Room 4: FOUND OBJECTS

I explained before that I desire to make art that is meaningful by its physical being, rather than by being the carrier or illustration of a narrative. Not that I avoid the stories that images, symbols and figurative elements can tell. Quite the contrary. But I want them to be part of the history of a sensuous object.

My art is very concrete. It’s not an abstraction, which is why I dislike the term Thomas Nonn uses to designate our approach to art, « material abstraction ». Of course it’s material, but that doesn’t distinguish it from other art, including the kind that tries to hide this. I don’t know what a good label would be. Labels generally just serve the purpose of putting things in boxes, obscuring their connections. That’s what happens to marchandise.

But to say that this art derives its meaning from its physical being is an artful lie. Like all fetishes, it gets its meaning from us. It’s about us, but not in a narrow sense. It’s about our interconnectedness with life on this planet. That’s why I try to merge my artistic interventions with natural processes.

Like its autonomy, so is the ‘history’ of the object at least partially a magician’s trick. We shock our artwork with acids and other chemicals in order to obtain quickly the same transformations which naturally occur over a long stretch of time. Of course, there is the desire to combine what I do with what time has done. So I keep my eyes constantly peeled for interesting pieces of material that have a history engraved in them, to integrate them in my art. I’m hooked on found objects.

Found Dog

Luckily for me, I love the shore and I happen to live close by what must be some of the richest beaches in the world for beachcombers like me. It’s just amazing what treasures can be found there. All sorts of materials, shaped, colored and polished by salt water, wind, fire, animals, people, sand, frost and sun, sometimes to the point that their original appearance can no longer be guessed.

Some objects found on Staten Island beaches

Hot climate beaches are also good because of the harsh combined effect of intense sunlight, salty water and air, and strong winds. Another favorite location is the desert where hot sand and dry winds strip all discarted objects and etch stories in their skin. I particularly like the skeletons of cholla- en saguaro-cactusses.

Crown (Saguaro Cornudo) (1985) 15 inches high. Acrylic and oil on saguaro and found plastic with found goat’s horn and stone and an internal light (not shown in this pic).

Sometimes I find something that is too perfect to do anything to it. Sometimes it asks just a little from me. Sometimes it gives me the form to work with. Sometimes it becomes just a fragment of a piece. Sometimes that fragment undergoes radical changes while the piece is becoming. Usually I combine several found objects in one work.

I find a lot in the streets as well. Sometimes paintings, drawings, etchings, discarted by their makers and having suffered the effects of being exposed to the elements. Sometimes I adopt these orphans and raise them as my own.

Winter Falls (2009) Ink, acrylic, stains and oxididated metal on found etching.

In all the pictures I showed so far on this blog, there are found objects present. Without consciously deciding to do so, I gradually stopped making art that had as its starting point the naked canvas, the white sheet of paper. My art always is an answer to what’s already there –either made by a fellow human or by nature or, preferably, by both. If I come across a work I made years ago, I usually want to continue it, as if it was a found object. I have very little respect for anything, including my own work, that doesn’t convince me that it’s perfect. Then of course I don’t touch it. Not because I think it’s finished –nothing ever is- only because I can’t continue it.

So when I find an artwork or any object that looks perfect, I have mixed feelings : on the one hand, it’s an exhilarating find ; on the other, I can’t do anything with it. I look mostly for objects that invite me to dialogue, resonance. That beg me to use them, to continue their history.

Politically, you could see this art as a revolt against the mindset that equals value with commodities, and obscures the real value, the beauty and meaning of the uncommodified. I literally and figuratively recycle. I fear we may destroy ourselves because we don’t. We just keep on looking for things that can be transformed into money, wasting and destroying ever more natural resources and human potential in the process. The index of our failure : avoidable, unnecessary pain. It grows rapidly. This is a recurring theme in my art which some feel is rather depressing.

“Little bits of eternity” (2007) (18 by 12 inches) Ink on found paper with burned page of travel magazine containing image of Africa and the words”these are little bits of eternity”, and part of a page listing children who were in search of their parents after the massacres in Rwanda in 1994; also the dried corpses of a newt and a fledging bird.

Generally, I’d say my art is about our perception of the world we live in. It’s about seeing everything as a part of ourselves and ourselves as a part of everything.

More about ‘value’ in a later post.

Left: My baby sent me a message (1992) (50 by 12 inches) Acrylic and oxidized metal and pigeon corpse on found objects. Right: The Stowaway (1992) (45 by 23 inches) Oil, acrylic and oxidized metal on wood and copper and found objects.

Details from the work above on the left

‘Round about midnight’ (1994) (42 by 34 inches) Black gesso on found objects.

Bus stop (1999) (42 by 34 inches) Found objects.

Tremblingca (1992) (32 by 24 inches) Acrylic, oxidized metal and blood on found metal and rubber with found chains.

Untitled (1991) (aprox. 90 by 45 inches) Acrylic and oxidized metal on found door, metal and other objects.

I thought long and hard to find the right title for this one but I couldn’t find one. Maybe you have a suggestion?



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3 Responses to Room 4: FOUND OBJECTS

  1. jefc says:

    Your ‘Untitled’ reminds me of the Space Shuttle Challenger, before it exploded in fligth (1986). A piece of bad metal from NASA.
    On the other hand it has something touching. It evokes emotion like a young bird that can only crawl before it flies, walks and swims. E.g. a duckling.
    Shuttle and duckling. Why don’t you call it ‘Shuttling’?

  2. Randy says:

    Wonderful dog-shaped sign you found. Where do you suppose it’s from? A veterinary office? A dog food store? Or maybe it was one of these…
    http://www.internetorderdesk.com/qssite/yardart/index.cfm?act=32&cid=85&pid=165

  3. exley says:

    the first thing that sprung to mind as a title for your 1991 untitled was ‘not dolphins’ but that sounds horribly contrived! it has quite a geological feel to it. ‘orogeny’ ? it is difficult to name art

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