“On Use” An assemblage work celebrating post-utility value

On Use 2018-2020 Mixed Media 60×70″

I’ve been composing the various elements of this piece since 2018, and I’ve spent the last few days putting them together in an interesting (and rather large) assemblage that I am calling “On Use”.

On Use reflects my attraction to objects, especially wood (appropriate, given where I live in the Pacific Northwest/Salish Sea region), that have been discarded after reaching the end of their utility. It’s an exploration of use, misuse, right use, and abuse, and also of the continuum between utility and beauty.

The unceremonious disposal of these objects is countered by the “ceremony” of recognizing their post-use aesthetic and then bringing it out through composition. The implication is that only after their useful life is finished can certain objects reveal their deeper character.

“Used” (found, salvaged, discarded, left-over) materials form a foundation for my art practice, not only for their explicit materiality but also in how they shape a process, and because of the particular demands they place upon the imagination.

With used materials there is no Tabula rasa, no blank slate, no blank canvas. It is a different kind of relationship, partly pre-formed or destined, beginning with a recognition (even an honouring) of what is already there, of what has already been lived.

On Use is assembled on thick vintage mill paper from the now defunct pulp mill just outside the town of Campbell River. The paper was previously used by me, providing various functions in the studio. I chose to work with its marks and dimensions as-is, inviting more embedded history into the work rather than trying to create an invisible or “clean” background.

The work is assembled in such a way that it can be taken apart without damaging its components. It may turn out to be a temporary piece, or it may have a long life in its current form. It is now hanging above the kitchen table, where it fills the wall. The weight of the piece, combined with some buckling of the very thick paper, has it leaning out in somewhat unevenly, emphasizing its three-dimensional presence in the room.

On Use is 60×70″. Materials include wood, plywood, paint, pencil, crayon, rope, fabric, paper, cardboard, canvas, and hardware.


Dignity. 2020. 48×53″. Mixed media assemblage.
Dignity   (detail)

The wood at the center is cedar, a discarded piece of dunnage from a tree that defines the place I live, used to protect or facilitate the commerce of something unknown and since gone. This piece of wood made an immediate impact on me so I took it home and spent some time with it. It came to signify something, something dignified, a particular dignity that can come with age and even decay, with being used by life and showing said use.

Surfaces have been worn and worn away, fibers that were not integral have been digested; what remains is concentrated, an essence of character. It took me several months to recognize this, and then I couldn’t see it otherwise.

How could I emphasize what I was seeing, bring it out, reveal it?

As a form, the triptych has special qualities, reminders of all to do (and it’s a lot!) with thirds and threes, especially third paths, third ways, and the third possibilities that jump rail and disrupt the common dualities of the day.

The painted white canvasses elevate, like wings (angel wings?), that which is clearly on the path of descent, holding the motion in place, that the assembly might now hover in sight.

“Dignity” grabbed the attention of a number of people when I showed it at my Splice exhibit, and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk about the piece and see it through new eyes.

Barb Hunt took the photo at the top, and I love the subdued Wes Anderson-esque symmetry. Sarmad Al Mouallem got a nice shot of me and glass artist Bob McLeod talking about the work (below).

In June 2020 Dignity was exhibited in the Ministry of Casual Living Window Gallery in Victoria BC.

My statement for the exhibit reads –

I grew up in Victoria in the 80s, at a time of rapid change and development. Although I was young I could feel something of the (rough) character and (precarious) dignity of the town being stripped away, covered with new facade. The Eaton store downtown exemplified this.

At that time (c 1985/86) I was an adolescent punk rocker hanging out precisely where the window gallery is now located, in what was then known as piss alley, adjacent to the Odeon theatre.

When I return to Victoria, now on my way toward elderhood, elderhood with all its lines and crevices and etched histories, I marvel at the changes, and at my own (perhaps necessarily cliched) wonder at the felt experience of aging and the accompanying revelation of character.

I’m honoured and touched to be welcome here, to be included again, and to be able to show my work in this place that meant so much – glorious and terrible – to a former self.

Installing Dignity in the Ministry of Casual Living window gallery, June 2020