted them to have.”And now there’s certainly a feeling of the unknown to each collage. As many pieces start out as ripped magazine pages — possibly chosen for certain textures — the viewer has to look closely to determine whether the image in question is a mushroom patch or a random concrete structure.


“I just don’t think too much about it,” Wagoner says, “I tear out what I like. I do that often, so that I have a large inventory to work with.”


Aside from this stash, Wagoner’s resources also include paints and inks. Her pieces encompass a variety of techniques, including Print Gocco — a popular printing method in late 1970s Japan that now only resides in a fringe art movement — and gouache, an effect similar to watercolor, but more opaque, which has centuries-old roots. Wagoner says she uses gouache to “make certain areas” in her collages stand out.


“I’ve always been attracted to the process of making art,” Wagoner says. “I try to use the Gocco machine as artistically as I can. I always want to keep it about my language — my stroke and my hand.”


Originally from Wisconsin, Wagoner was only first introduced to New York during an internship through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in the mid-1990s. Her work is rooted in her origins and combines elements of the expansive natural surroundings akin to where she was raised with modern and urban design components.


“I like the dichotomy of having an animal with a chandelier,” Wagoner says. “It’s like something completely bourgeois and something that’s supposed to be outside. I want the animals to look regal and respected. I miss that part of my life when I was growing up and I had a lot of nature around me.”


What the combined elements within each piece mean is ultimately decided by the individual viewer; because Wagoner’s collages may be created on two-dimensional surfaces, but there is an undeniable depth to them once completed.


“Looking at art has always been inspiring to me,” Wagoner says, “I think that taps

into ideas you didn’t really know that you had.”

Published: Venus Zine,, December 21, 2007


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