Friday, April 13, 2012

Assemblage of Thoughts On Bricolage Art

Bricolage [bree-coal-ahj] is a visual arts term used to describe art that is created from an assemblage of everyday objects and/or items that happen to be at hand during the artists need for creative expression. Personally, bricolage and assemblage arts haven't turned me into a pack-rat though it may encourage the habit to hoard... I only save the good stuff. What makes stuff good or garbage? It's hard to say just what it is that attracts an artist to a particular object. I think that the heart of bricolage is that creative impulse though... the need to create or express overpowering the need to wait for more traditional art materials to become available. Rather than create a sketch with a shopping list the bricoleur must look, wait, and jump when the moment is right in order to get that perfect object or flash of inspiration.
 Assemblage art and bricolage are siblings but not quite twins. An assemblage artist often works with the same methods, techniques, and/or materials in each art work with a fairly good concept of how those items will come together before the project begins. This also creates a recognisable "style", often with layers of encaustic wax, thick paint, industrial or architectural elements, old keys and vintage toys as favorite materials of many assemblage artists today (and rightly so because they are cool). The art of a bricoleur however will be unlikely to resemble other pieces created by the same artist to any high degree because the same materials may not be available, and things have to be assembled with different methods for nearly every project. The bricoleur is saying, "I need to make something... now! What do I have?" Perhaps assemblage art stems from a desire to take unwanted objects to make them into something wanted and attractive, whereas bricolage stems from a simple desire to make; It doesn't necessarily care if it's attractive because it just "is" or the artist felt that it simply needed to happen.
"Restrictions" by Tree Pruitt

In my opinion pure bricolage allows a viewer to see the components as they are, but put together or used differently from the original purpose... like using masonry blocks and plywood as a bookcase. Assemblage art often, but not always, embeds or disguises objects by using them as parts of a whole. My own piece titled "Restrictions" is one of my favorite examples of bricolage expression, though the final results were closer to assemblage than bricolage. I'd found myself with an overwhelming emotional need to express creatively while low on art supplies. With just a couple of tubes of paint and some glue in hand I rummaged through the house until I found a thing to use as a base, a thing to use as the actual thing, and then stuff to go over the thing. Only then did I have an understanding of what thing I was going to make -- a confined human figure. I wrapped heavy duty fishing line around a (clean) bed pillow and metal pipe then placed a vintage foam wig form on top as a ready made skull. Upholstery fabric was then wrapped over that and drip painted to resemble a dirty old thing dug out of the ground because at that point I'd taken to the concept of archaeology's mummy bundles, which are often tied and bound in order to hold the body in place. The concept was perfect for my expression though it wasn't present at the start of the project where only the emotional need to express was there. The everyday-ness of the components is hidden inside something that looks totally different from the things that I started with, so that is why I'd consider Restrictions as not being pure bricolage.
"It's Only Natural", Tree Pruitt

A more purist example of bricolage within my own art work is the assemblage sculpture "It's Only Natural", which is composed of objects I found while walking around an old timber mill lot. Here there was no emotional drive to create, but the piece was inspired by what the objects seemed to naturally resemble... or imply. On the reverse side a metal clamp and two rusty bolts hold the parts together while also acting as representations of internal female reproductive organs, once the mind has entered the realm of sex; A special stone that naturally resembles a penis helps the mind wander that way. It could be a statement about sexism, about the timber industry, environmentalism, textures, or just the way things sometimes come together. A viewer can think whatever they like when looking at the piece, but the facts are that the materials are natural (even metal being an element) and unhidden.

Musician Frank Zappa said, “Art is making something from nothing and selling it.” An artist uses many tools, but to an assemblage artist or bricoleur anything can become a tool of the trade, and even the tools themselves can become the art. "Portrait of the Artist" (shown above, digital photograph by Tree Pruitt 2012), is a self portrait created from a combination of tools, materials, and even the art studio environment. In this tech based world of art the camera indeed has become the artists other eye with which to see and show things to the world, and so it is here reflected in an old mirror as the all-seeing-eye. For a portrait of an artist to be true it should show the "hand" of the artist within the work and indeed this image does. In the background there is a thin material that screens away the reality of the studio floor in separation from the "higher" plane of the art work. Are you buying that?? It's really just a picture of a plastic thing and a window screen on the floor, but I think it "sells" as an appropriate portrait of this artist.
Some relevant links...

*Original art images ©Tree Pruitt, unless otherwise indicated. Contact the artist prior to ANY use.

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