Assemblage Art: In With the Old

Kingdom by Brian Dettmer

We live in a world of excessive mass production, where consumer culture is driven by outsourced labour and cookie-cutter items, then branded as “glamour”. Just about anything we own is one of many replicas. Often, even items that are meant to be very personal such as jewelry, clothes, and decorations for the home come from a factory, and lack the essence of human craftsmanship. When something has served its purpose, we tend to abandon it, throw it out, or just forget about it entirely.

In this post, we’re taking a look at artists whose work contradicts this culture of mass production. These creative thinkers draw inspiration from items that are considered to have outlived their usefulness, and breathe new life into them, transforming “junk” into treasure. We’re talking about assemblage, otherwise known as found object art.

Monogram by Robert Rauschenberg

The idea of re-appropriating used materials is not a new concept, and the status of assemblage as an art form dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Pablo Picasso worked with found objects throughout his career, and years later Robert Rauschenberg made assemblage his niche. This art form, although far from new, is trendier and more relevant in our times than ever before. No longer an avant-garde art form reserved exclusively for galleries, assemblage has entered the world of fashion. There is something fascinating about owning and wearing an item, like a broach or necklace, which has been welded together from antiquated objects that are steeped in history to begin with, and have been reinvented to tell a brand new story.

Jewelry by Aminda Wood

In a successful work, discarded pieces of “junk” are enshrined, redefined, and imbued with a sense of beauty that had been lost or disregarded. Assemblage takes many different forms: sculptural, collage, and often jewelry. Another interesting and popular approach is converting books into artworks, a creative exercise which anybody can undertake.

Jewelry by Aminda Wood

The above necklaces, created by Aminda Wood, are composed entirely of cast-off objects. These whimsical jewelry pieces act as relics from treasure-hunting journeys undertaken by the artist in search of their unique components. They invite speculation upon the roles these objects played in their past lives, before their re-integration into the dainty, ornate work before our eyes.

Webster Two Point Oh by Brian Dettmer

Artist Brian Dettmer uses surgical tools to turn books into incredibly intricate sculptures. His subjects include outdated encyclopedias, illustration books, medical journals, and even dictionaries. He does not implant any new content, but rather strategically removes sections to depict the essence of the literature in new and fascinating ways.

Absolute Authority by Brian Dettmer

“The richness and depth of the book is universally respected yet often undiscovered as the monopoly of the form and relevance of the information fades over time. The book’s intended function has decreased and the form remains linear in a non-linear world. By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge.” – Brian Dettmer

Irma's Portrait by Vik Muniz

Vik Muniz creates assemblage pieces writ large, and composed entirely out of garbage. These pieces were featured in a fabulous film entitled Waste Land (which we highly recommend!) The documentary examines an extensive project of Muniz’s, which aimed at fostering a new and exciting sense of purpose in a community that exists within one of the world’s largest garbage dumps.

An assemblage portrait by Vik Muniz

These artists have inspired us to reconsider what we see as junk, and to remember that even the most unlikely items are bursting with the potential for beauty!

The Artist Project 2012

Concentration by Julie Himel

The Artist Project delivered a feast for the eyes and the heart this weekend in Toronto. Beginning Thursday night, two hundred incredible artists populated the Queen Elizabeth building at the CNE, each with a unique perspective, skill set, and visual vocabulary. We were proud to see work by several of the talented artists that Norman Felix Gallery is privileged to represent, including Sarah Tacoma, Julie Himel, Pete Kasprzak, and Rhiana Sneyd. Some individuals came from around the world for this event, including action painter Nissim Ben Aderet who travelled all the way from Israel to be in the show.

At the Preview Party on Thursday night, performance artist Clara Venice set the tone for the evening by serenading the crowd with elegant, romantic songs. She played the Theremin as her “second voice,” and made us feel as though we were floating from booth to booth with her ethereal music. This four-day event was a powerful testament to the strength of the international art community, and a reminder of just how limitless human potential is for creative expression.

Performance artist Clara Venice

The artists from our Norman Felix roster contributed impressive work to the mix. Rhiana Sneyd enchanted viewers with her large-scale, bold streetscapes, which capture the feeling of wandering through the city on a sparkling, rain-drenched night.

King 3 by Rhiana Sneyd

Sarah Tacoma soothed the senses with her ethereal, layered depictions of the wilderness. Julie Himel’s paintings spoke as a testament to her stunning creative evolution and artistic maturity – realistic, fresh-coloured, and so skillfully rendered as to practically look alive.

Crabapple by Sarah Tacoma

Pete Kasprzak was selected for an interview with Rogers TV! There is no doubt that his newest works deserved the attention. Kasprzak’s process of painting over digitally manipulated photographic prints, which in this case were taken on a trip to California, is an innovative technique with striking results. His pieces are moody, enigmatic, and impossible to ignore.

Behind the Scenes - Hollywood by Pete Kasprzak

All around, we are truly thrilled to work with artists that display such genuine dedication to their craft.

There were some intriguing, bemusing, and outright hilarious trends apparent at this year’s Artist Project. Human/animal hybridity was one such trend, seen in the highly realistic yet disconcerting work of Richard Ahnert. Ahnert depicts animals with human bodies engaging in day-to-day activities – dogs going to business meetings, goats posing in tracksuits, and many more subversive, impeccably painted scenarios.

Nate's Last Stand by Richard Ahnert

Tony Taylor pursues a similar idea with equally interesting but stylistically different execution, opting for a minimalist aesthetic. Tara Krebs also depicts hybrids, however her work is far more whimsical, and contains elements of surrealism.

Necking in Davos by Tony Taylor

Batterfly by Tara Krebs

We were wowed by realist painters Mara Minuzzo, Laura Payne, and Andrew Verhocekx , among many others. Mara Minuzzo’s clean, crisp images, several of which feature blown-up versions of her son’s lego toys, are gorgeous and touching in their innocence.

Bank Robber by Mara Minuzzo

Laura Payne presents large, overwhelming portraits of celebrities, which are fascinating to the naked eye and can also be viewed through 3D glasses to become convincingly lifelike. Her technical abilities alone were mind-boggling.

Spectacular by Laura Payne

Andrew Verhoeckx took reality to the next level in his hyper-saturated depictions of urban life as one could only hope to perceive it. He explained with a twinkle in his eye that “this is how I see the world all the time”. Admittedly, we’re a little envious.

New World by Andrew Verhoeckx

There were so many gifted people at this event that it would be impossible to do them all justice in this post. The Artist Project was truly an inspiring, eye-opening event. Seeing such a variety of talent in an environment bursting with positive energy reassured us of the vitality of the art industry. Those who attended would most certainly agree that it was a delight to the senses and the mind, and those who missed it this year will just have to experience it for themselves next March. We are truly thrilled to work with artists that display such genuine dedication to their craft.