This year Michael and I are working with some friends on a new book featuring the assemblage and collage work that we do. I can safely say none of us are writers. It has been a huge stretch doing the writing for the book, but it has been a good stretch, none-the-less.
We are having to gather photo images of past and present works, and write about each of the pieces that will be in the book. This equates to an artist’s statement on 20 pieces of art each. Writing a statement for an exhibition is time consuming, but 20 statements is a monster. The one thing I must say, is that after writing and rewriting and editing down and building up, by about the 15th description, for me, I feel like I am hitting my stride.
It’s kind of like making art, I guess: you have to do the work, you won’t get better without putting in time in the trenches. In this way I am enjoying this task, not ready to write a novel, but I feel like a short statement is within my reach.
The greatest help I have had on this task comes from the book, Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists, by Vicki Krohn Amorose. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to spruce up their writing for presentation of their art. And thank-you, Vicki, for giving us non-writers tools to remark intelligently on the art that we do.
“Night Circus” was a great piece to work on. I have an ambivalent interest in the subject of the circus, (I think that is true for a lot of us.) Personally, I love the idea of a circus, LOVE it. A world of glitz and glam and escape for the family, the frivolity, the high jinx, happy people working to give us an escape from our everyday life. But, of course, over the years we have become aware of the shortcomings of circus life: the animal cruelty, the dehumanization of side show people, the dust and grime.
Here’s the description I wrote originally for this piece:
“The initial inspiration for Night Circus came from a vintage photo of the two clowns. The contradiction between the notion of innocent, happy-go-lucky tricksters and these two austere fellows was too great to pass by.
I am presenting the subject in a severe landscape, devoid of nature and life. The two characters stand guard at a seedy, dilapidated house with an enticing neon sign over the door. And in spite of the innocent pup performing tricks, we have come upon one of the ‘uh-oh’ moments, where we should turn-tail and get away quickly.”
But, I would like the viewer to think a little deeper about what I have portrayed here. Here, the circus has been pushed to the crumbiest part of town. I don’t know if the house is hiding corruption, or if it just the last holdout of a dying ideal, like the windows I occasionally see displaying the signs, Palm Reader. The two men in clown dress may only be guarding the last bit of pride of their profession. And I still wouldn’t send my kid in there…
And yet, there still remains the innocence of that pup.
Maps are a popular addition to mixed media art these days. The practice of using maps came from the art of Joseph Cornell, one of the fathers of assemblage, particularly assemblages within boxes. Cornell produced art from the 30’s through the 60’s, and his use of maps has been brought forward with good reason. Maps have immediate viewer interest, we can relate to maps either through direct experience, or through nostalgia. Maps carry visual depth and can represent ideas like travel, adventure, and intrigue.
In ‘Not In Kansas’ I used two large areas of vintage maps to point to the idea of travel, particularly ocean travel. The boat, the fish, the headless bubbling characters, all add to that story, even Dorothy’s red slippers. All are floating on a sea of blue.
In the spirit of fun, and for the sake of incongruence, the child and clown drifted into the scene. The figures are in the boat, but really more like ‘represented to be in the boat.’ The images are from vintage photos that fit with the period references to Cornell, the maps, and Dorothy’s slippers. But to be honest I just like these two characters and I was glad to have found them a home in one of my collages.
I think this piece would be rather flat without the background maps. I’ve used them to help pull the piece together without overpowering the subject, and to represent that idea of travel to places unknown.
Time to get back in the studio. Michael and I are busy putting photos and text together for an upcoming book of assemblage artists. In looking towards text for the book, I started writing about why I choose assemblage and collage for my art. I’ll run some of it by here:
I have always been interested in surrealism in art. I like the idea of pulling images from our subconscious or dream states. The images are invariably a little ‘off.’ And I think assemblage and collage are great vehicles for expressing this unreal landscape. And I think that’s why people like pondering works of assemblage and collage.
When I exhibit my work viewers want to speak with me not about their living room color schemes, but about their own memories or perceptions surrounding a piece. It’s like we are communicating on a more visceral level.
I’ve created pieces that look like the bottom of their junk drawers, and pieces that remind them of something that they imagined. Working with discarded pieces or images from the past seems to elicit a certain introspection from the viewer. These are the conversations I look forward to when we can safely start getting together again. – Susan
‘Wash Wax at Michael McMillan’s House ‘ 20 x 16″ watercolor with collage
I’m really enjoying my new found love of collage. It seems to have set a fire under me that I would never have guessed would have happened. Combining watercolor and collage has proved a natural. Add to that some drawing, and voila…
That brings me to thinking about how much things have changed for artists like myself over the years. I remember a time when we were told we should only focus on one media. Well, that’s out the window, thank goodness. With all the new materials available there are countless combinations and variations from which to choose. Happy experiments lead us down interesting paths sparking our sense of play.
Last weekend we stopped by a museum show in the North Bay featuring artist Evri Kwong, who has done some striking works combining his surreal landscapes, drawings with sharpies, and even some fabric. The pieces were exciting and inspirational.
Evri Kwong, artist, courtesy Lannan Foundation
With a nod to traditional artists, I for one, am totally excited to see and experience these new ideas presenting in the world of art today. I can picture artists throwing off the old societal rules regarding “art,” and what it should be, and instead treating us to their personal artistic vision.
I can’t think of one artist who would rather be attending to business than making art. Michael and I usually try to keep a couple of shows going throughout the year, but got slack in 2018. Thank the gods for Lauren’s Cafe in Boonville. Our friends Natalie and Lauren keep us in mind and slip us in here and there. We will be showing there for a quick month March 18-April 14.
Michael has been working on assemblages, and Susan is planning on debuting all works on paper. Above is one of those works, ‘Return to Balance.’
Feeling guilty about not getting a show calendar going, I did spend time updating our little website, linking to sales pages (feeling a bit sullied after that) and working on our monthly newsletter. Got to admit the newsletter is fun, probably because it is so visual. I even got links to the website, and Etsy (the sales pages) of to the right of this blog. Mailchimp sign up will actually take left-brain time, and my studio is calling…
Any artists who have conquered the business side of the studio, please let me know your secrets…
Show at Lauren’s March 18-April14—–Great Food—–Good Friends——Great Art
The new year finds us zeroing in on creating works that we enjoy. Assemblage is challenging and brings surprises in the process of creating, and we both love working the piece into something cohesive and true. Both Michael and I have talked about ‘lightening up’ in our work, not so easy when parts we employ are old and rusty…we are just not the plastic and bright color types. In an attempt to bring a little brevity to the studio, I started working on collaged bugs. And I am having fun…
My side of the studio has three work areas giving me the opportunity to work on two or three pieces at a time. I find I can really only have one of these pieces be an assemblage, the other one or two pieces are collages. And the bugs are a perfect break from the seriousness of the dark and mysterious assemblage corner. I can work from one piece to the next, keeping busy and not giving in to the artistic doldrums that pop up when I get a little stuck on the next step of the work in front of me.
I’m even naming these bugs to really keep things light-hearted. Above is ‘Riza‘, she is in a 16 x 20 studio mat and frame and will be heading to our show next month at Lauren’s Café in Boonville.
It would be extremely difficult to tell exactly how many practicing artists in the assemblage arts medium in the U.S. maybe 5,000.
If we take this arbitrary number and multiply it by a minimum of five works we begin to see the magnitude of the production of art assemblage each year. When this is multiplied over a period of five years the production becomes staggering and then we must focus on the problem of quantity-quality. The variations and diversity of expression found within this number of works is equally enormous, as each is a separate entity unto itself. Most of these assemblage art works will be insignificant and inferior works but many will be valid and exciting forms. The immediate problem is discerning the good from the bad, The collector of art is under constant bombardment and must ferret out what holds meaning for themselves.
@Assemblage by Michael H. Wilson 2019
The goal toward which all our artistic endeavors make the connection. The task of art and the richness and poetry felt.
The task of the artist, the feeling of creating and finding the points of the compass to lead the artist to the way of things which radiate into your works. At first the artist must navigate through the array of finding things that will go into the final product. There is a wilderness of working through to finding the right components leading to a little star dust caught. Fragments of the detritus of everyday life. The identity of an object is challenged or elaborated in terms of interplay between reality and representation. Ultimately works can be reassembled, removed, a different order, shaken, tilted. The artist works to the artistic invention and imagination that the spectator might find meaning and even joy in these creations. @ Collage by Susan Spencer 2019
I ran across this great definition of assemblage from instructor J. Minkoff’s class notes for his ECC Art 100 class. He succinctly points out that that an assemblage is a type of construction, but a construction is not necessarily an assemblage. Hope that answers some questions…try this definition out next time you visit contemporary works at a museum…
“A Construction is any sculpture where a variety of materials are joined together to make a 3D artwork. An example would be below (“Soft Toilet”, Claes Oldenburg, American, 1960’s), where vinyl, wood and other materials have been used to build the artwork.”
“An assemblage is a particular class of construction. As in a construction, the artist is joining together a variety of materials. However, the materials in an assemblage are, more specifically, FOUND OBJECTS. That is, objects that were made by someone other than the artist, usually for a non-art-related purpose. The artist finds ways to combine these found items, often emphasizing the way they do not seem to belong together, and were never meant to be used in the manner the artist has chosen. Below is a good example of an assemblage: “Monogram”, by Robert Rauschenberg, American, 1960’s.”
Note that Minkoff points out to us that the assemblage objects were never meant to be used in the manner the artist has chosen. Here is where great humor can be inserted…
After the great open studio event we had last month, I was left wondering, “What made this year so successful?” I can’t say for sure, but here are a couple of ideas:
The 100th Monkey Effect- For those of you not around in the 60s and 70s,the theory was that after an idea circulated through a society of 100 monkeys, the idea jumped exponentially to other monkey societies. I hope that assemblage art is becoming more recognized and accepted by the general public. I hope this is true, and that people are intrigued and want to see more.
Hard Work Pays Off– Social media works for the artist. We posted images of work to be on display for the event 2-3 times per week for about 5 weeks leading up to the event. We hammered the event shamelessly, and we invited in person. I know of a few people we personally invited who showed up because of that. Putting in the effort paid off. People came to see the art and the studios, not to eat the cookies.
A good book on hosting an open studio event is, ‘Open Your Studio’ by Melinda Cootsona. Melinda offers a lot of helpful advice in her book. You will have to taylor that advice for what will work best in your situation, but there is plenty there to work with.
What I Wished I Had Done-I was a little embarrassed going into the event that our website wasn’t dialed in. It looked good, but I had no links for purchasing works on the site. And I saw that we had an amazing amount of traffic on our site that weekend. Opportunities missed? Visitors could have gotten an idea of our pricing before visiting, maybe seeing something there that peaked their interest…or could have contacted us later about a piece they saw, but needed to think about.
So, I put in a few hours and got it together. You can check out our website at www.weebly.com/wilson/spencerart We were a little slow on that and apologize, but will not let it slip again!