The Art of Junking

Assemblage art is non-traditional sculpture, made from re-combining found objects. Some of these objects are junk from the streets. It is doubtful that this form of art could have existed before the 20th century. We needed copious stuff to have this art form. But assemblage art is more than the works themselves. It expresses an attitude or statement by the artists about our throwaway society that values ever-more newness over quality.  From

In working as an assemblage artist and studying the art-form, I sometimes muse over the question of why assemblage artists get so wrapped up in the work we do; it sometimes gets obsessive. I mean, we gather old stuff a lot. We combine and recombine. We make social statements, or not. We comment on our culture, or not. We collect, we transform, we get stiff necks. The techniques we utilize are not really taught in mainstream art schools. Yet, coming forward into this century, assemblage, junk art, found object art, is a recognized art form.

Ed Kienholz used to drive an old pick-up around L.A. picking up junk for his works. The door of the truck was painted with the sign, ‘Ed Kienholz, Expert,’ and his phone number. He was buried in that truck. Really.


One of the things I love about assemblage is the humor. Satire abounds.  Favorite examples of mine are the corrupted painting/collages that Jacques Prevert did of the Van Dyke, della Francesca, and Toussaint paintings where he has displaced the heads of dignitaries with that of grotesque prevertApparently Prevert, like the rest of us, searches flea markets for his materials and collects old stuff. I think there is a charm to forgotten relics that draws the artists in our house to dust bins and second-hand stores.

In this video La Wilson paints an apt picture of the assemblage artist. A peek into her studio, (cleaner that mine) and her musings on her art form, speaks to some of the commonalities we share as a group.



Recycled Art Today

Just posting some inspirational videos for collage and assemblage, in the form of wunderkammer, today. Seems the more I work in assemblage, the more I see the significance of collage for backgrounds. Although these pieces stand on their own:


And I just finished a provoking post on our sister site: concerning curiosity cabinets as an art form. This was a nice clip that didn’t quite work into that piece, but I wanted to share it:



Man Ray, Lee Miller, Dada, and Solarization

(Be aware: this post includes nude images) cadeau_man_ray_1N

Man Ray: Le Cadeau. Flat iron with metal tacks.

We all love a mystery, but must it necessarily be murder?”  Man Ray preface from his proposed book, One Hundred Objects of My Affection

Every time (and I mean every time) I look at the image of Le Cadeau, I have a deep visceral reaction. Even more than fingernails on a chalkboard; even more than the dentist’s drill. For some reason Man Ray hit the essence of shock with this piece. Funny, but there are several ‘Cadeaus,’ replicas of the original, done later. Evidently I’m not the only one ‘gob smacked’ by it. But here’s what I really love about it: It’s like an old scary movie, say, something really good, like, Hitchcock’s, The Birds. That movie scared me to bits, but nobody had to pour blood all over the set, no one lost appendages, no open gut scenes. It hit the mark without all that gore. So, too, with Le Cadeau, tell someone it’s a flat iron with metal tacks attached to the bottom, and it sounds pretty tame. But when you see it…

Man Ray is probably equally, if not more, known for his photography and his introduction of ‘solarization’ in the developing process. Here’s a nice little video by the National Portrait Gallery concerning Man Ray, and particularly his tumultuous affair with Lee Miller, his muse:

And here’s Le Retour a la Raison his 1923 film including that famous shot of Lee Miller with the curtain shadows:



Technique: Fabricating Attachments

Sometimes gluing two parts together gets dicey when you don’t have enough surface areas to hold together well.  This often happens attaching a rounded edge, or a thin edge to something. This is when I like to ‘fabricate’ a bridge-type piece using Sculpy or Craft Porcelain.

For using Sculpy, I’ll make a ball of the stuff, then press the two parts together, shaping the ball of stuff to my satisfaction. Then I have to carefully take them apart, fire the little Sculpy piece in the oven, let it cool, then apply glue to both sides. And adhere them that way. The Sculpy can be painted with matte medium gel, dried and painted any color you want.

But my latest favorite is the Porcelain Clay. It air dries, so you can put the two pieces together like above, and just let them dry. Sometimes you don’t even need to glue if it’s worked into the surfaces. Another neat thing is a little water can be brushed on the clay surface to really smooth it out and make it look like it really belongs there, just like you would smooth regular clay. Again matte gel and paint will adhere to the surface. (By the way, you can get paint to adhere to just about any surface if you first paint it with matte gel.) This Porcelain Clay is a little pricey, but if you are careful to keep it out of the air, you can use it many times, fabricating little holders that will save you a lot of work and scratching of the head.

Below is a quick photo of a very small rodent’s jaw bone attached to a medallion using the Porcelain Clay:

clay 2 wrong

Louise Bourgeois: Weaving Symbolism louise-bourgeois-spider     One of my favorite artists of all time is Louise Bourgeois. I find her work powerfully visceral. At the left is one of her gigantic spiders. Inside the cage, or cell, is a full-sized chair. That’s how big that piece is. As I walked around the cell, there were bits and pieces of “stuff” stuck to the wire, seeming to lure me toward the spider’s lair. However, Bourgeois said she saw her spiders as protective, not malevolent. A perfect example of symbolism read differently from the artist and the viewer. Different reactions to the art work, but both holding strong emotional reactions.

The symbolism within the art work could be intended by the artist, but perhaps it isn’t. The symbolism could come about during the process of building the artwork. As we give rise to the piece there are times when we are not constantly thinking out each step and movement we take to create; our minds are free to wander and weave the story and meaning,

lb 1     Here’s Bourgeois talking about a drawing she did of some knots:

“Surprisingly enough, since I come from a family of tapestry weavers, I am interested in whether you have one, or two threads. When I was little and my  mother would show me something in a tapestry, suddenly there was a knot. Usually knots happen to people who are lazy, because they don’t want to re thread too often. Plain laziness. So they get a thread that’s much too long. Now if the thread is too long it is going to get a knot, and I loved that because I didn’t like to work on the tapestry, but I loved to undo the knots…I was so patient because it represented an activity that was symbolic, that I was able to undo something that was a problem; it was within my competence. But for that you have to know whether you have two threads or one….For me the knot is a problem that you have to understand and erase. People fight with each other, but if you are clever and patient enough you can undo the trouble…”

But even if I don’t always understand her symbolism without her explanation, her art has an electrical resonance with me. I feel it deep inside. And I think it comes from her adherence to speaking the truth in her work. Her truth, her story.

And here’s a fine little example of Louise speaking of her symbolism in this art piece:

Bob Craig Collage Technique

bob-craig-chinagate     Canadian Bob Craig is recognized for his fine work in collage. He “interprets imagery and messages from his conscious and subconscious.” This is a rather nice video showing his simple, yet extremely detailed technique of collaging.

I like that the video shows him spending time gathering color and textures, paying attention to basic rules of design, and mentioning the usage of better quality materials. I don’t recognize the glue he uses….looks like a liquid gel medium?

You can find Bob’s website at :

As an aside, a friend just loaned me a book called Collage The Making of Modern Art  by Brandon Taylor. I’ll try to put it up on the ‘rank-o-meter’ under the “Good Reads” section of this site in a couple of days…meanwhile, enjoy Bob’s inspirational video:

Update: Bob kindly responded to this post with this information: He uses an ordinary bond-fast glue for his assemblages, and Josonja Matte Varnish for his collages, which he also uses as a coating on the collages…Thanks Bob!

Spotlight: Christopher Bales A_child_is_born2     “Garage sales, flea markets, antique stores, junk yards: these are places you might find me rummaging over display tables or inside water stained boxes looking for any object that asks me politely to take it home. I place my excavations on one of dozens of dusty shelves where they may sit for years waiting to be put to use.” –Christopher Bales

We met Chris last year when we still had our gallery. We hosted  ‘The West Coast Assemblage Show’ and Chris joined us for it along with a handful of other west coasters. His work includes a wonderful mix of collage and assemblage using recycled objects put to great use. Mr. Bales makes his home in Sacramento, CA, and you can visit his website at : he is quite popular these days, and we were very pleased to have him pop over for the show. A peak into the quirky world of an assemblage artist:

“My sculptures are created in a similar way. I start by collecting a pile of objects. The artwork defines itself as these seemingly unrelated items are constructed. Sometimes the concept is immediately clear, other times I have to wait for it to be finished to find the meaning. This subliminal way of working preserves the mystery and spontaneity in my art, managing to keep the process fresh.”  –CB

recycled Boat_of_detail

There’s often a use of iconic western religious images in his works. This resonates with many viewers, and gives his art a very mature feel. But one of the things I saw in his work that impressed me was his use of objects for their profile alone. It’s not easy dropping the definitions surrounding objects. For instance, a nail is a nail, right? Well, what I saw were nails being used as spires in a piece. That is such a delightful discovery for the viewer, and widens the experience of his art.

And Chris also has taken his art to writing and illustrating. You can check out his books on the website and purchase there, as well.

“My work represents oddities I have discovered stumbling around the attic of my subconscious, touching on universal icons that find their way to the surface. My hope is that the viewer will be disturbed, amused, intrigued, or at least curious about what I have created.” -CB

Viewing Chris’s art shows how found objects can be put to a very mature use.

recycled Behind the Attic Window

I encourage readers to check out Chris’s website, it’s an inspiring visit to the wonderful world of this recycled art medium, and he is a heck-of-a nice guy. I hope this post finds him well and busy, gearing up for his next book, or show! Again, you can find Chris at:

images top to bottom:

top:  A Child is Born

center: Boat of a Million Years

bottom: Behind The Attic Window


Art Technique: The Glues

Mostly, here in our studio, we try to make cold connections for our art. They hold up. Bolts and screws can anchor main heavier objects and it’s enjoyable to figure out “hide the screw” by planning each step of the attaching process. But, we also have favorite glues for the lighter pieces. Everyone has their own list, here are the ones on our shelves: E600 (the workhorse of glues, it stays pliable and dries strong), jewelry glue (for a very quick stiff hold of small objects), mosaic glue (for tiles and pottery to wood), carpenter’s glue (for wood construction), and medium matte gel (for paper).

What I really want to share here is the website bomb of glues: this site has all the answers to all things glue.

Here is a good video on gluing for collage: (who knew about the rubber eraser? I didn’t…)

Kurt Schwitters and Merz

Merz: a coming together of things. a conglomeration.

Merz was the name given by Schwittters to his new universal medium. (One that included painting, collage, agglomerate sculpture, theater, architecture, typography, poetry and even a form of singing.) The word was taken from the title of a collage in which he had incorporated a fragment from an advertisement for the Kommerz und Privatbank. There are about twenty large Merz pictures, hundreds of smaller ones, and innumerable Merz drawings. Three Merz architectural constructions were his most ambitious undertakings. The first Merzbau, built in Schwitters home in Hanover and called The Column, or Cathedral of Erotic Misery, was the only one completed…The Column was a depository of Schwitters’ own problems, a cathedral built not only around his own erotic misery, but around all joy and misery of his life and time. There were cave-like openings hidden in the abstract structure, with secret doors of colored blocks. These secret doors were opened only to invited friends. There was a Murderer’s Cave, with a broken plaster cast of a female nude, stained bloody with lipstick or paint; there was a caricature abode of Nibelungen in miniature; in one of the caves a small bottle of urine was solemnly displayed.”  from the Art of Assemblage by William Seitz 1961

I try to categorize Schwitters in my own head. Was he a bit wacky? Or was he way ahead of his time, approaching subjects verboten, then, lightweight, nowdays? His Merzbau in Ambleside, England is the only one remaining. Schwitters died in 1948.  Below is a reconstruction of the Hanover Merzbau. The video opens with the sound poem Ursonate by Schwitters.

(Sorry..technical difficulties on this have come up I’ll try to replace ASAP)


And if you want to go whole-hog Dada, here’s a fragment of Ursonate, one of Schwitters sound poems. ( Funny, when I play this video, my two terriers set to barking!)

Note to Self: there is a pdf of a Schwitters’ fairytale (!!) here:   check it out!

Spotlight: James Michael Starr

Soft spoken artist James Michael Starr, has intrigued us ever since we started working in assemblage. When Michael and I were just starting out in our downstairs studio we would visit James Michael’s website for inspiration. As an artist, I can think of few others who in my opinion really “get it.” Someday I hope we can meet him personally, but let me share this little story: When my husband Michael (Wilson) completed one of his first assemblage pieces he wrote a letter to James Michael, included a photo of his new work, and asked for a critique. I really thought nothing would come of his inquiry, but James Michael graciously took the time to write several paragraphs of kind observations that we still cherish after 10 years. His encouragement helped keep us on track, and his example of kindness reminds us to ‘pay it back’ whenever we can.

You can find his work at: and here’s a You Tube I ran across:


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