The poet John Ashbery started making collages as an undergraduate at Harvard. His work was inspired by his long-held fascinations with cartoons, movies and other forms of popular culture. Ashbery is recognized as one of the most important American poets of modern times; it is only in the past decade that his collages have become more widely known.
The poet John Ashbery (1927-2017) published more than thirty collections in his lifetime. His poetry collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) won the top three major American literary prizes – the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Ashbery served as executive editor of Art News and as an art critic for New York and Newsweek magazines. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1988 to 1999. He received two Guggenheim Fellowships and was a MacArthur Fellow from 1985 through 1990. In 2012, Ashbery was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama.
In 1953, John Ashbery published his first volume of poetry, Turandot and Other Poems, under Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s publishing arm, Tibor de Nagy Editions. More recently, Rizzoli/Electa published a book on John Ashbery’s collages and poetry: John Ashbery: They Knew What They Wanted, Poems and Collages, edited by Mark Polizzotti, with an introduction and interview by John Yau.
Much of the imagery and source material for Ashbery’s collages was culled from his personal trove of collections, including: board games, French puzzle plates, old postcards and other treasured knickknacks. He became interested at a young age in surrealism, particularly the collage novels of Max Ernst and the work of Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. He first publicly exhibited a single collage in a group exhibition at The Drawing Center in New York City in 1977.