Art-O-Mat artist Kathy Fisher on making cigarette machine art

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Five dollars buys you a collage by Colorado artist Kathy Fisher. Fisher creates collages for Art-O-Mat, the company that turns old cigarette machines into art-dispensers -- one of which, since last month, has made its home at the VSA Colorado/Access Gallery on Santa Fe Drive. Fisher took some time to explain the details of creating cigarette pack-sized art, why she's not in Access Gallery (just yet) and why she chose collage.

How did you get started making art for Art-O-Mat?

I stumbled upon a machine in New York, at the Whitney Museum. I was traveling with a friend and we started collecting as we traveled--we would seek out the machines. I started creating pieces for the Art-O-Mat in 2008.

So, you just approached them?

Yes. You can submit a mock-up for a piece, and they will accept you. Then you start your first piece, a total of 50 that you create, and send them in to them, whenever you get them produced. They let you know when they're running out of your pieces and then it's up to you to make more.

Are they prints of the same piece, or do you create 50 individual pieces?

They are all original. Each piece is created by hand, and you can work in whatever medium you choose. I work in small collages, so each collage is one-of-a-kind. That's what the Art-O-Mat is about. It's not mass produced pieces of work; it's all handmade.

What attracts you to this project?

I think it's a great project. Just a great example of re-purposing something coming from old cigarette machines. My dad died as a result smoking, so for me it's the other end of the spectrum to participate and create something good. Just the fact that you can find them in museums and coffee shops all over and different cities -- it's kind of surreal to seek them out.

Are you in the Art-O-Mat at Access Gallery?

You know, I'm not. You can request that they put your artwork in certain cities. I haven't done so, as far as the Denver one yet. I just haven't sought them out or contacted them yet, but that would be nice to be local. It's the first one in Colorado, too.

Where are your pieces?

I know I'm in Vegas, Sacramento and Miami. And it does change. They restock them and you could be replaced with a different artist. You get a quarterly statement, and the artist gets half of the profit, and they let you know what machines you sold out and that you need more.

Why did you choose to do collages?

I'm interested in reusing materials. I take old calendars, junk mail, and I find the inside of business envelops have great patterns. I'm just forming miniature compositions based on shape and color, and I have an interest in typography, so usually there is some sort of text. I cut and tear up my materials and like a puzzle, I just rearrange it until it's pleasing to the eye. Sometimes it has a hidden meaning, but not all the time. I enjoy producing the pieces and finding the beauty in the mundane.

What do you think makes collage such an interesting medium?

How it's a composition of different textures, and just taking almost garbage, like ticket stubs and receipts and then taking chunks of that and organizing it. It's fascinating to find something that's overlooked or handed to you everyday, that you don't usually take a closer look at.

Is it a challenge to work in such a small size, to fit in a cigarette machine?

Yah, just because that size is limited, so you can only put so much in that area. I've never worked that small before and I have never produced so many of one collection, either. I think I've created over 300 pieces.

Will you keep doing this for a while?

As long as it's fun for me. I work on the computer all day, so for me it's relaxing to go home and do stuff with my hands, like collages and painting. Sometimes I'll pick up a ticket stub or something, and sit down and create. It's just fun.

Look out for Fisher's new show opening in June, at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal visitor center. For more information about Kathy Fisher, visit her web page. For more information about Art-O-Mat, visit the web page.

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