From The Archives: An Interview With Bill Wolak

Open any issue of After Happy Hour Review; odds are you’ll stumble across at least one piece by Bill Wolak. For today’s From the Archives, Bill shares his thoughts – along with several never-before-published collages.

AHHR: So tell us about your background. How did you get started as an artist?

Bill Wolak: I started out as and English major, and later studied Comparative Literature at Rutgers University. The languages I studied were French and German. Later, I finished an MA in South Asian Studies at Columbia. Now I am a teacher of Creative writing at William Paterson University. Well, I guess I started tinkering with collage back around 1979. I’d already been writing and publishing poetry for about ten years. I founded The Somniloquest’s Press, and I published a surrealist magazine called Dream Helmet, as well as some chap books, and broadsides. Just at that time I was introduced to the English surrealist poet and collage artist John Digby. John became my mentor in all things surreal, and we have remained friends since that time.

John did the collages for my first book of poetry Pale As an Explosion. Now he runs his own press with his wife Joan called The New Feral Press out of Oyster Bay, NY. The Digbys remain two of the great joys in my life, we get together frequently, and they have been kind enough to publish nine of my books over the years, all collaged by John and designed by Joan and John. Now I publish my collages in magazines, as illustrations for books, and as broadsides. In addition, I participate in various gallery shows, such as Naked in New Hope.

AHHR: What attracted you most to collages?

BW: I’m drawn to the wild juxtapositions that collage creates. I love the idea that anyone armed only with scissors and glue can construct an image that’s as fresh as a dream and just as startling. Also, I’m attracted to those images that are hypnotic and hallucinatory; the ones that are striking, irresistible, kinky, and unforgettable.

JP: Who would you say are your primary influences?

AHHR: I’m so glad that you asked me that question. There’s nothing I enjoy more than discussing the artists who have had a decisive influence on me over the years. So here’s my list: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Hieronymus Bosch, Giulio Romano, Henri Rousseau, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Dorothea Tanning, Yves Tanguy, Paul Delvaux, Leonora Carrington, Hans Bellmer, Leonor Fini, M. C. Escher, Méret Oppenheim, Unica Zürn, and Toyen.

AHHR: How do you start with a piece? About how long does it take to finish?

BW: To begin a piece, I select some sources — either color or black and white. If I’m using magazines or prints or old books, I cut out some images or parts of images that interest me. Then I start working on a background or some other sort of chance construction. Much is left to fleeting insights. These are tiny miracles of inspiration. Depending on whether I’m using scissors and glue or digital images, each collage could take several hours. Sometimes it takes several days or even weeks to know if a collage is finished. Much depends on the kind of collage and the size.

AHHR: What would you say is your favorite piece?

BW: Of my own work, I guess my favorite would be the piece entitled “The Scaffolding of Memory.”

AHHR: So what other projects are you working on? What could we expect to see from you in the future?

BW: I’m working on new collages every week. However, it’s impossible to say in advance how new work will develop. One can only hope for the enchantment of the unexpected.

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