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Inspired by the Boxman

8 August 04 words: Bete Noir
There is a unique paradox at the heart of the idea of assemblage. It is highly modern in form but nostalgic in content

Inspired by the boxman
Joseph Cornell, also know as the Boxman, received his influence from the surrealist of Europe, most notably Max Ernst. However, where the surrealist's work was often violent and sexual in his content, Cornell turned their techniques to his own very personal use. Collecting objects from his local junk shop and flea markets in his New England hometown, he pioneered the "assemblage" form, three-dimensional collages, often centred on childlike dream imagery, juxtaposition and memory.

There is a unique paradox at the heart of the idea of assemblage. It is highly modern in form but nostalgic in content. It is dependent on the "disposable" culture for it's substance but by rescuing and preserving these disposed objects it is a refutation of it. It's not surprising that this, along with it's mix of avant guard technique and intimate content would speak to many other artist, in Cornell's' lifetime and to the present date, a fact bourn out by the collection of some twenty piece, some coming from as far as new Zealand and the US  that are currently on exhibit at the Surface Gallery.

Some of the pieces stay very close indeed to the Boxman's original format and style. Julie Billington's |"Bouquet d'Amour", a meticulous collection of romantic objects and Nick Murphy's "Untitled", a cutter of family life, take up Cornell's nostalgic spirit. Most notable is Russell Morris's "Rules of the Game", a spare and lyrically bit of surrealism. Nick Kenny takes a more sociological take with "We Are All Terrorists".

Other pieces take up the spirit of assemblage while remaining flat on the wall.
Katie Gill combines collected objects under a think coating of expressionist paint. Ian Chamberlain's "Odyssey", in what may or not be a comment on the Boxman himself, frames an actual packing box in a witty comment on Greek myth.

It's not surprising that several of the assemblage piece (as many of Cornell's original works did as well) play off of science and it's drive to collect and categorize. Sue Platt creates an exhaustive tableau of "specimens" both scientific and touchingly human, "Eclipse", by Nicole Tuggle echoes Cornell's own astronomical work. Debbie Burke blends the scientific with the personal in an evocation of her own medical condition.

erhaps the best pieces in the show are the small works, that emphasis their intimate nature and existence as objects. Dale Copeland collects teeth, broken doll parts and dried fish captures the feel of so much of assemblage art - a child collecting and preserving what is precious to him if not to anyone else. Mary Weinberger's deceptively simple "Home' works on it's basic, sensual what captures home better than a Scrabble tile? Michael Copsey tiny box, called "Box", singed and run through with nails harkens back to the violent imagery of the surrealist who influence Cornell to begin with.

All in all, "Inspired by the Boxman" is an impressive and diverse show. It runs at the Surface Galley until the 3rd of September.

One may ponder the difference between inspiration, homage, and rip-off. On the other hand, one may think... Who knows?. Who cares? Enough to know that artists influencing one another have always been a vital part of the evolution of art.

Inspired by the boxman


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