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.


  1. Thanks for this! looking forward to the class.

  2. Susan Lasch KrevittApril 18, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    I can't wait to see what's in the mystery box!

  3. I am very glad you are doing this blog because I have little experience with found objects. I have never heard the term bricolage and the photos and ideas you put here are going to be so inspiring for me. I look forward to the workshop at P-Town!!!