Stick ’em up!: The Evolution of GenAI Collage

Nettrice Gaskins
4 min readJan 28, 2024
Nettrice Gaskins + Midjourney

Note: Collage is used here to reference an artistic style, not the process.

Although the color palette is the same (blue and yellow complementary color harmony) the details have changed from one tool to the next, and across different versions of the same tool. I first used the palette when applying styles in Deep Dream Generator, when a collage/batik art style started to emerge. This was before prompt-based generative AI was a thing.

Nettrice Gaskins. “Sun Rayz,” 2020.

In 2022, when Midjourney had been around for about one year, I generated blue-yellow collage style images using version #3 of the tool, then I made images each year after that. The three images below are based on the exact same prompt, as is the top image that has a different aspect ratio.

Blue-yellow collage style — Left: Midjourney v3; Middle: Midjourney v4; Right: Midjourney v6

“I’ve come to recognise that the way I think is collage,” Louise Nevelson, an American sculptor, said in 1975. Collage has changed hugely over the centuries, and in our present era of PhotoShop and internet memes, the words “cut and paste” are more likely to call to mind a computer keyboard than glue and scissors. But perhaps, this original exhibition suggests, it is a “way of thinking” that we have always shared. — Samuel Reilly

The Economist article I quoted above was written in 2019, at least one year before prompt-based GenAI (ex. Dall E, Midjourney) was a thing. A decade before that I was using black-and-white computer print outs to layer imagery in wax-resist batik art. For the batik art I used wax to prevent dyes from penetrating fabric, leaving empty areas in the dyed fabric. The process, wax resist then dye, was repeated over and over to create complex multicolored designs. You can see the influence in “Sun Rayz” (above).

Nettrice Gaskins. Batik-in-progress, 2014.

Throughout the 20th century, collage has been used as a tool for disruption and subversion — a way of ripping up the rulebook and creating something new from the fragments. — S. Reilly

In keep with the tradition of collage, I have continued to explore the style using the latest version of Midjourney (version #6), that is still in the “alpha” stage. Today, I have the ability to upscale the images, which increases the sense of realism. However, I’m not a huge fan of photorealism. It’s the style that interests me… and the color palette.

Another variation of the “blue-yellow collage” style using Midjourney v6.

Like with the batik work (based on computer-generated graphics), these latest images are something that can be re-created using physical materials and I can definitely go back to that. However, I’m more excited about the myriad ways GenAI can take traditional or pre-existing style(s) further. By throwing different words into the prompt field I expect to see something interesting and unique in the output… in multiple variations and aspect ratios. It’s a collage or layering of data and information that evolves.

Romare Bearden. “Circe,” 1977. Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Nettrice Gaskins + Midjourney v6

In 1977, Romare Bearden finished a series of works — including “Circe”above — that re-tell the story of “The Odyssey.” with characters depicted as African-Americans. Bearden had said he made the Odyssey characters black so children from African-American communities would be interested in and understand the myth better. Bearden’s “Circe” is a “conjur woman,” or Mami Wata (mermaid) with the ability to both heal and kill. My GenAI-created image uses the same colors but goes into the realm of three dimensions. The collage style is still very evident, as is the use of African textiles. This is just one example of a type of call-and-response process of GenAI art production. Bearden’s “Circe” was the “call.”

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.