Collage and the Symbolism of the Unconscious

An Interview with Featured Artist JC Alfier

By Art Editor Kristin LaFollette

“I look to create with the intention that the elements of the collage become a bit mysterious, reassembled into new narratives, intimate yet anonymous, and suggestive of emotional pathos.”

As a collage artist myself, I’m curious: How did you become a collage artist? Why is collage the best form for your artistic expression?

I became a collage artist around the first of the year after encountering the work of Belgian photo-artist Katrien DeBlauwer in an issue of Aperture. I’ve always loved art of various styles and schools, but no work captured me the way hers did. Before her, I never had much of an urge to create art. All was strictly poetry for me. What she seeks to portray resonates with me deeply, goes beyond mere admiration of styles and formats. She and I share an art in fragmentary discourses. When I assemble the photos, I realize that they draw toward each other in an almost unconscious way—almost like a coincidence. Photography also works for me as prime artistic expression—mostly shots of individuals, urban and pastoral loneliness, and scenes of ruined and rundown spaces. I also work in double-exposures, but less often than straight collages. Collage works best for me because of what it brings out in me from the deeper recesses of my mind, if you will.

Tell us about the process of creating these collages (e.g., What materials did you use? Are the photographs original?).

I use scissors, glue, double-sided tape, a razor, faded endpapers and random foreign language excerpts from old books, colored paper, and sometimes colored pencils and pastel chalks. For the photographs within the collages, I’ve only used a few that I’ve shot myself. Years ago, I collected photos from mostly foreign magazines that are by now sixty to seventy-five years old, and most likely out of print. I bought them in the early ‘90s from flea markets in Europe. With faces trimmed or otherwise shadowed, the people are virtual anonyms, and today are likely deceased. Through my collages I help save the photos from obscurity by giving the images new lives beyond the intimacy of their original settings and surroundings. It’s funny: a photographer I admire and have published in my own literary journal, San Pedro River Review, once asked if I used AI. I didn’t know whether to be irritated or flattered.

In your artist statement, you wrote that these collages “illustrate Carl Jung’s concept of the Anima.” How did you become interested in this concept and how do your collages illustrate it?

I came to Jungian psychology to better grasp the often bizarre and opaque symbolism of my unconscious—that is, my dream life. Many of these dreams involve my first wife, who passed away a dozen years ago. I began to understand Jung’s concept of totems and archetypes, and during my readings, came across his concept of the Anima, the female part of the male psyche responsible for creativity and other psychological aspects. More specifically, my collages speak therapeutically to myself by mirroring transfemininity, and this is a door I believe Jung opened for me. As such, there’s a confessional element to my collages, yet not something so buried in my own psyche and unconscious that viewers can’t see some of themselves in my art. With the viewer in mind, I look to create with the intention that the elements of the collage become a bit mysterious, reassembled into new narratives, intimate yet anonymous, and suggestive of emotional pathos—like a shadow text a wider audience may relate to.

You also mentioned that your work is inspired and informed by artists like Katrien De Blauwer, Yoko Mizuki, and Francesca Woodman. What do you appreciate about their work, and what aspects of their aesthetic does your work capture?

All three reflect an unfettered imagination. I’m drawn to indeterminacy and mystery in their works, the touches of Surrealism and abstraction, how their works reflect polymorphous and melancholic tonalities, especially in Woodman. I love that in De Blauwer’s art—since she is my muse and exemplar—I’m drawn in by something close to what Keats called “negative capability,” which gives poetry its strength, especially in the last lines of a poem, that refusal to resolve everything into a neat interpretive package. In De Blauwer, the hidden or clipped faces exemplify negative capability. Since she also uses dated photographs, we share a kind of cinematic influence, often characteristic of film noir.

There are strong lines in these collages that create clear definition between photographs and other photographs, images, and/or colored backgrounds. How do these lines contribute to the meaning of the collages?

When I create collages, they often call for a dash of color, but it’s a very subjective thing, and I often don’t have a fully developed reason for incorporating the colors. But a chalked red circle against two night scene photos may represent a railroad crossing light. I often enhance sunlight in the black and white shots by rubbing a little colored chalk over areas where the light originates. Sometimes that calls for a yellow or orange strip to border the photos themselves. At other times I use cuttings from old postcards to set astride a photo if it looks like the original setting of the photo involved some aspect of travel. Sometimes I color the lips of women to slightly enhance a sensual aspect without being overtly sexual—indirect is better. In a recent collage of school-age children, I used a lined page from an old railroad bill of lading to give the appearance of a school workbook. I’ve also colored parts of clothing in the photos because the colors seem to highlight something in the individual I often can’t identify, but probably loneliness. But that’s my own psychic overlay, not necessarily the viewer’s.

A few of these collages have French titles. Are you calling back to the development of collage during the Dada and Surrealist art movements, or do these particular collages have deeper connections to French language and/or culture?

Yes, with both those movements, particularly French, but German as well. I’m a big fan of Weimar Era art, especially in its decadence. I often title my collages with fragments of imagined conversations, both in English and French. I don’t know French, but I have a French-English instruction book from the 1920s from which I extract conversational fragments. Such fragments reflect the element of mystery and obscurity, the way many poets begin a poem in the middle of a conversation as opposed to scene-setting. I try to stay away from giving my collages obvious or cliched titles—no leading the witness.

In addition to being a collage artist, you are also a poet. Do you see your work as an artist and poet intersecting? Where can we find some of your recent poetry?

I surely see them intersecting, for I think I capture in collages what I attempt to capture in poetry, especially by way of concision—that economy of language that renders memorable images in the reader’s mind. Most of my poetry appears in print publications, but there’s still lots online. Here are three recent links:

Rust & Moth (Autumn 2023)

White Wall Review (February 2023)

Stone Poetry Quarterly

By Kristin LaFollette
Kristin LaFollette is the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. Her artwork and photography have appeared in Armstrong LiteraryWest Trestle ReviewThe West ReviewThe Magnolia Review, and others. She is the author of Hematology (winner of the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize) and Body Parts (winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Prize). She received her Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana. Learn more about her work at