Recycling and re-use of discarded materials and objects have long been an important part of my work as an artist. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid, probably because my parents grew up during the Depression when both food and gas were rationed. Rather than throw things away, they found creative ways to reuse or repurpose them and instilled in me the idea that there was no need to buy an item if you could make it yourself.
My father was the quintessential handyman and an inventor who had built our family’s home with his own hands. He once made a muffler for my car from materials he had in his basement workshop, which is where he kept an old kitchen drawer filled with nuts and bolts and all sorts of gadgets and gizmos. It was like Felix the Cat’s “Magic Bag of Tricks,” as he would invariably find the right part or a comparable part in that drawer when he was helping out neighbours by fixing their cars, lawn mowers, furnaces, and appliances. When he passed away, I brought that same drawer to the funeral home where visitors were invited to take away an object from it as a memory keepsake. I inherited the drawer and frequently turn to it to this day to find the right bolt, fastener, coupling, or thingamajig for creating my assemblages.
Assemblage art is about making creative connections between disparate objects and giving them new purpose and meaning. It is the perfect medium for expressing ideas about hybridity, mutation, adaptation, and cyborgs, which are some of the themes I explore through my work. I’m inspired by post-apocalyptic literary fictions and films where the survivors inherit a non-technological wasteland and become scavengers of the dirty, rusted, and broken remnants of machines which they piece together to create dystopian inventions, like the badass vehicles in the Mad Max movies.
Very early on in my creative journey I began salvaging junk from dump sites and abandoned barns, and started fusing duck decoys with machinery and found objects as a visual expression of the process of becoming modified for survival in an ever-evolving technological world fraught with environmental peril. The avian cyborg became a persistent motif in an elaborate techno-fantasy as I embarked on a life-long exploration of the relationship between nature and technology. The black absurdist humour of my mutant “warbirds” is aimed at shining a light on our dual character as part of nature yet transformed by technology in a violent world of political, social, and cultural decay where the natural environment is being destroyed at a pace that is unprecedented in human history.
I find visual stimulation in chaos, in the jumble of objects and materials at a dump site or in my studio. For me, less is not more, as more means more possibilities, more layers of imagery and meaning for me to excavate. Because the materials and objects I use are both diverse and dispersed, the final composition is never predetermined, but arrived at by trial and error, by moving the various elements around, by adjusting and testing them out. My process is one of finding order in chaos, a lot like working on a puzzle. It’s both additive and subtractive. Unexpected juxtapositions arise through an intuitive placement of parts and orchestration of the elements of design. I glue or nail or wire or staple or screw together all the individual components and arrive at a unified compositional fusion when everything feels both visually and conceptually right to me.