Artistic Influences: Joseph Cornell

The first two works of non-representational art that I can remember seeing  were during a trip with my parents to the Huntington Library in Southern California in the mid-1950’s. One of the pieces was an all-white, wooden sculpture by Louise Nevelson, and the other was a mixed media assemblage, or “box,” by the great American surrealist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972).  These two pieces completely redefined for me what shape art could take.  About ten years later, I took an old wooden clock case and composed my first box, entitled J.B. (for Judgment Box).

J. B. (1968)
21″ x 11 1/2″ x 3 1/4″
The diverse materials used to construct this piece include a toy car, plastic flower, popsicle sticks, layers of tinted Elmer’s glue, a copy of a medieval church mural done in oils, a commercial greeting card, shards of Indian pottery from Acoma, and a plastic thermometer scale. This was also the first piece I composed with a scriptural reference in mind–in this case, an examination of the various expectations held regarding the end of the world.
It was over thirty years later before I returned to this form of composition, this time with a bookend piece regarding the competing (or complementary?) viewpoints regarding the events surrounding the beginning of the world.
The Great Debate (1999)
8 1/2″ x 8″ x 22″
This piece was constructed from an old scientific demonstration kit from England purchased for me in an antique shop by my wife for this purpose.  The most puzzling feature of this assemblage for most people is how the large collaged “dice” were put into the glass bottle on the right. The technique is akin to that involved in putting a ship in a bottle.
Since the year 2000, about half of my artistic output has been in the form of mixed media assemblages constructed in boxes of various sizes and descriptions.  One recent example is shown below:
Strike Two (2008)
8 1/4″ x 5 1/4″ x 3 1/4″
The Book of Exodus describes the accelerating conflict between Pharaoh and Moses regarding the request to “let my people go.”  This box portrays the second plague visited upon Egypt by God–an innundation of frogs (Exodus 8:1-7).

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