Material Messages I: The Allure of Language

September 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm (Artist Musings)

As many of you know, I am inspired by ephemera, “printed matter of passing interst.” I am drawn to the font styles,  colors, and the artistry of old advertisements and labels. I often describe my work as an appropriation of found objects using collage and assemblage techniques. I view myself much more as a mixed media artist making wearable art, than a jeweler exploring traditional metal fabrication techniques. This month, I am taking part in Material Messages, an exhibition at Piedmont Craftsmen in Winston-Salem, which got me thinking about other artists who have so been inspired by words.
In 1885, Alfons Mucha produced a lithographed poster, which appeared in January 1895 in the streets of Paris as an advertisment for the play “Gismonda”. Overnight, a new artistic style known as Art Nouveau was born.

But it seems that the use of words or language in art emerged around the early 20th Century..

Georges Braque

Georges Braque

“Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso originated the style known as Cubism, one of the most internationally influential innovations of 20th-century art… With Analytic Cubism, Braque’s and Picasso’s attempts to depict the conceptual planes of figures and objects in space developed into an austere, depersonalized pictorial style. They at first employed a limited palette of ochers, browns, greens, grays, and blacks, which were considered less expressive than a full range of color, and in 1911 began experimenting with simulated textures, shadows, and modern stenciled typography… In 1912, as part of their exploration of the ambiguities of real and representational space, they adopted the technique of papier collé (from the French coller, meaning to paste or glue), wherein overlapping and fragmented pieces of newspaper, wallpaper, tickets, cigarette packages, and other detritus were arranged, altered, and adhered to the ground of paper or canvas, disrupting Modernism’s inviolate picture plane.”  []

 Currently on exhibit at The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is Picasso and the Allure of Language, an exhibition which explores the many ways in which language affected Picasso’s work. Picasso and the Allure of Language comprises some 60 works in all media by Picasso, as well as select examples by fellow artist Georges Braque, and photographs, letters, manuscripts and book projects by a diverse group of artists and writers.

In 1932, Joseph Cornell had his first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. Cornell’s most notable works are boxed assemblages created from found objects, many of which included text.

Another American artist, Robert Rauschenberg, used text in his assemblages, most notably in his Black Paintings (1952). “Rauschenberg made this work by overlaying two identically sized canvases with matte black paint and a broadside from the August 3, 1951 issue of the Asheville Citizen newspaper… Though partially abstracted by its sideways positioning and overpainting, the newspaper’s contents remain legible. Sports columns, a crossword puzzle, and a wide range of advertisements, for groceries, jobs, homes ‘for colored’ people, and ‘baby chicks for 50 cents each,’ give this painting historical as well as anecdotal context.” [The Collection, Museum of Modern Art]

Pop Art emerged in the mid 1950s in England, but realized its fullest potential in New York in the ’60s. “[Pop Art] chose as its subject matter the anonymous, everyday, standardized, and banal iconography in American life, such as comic strips, billboards, commercial products, and celebrity images, and dealt with them typically in such forms as outsized commercially smooth paintings, mechanically reproduced silkscreens, large-scale facsimiles, and soft sculptures.” [] Notable Pop artists include Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as Rauschenberg.

I will explore contemporary uses of language in the fine craft movement, particularly narrative jewelry, in my next post, but to start your own exploration, this month be sure to  visit Material Messages at Piedmont Craftsmen in Winston Salem and The Allure of Language at The Nasher Museum of Art, and who knows what words may inspire you.

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