Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Organizing Methods

As you have heard from Castle Hill, my plan for Making Fine Art With Unconventional Mixed Media and Encaustic is to give each participant a Mystery Box containing a 9x12 cradled panel and a selection of some unconventional mixed media. The object is to examine the materials in your Mystery Box and make an artwork that uses some or all of them along with encaustic paint.

On hand will be plenty of encaustic paint in clear and colors, colored gesso, pigment sticks, oil pastels, charcoal, watercolors, ink plus other materials such as textiles, rope, thread, string, wire, dried plant parts, and so on. I will also have a wide selection of tools for use in attaching objects to panels.

What Now?
The first question you will probably ask yourself (after What am I doing here?) is, How can I make something out of this weird collection of stuff? To make answering that question a little easier, I thought we could review some of the organizing methods other artists have used to make works that may be applicable to the predicament we will find ourselves in when we open the Mystery Box. (And by the way, I will also be opening my own Mystery Box that my wife Bonnie is making for me so that I can work along with you.)

Components of Art
I am sure that you have seen this list or one like it somewhere during the course of your art-making career.

Line – actual lines or direction of the eye through the work
Shape – areas defined - geometric or organic
Color – hues/intensities
Texture – surface qualities – tactile illusion
Form/Volume – 3D
Value – shading – dark/light
Space – illusion – positive/negative
Contrast – of values/colors/shapes 
Pattern – rhythm/repetition  

Organizing Principles of Art
To put some of these components to work, we get a list of organizing principles that looks like this:

Geometry and symmetry
Emphasis or focus

I added Meaning to the list because I think this is also an important consideration and one that we will be exploring in addition to the physical arrangement of elements.


No. 1 - Construction by Federico Hurtado

Here is an example of a work that is organized in a very symmetrical and geometric way. If we go down the list of principles, we can see that all of them have been employed. Perhaps the one principle that is lacking is variety, but organizing the piece in such a deliberate way gives it a static presence that conveys a sense of ritual and formality. The elements also look as if they have a patina of age and wear.

However, note that the found elements don't seem to have been modified very much. Perhaps the turquoise paint was added and then sanded down, but it may just have been part of the found wood. What does one element have to do with the other? How are they connected visually or in composing meaning? If paint or some other transformative manipulation is done to elements, they lose some of their individual identity but they become more unified in a work of art. They also show the hand of the maker and may be organized into a more meaningful statement.

We need to keep an eye on manipulation of elements if we are going to make works that are not just assemblages or constructions but move into the category of bricolage. For example, what if the ruler had been painted another color? It may have lost some of its identify as a ruler, but it would have given more emphasis to the horizontal and the color might have linked in the turquoise with the browns of the wood. Or what if the ruler had been wrapped with wire or string? What if something else had been attached in front of the ruler? Or what if the turned wood had been painted? Or the black background behind it? These are all questions we need to ask as we are making a piece.

No. 2 - Construction 2 by Federico Hurtado

In this work, Hurtado also makes a very frontal composition with a central focus, however, he has employed a lot more variety in color and shape of elements. Notice how he has placed the inset square above the horizontal midpoint. This visually unites the square with the loop of the handle above and allows more space below for the arrangement of small vertical elements that break up the horizontality of the work.

What could he have done differently? I think he could have made better use of that inset square. Could he have done something to make an illusion of space within the square? Could he have placed other elements inside the square? If he was going to use encaustic in this composition, where could he have added it?

No. 3 - Red Circuit by Jacob Hashimoto

This work by Jacob Hashimoto is not as two dimensional as it may first appear, but for our purposes, let's just suppose that the white elements lie fairly flat on a wood panel and the mass of colored elements projects outward a little beyond the white pieces. We will ignore the rods that project top and bottom and the nylon cord that holds the elements in place.

This is an asymmetrical arrangement that is given substance by the brownish-red lines that appear to provide a scafold for the mass of colored elements. If you block out the lines, you will see how much they add to the composition. They also provide contrast to the rounded shapes of the elements. Balance is a key organizing principle in this work. At the left side of the piece, note the repeating horizontal and vertical lines with the large round element below. At the right side, the mass appears to block out the verticals and most of the bottom horizontal. This gives us an illusion of space; the mass is in front of the lines and they are in front of the white elements. We can also observe that although the elements appear to be just massed, they are carefully arranged in vertical lines that coincide with the vertical arrangement of the white elements. Color and shape have also been carefully composed to add pattern, weight, variety, texture, depth.

This image does not allow you to look closely at the individual elements, but they are all painted on paper that has been glued onto shaped bamboo. An organizing scheme such as this could be used with found objects and mixed media.

No. 4 - Gone Gone, Very Gone by Jackie Tileston

This work has a similar asymmetrical arrangement but with a more organic look and an illusion of very deep space. This happens to be mostly paint, but I think you can see how bricolage elements could be organized in a similar way. Notice how the saturated color works to bring that section of the painting forward while the muted color reads as deep space and the darks seem to be clouds or smoke in that space.

The drippy piece of printed paper or cloth at top right counteracts the spatial illusion but creates an illusion of its own with the two lines that could be cords holding that piece in place. The piece of geometric pattern also contrasts with the organic shapes and the colors interact with the saturated mass on the left side. If you block out that piece of geometric pattern with your hand, you will see how much less interesting the painting is.

No. 5 - Untitled (Hotel Eden) by Joseph Cornell

Finally, perhaps one of the most famous bricolage artists was Joseph Cornell who used found and manipulated objects to construct his own form of mystery boxes. The meaning of his works is obscure, influenced by Surrealism and his own unique perspective, but certain motifs repeated throughout his oeuvre: white paint, birds, circles or rings, balls, clock springs, collaged photographs and cards. His boxes contained poetic vignettes that felt nostalgic, dream-like and romantic.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bricolage With Disparate Elements

Yesterday April Nomellini, a member of Fused Chicago, and one of the people who has signed up for the post-con workshop, sent me some links to murals that have been installed on the walls of underpasses in Chicago.  They are referred to in the Chicago newspaper items about them as "Bricolage Murals." They are large-scale tile mosaics (more than 100 feet long) with some 3-D sculptural inserts, some painted parts, some photo reproductions on tiles, cut mirror insertions and so on. The mosaic is mostly composed of smashed tiles that are cemented onto the concrete walls of the overpass and then grouted with various grout colors to emphasize the design. The murals are designed by artists and installed by volunteer community groups, including teenagers.

A Chicago public mural called "Indian Land Dancing" is a tribute to Native Americans in the area and includes some of their cultural symbols.

I read several of the articles about the murals trying to understand why they were calling them "bricolage" because there were no found objects used and all the parts were tile or tile-like. Finally I came across a website that explains how to work with community groups to design and install mosaic murals. Here I finally saw why this style of mural is called "bricolage:"

Recently, Chicago Public Art Group artists inspired by folk art practices and a visit to Isaiah Zagar, a master of direct mosaics in Philadelphia, have been experimenting with loose, more freely drawn mosaic works combining various kinds of tiles and hand painted ceramic pieces. Working in this way, tiles are broken and placed into buckets. Tiles are not cut or carefully fit. Adhesive is applied to the tile as it is taken from the bucket and attached to the wall. Participants outline and fill large, simple areas. After covering areas with large tile pieces, small tile fragments are filled into gaps between tiles.

Chicago Public Art Group is referring to these as Bricolage Mosaics, using the French word that designates making something out of many disparate elements.

Here you can see the variety of tile shapes that are used and how the various areas are separated by different colors of grout.

Some of the tiles are hand-painted right in place by artists who are part of the design team

This was a great community effort and really adds to a colorful cityscape.

Here are the links that April sent me that connect to newspaper articles:

Disparate Elements in Encaustic
Not to confuse the issue, but if we take the definition of bricolage to mean something made out of  many disparate elements, then perhaps we could include the sculptural work of Laura Moriarty as a form of bricolage. In other words, she is making her own found or invented elements and combining them to make new works.

Laura Moriarty "Uplift." This work is made entirely from encaustic that is applied in layers to a surface, then lifted up, and in some cases rolled and then cut to show the circular layers.

Laura Moriarty "Field Notes Revisions"
See Laura's website here.

And finally a 3-minute video that will give you some idea of how she makes her encaustic elements

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why Bricolage?

Bricolage is a term that is beginning to be used more frequently to describe artworks made from found, recycled or ready-made materials. Such material is usually called junk, but since we are talking about fine art,  I prefer to use a term which may be considered the equivalent of "collage" except that the materials are not necessarily paper and they are not necessarily attached with glue. Perhaps "assemblage" is a more familiar term for the process we will be using, but instead of just joining together elements or objects, I want to stress the manipulation of individual elements and the submersion of elements into a completed work.

NOTE: I am writing this blog for the students in my post-conference workshops at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill on June 8 and 9, 2011. Those workshops are titled "Making Fine Art with Unconventional Mixed Media and Encaustic."  (See the full listings on the blog for The Fifth International Encaustic Conference.)  Each workshop lasts only a day and there is a lot of ground to cover.  I thought this blog might give us a head start by getting us thinking and communicating about using the process in advance.

This is a detail from a bricolage work by El Anatsui that is comprised of liquor bottle caps and wrappings. For more information on Anatsui's work, see my blog Art in the Studio.

Manipulation of Elements to Make a Whole
For example, in the bottle cap works by Anatasui, he has begun with found/recycled material but has transformed the material by cutting or folding the aluminum pieces into various shapes and joining them together with wire in different ways. He also sometimes shows the front of the materials and sometimes the backs. He uses found color to create pattern and shimmering effects. Notice, for instance, in the image above, that the elements have been shaped and that he has folded the corners of the strips on the right into triangles that show the silver backs of the strips. When this artwork is viewed as a whole, those silver triangles add to the shimmer and glow of the metal tapestry. The individual elements are formed into parts and organized according to a plan to make a work of fine art. You can still see the individual pieces and read the names of the liquors on close looking, and these close-up details make a more intimate connection for the viewer.

A view of one of El Anatsui's "tapestry" works made of bottle caps and wrappings. Untitled, 2007

The image below shows another way of Anatsui's folding the bottle wrappings so that even more of the back is visible. Also notice how strips are oriented in various ways so that striped patterns are created.

El Anatsui, detail from Fading Scroll

Where's the Encaustic?
Of course you will see that Anatsui does not use encaustic in his work and that the works are not attached to panels, canvases, paper or other supports. So perhaps you wonder what this work has in common with what we will be doing at Castle Hill.

My intention is to include images of works in this blog that are made from many different types of materials in addition to encaustic. I want to make the point that encaustic is just one of the elements you will be using to make the works and that the main use to which you will put encaustic is not that of a glue.  I hope that you will begin looking for examples of works that use found materials, examining how they are made and thinking about how you could include encaustic if you were to make a similar work.

Group Participation
I encourage you to post a comment with a link to bricolage works that you have made yourself or that have been made by others -- or you can email me images and I will post them to the blog. It would be nice if we could get a conversation going in advance of the workshops so that we will not be starting at square one and so that we can get to know each other a bit.

Future Topics
Other subjects that I plan to discuss on this blog are meaning or content in works of art and formal elements of composition. Perhaps you can suggest other topics that relate to bricolage?

Organization Method: The Grid
To begin our focus on organization of elements, here is another image of a bricolage work. This one is made of driftwood and other found elements that are organized in a grid. This organizing mode, first popularized in Cubist art, has become second nature to many artists. Here is a link to Joanne Mattera's post on grids and lattices in the galleries in February 2009. Perhaps you can imagine some of these pieces transformed into bricolage works.

This is Grid #3 by Bob Leibow. See more here.

So please feel free to comment, ask questions, make suggestions or send information. If you don't want to make a public comment, you can email me directly. My address is at the top right of the blog.