Found Paintings and Sculptures

In 2003 I saw an exhibition of Walker Evans’ Polaroids at the Photographers Gallery in London. Evans’ felt that the advent of the Polaroid camera meant that it was, “the first time you [could] put a machine in an artist’s hand and have him rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind.” At the time I wasn’t making any art work, having worked in printing and publishing for about ten years, but buying a digital camera changed that. I took Evans at his word and decided that anything catching my eye was fair game as subject matter.
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I started noticing things on the street that looked like art. The first ‘piece’ was near Kenwood House. By the bus stop someone had folded dozens of crisp packets and wedged them into fence. I liked the absurdity of the act, though I suspect it was a way of dealing with rubbish in the absence of a bin. I also thought it looked good. Soon after I noticed that graffiti is sometimes painted out with hard edged geometric shapes, turning walls into Hans Hoffmann-like paintings. All of this was grist to my mill and I started keeping an eye out for what I called ‘found paintings and sculptures’.

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My criteria were simple: Anything made of paint, or any interesting three dimensional object(s) that weren’t art, would count.

Since then I have taken, and shared online, hundreds of photographs of whitewashed windows, dripped and flaking paint, piles of crates and cushions, abandoned bits of metal and wood, and cryptic scribblings of spray paint on pavements and roads.

As far as I’m aware, none of these images are of art. I’m documenting accidents or incidents, which are often temporary. Start looking for these things and, especially if you live in a city, you might find it hard to ignore them after a while. So what’s the point of collecting them?

First of all, I think a lot of them look great in their own right which might be sufficient reason, but it does go deeper than that. The ‘work’ is unhitched from the burden of expression or meaning; unselfconscious, and not trying to convince us of anything. It simply exists. But, like anything in the world, they offer visual possibilities and also serve as a critique of what might be considered art. I can’y help wondering about the nature of Jackson Pollock’s mode of expression when I see an exquisite drip near a newly painted gate.

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How has this collecting affected me and my practice? For a start, I’m much more sensitive to what normally gets overlooked and that’s fed into my work. Much of the subject matter of my work is the overlooked or marginal. I’m not a sculptor, but it’s easy to see how thinking about how extant objects might be reconfigured by looking at some these images. For example, I found dozens of elastic bands lined up on a bicycle’s handlebars once. It seemed incongruent and odd but probably had a prosaic origin (a postman’s bike, perhaps?), but somehow transcended that. If I were to make sculptures, I’d start by remaking some of these images.

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Recently I created an open Facebook group – anyone can join and post images – to share these photographs. Perhaps they’ll start some conversations. Perhaps people will start painting out parts of their own paintings to see what happens.

I don’t make any great claims for these images. They’re a version of note taking and I think of them as a hobby that sometimes feeds my work. Building the collection has got even easier since the advent of smartphones. Taking these images and posting them online doesn’t take long and makes them, somehow, more tangible.

Join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/684824211571806/

12 Comments

  1. mrdougburton 17 September 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Certainly what you are talking about in relationship to sculpture relates closely to the practice of Gabriel Orozco and the photographs he has taken whilst travelling around the world as part of his conceptual oeuvre. On reading this I was also reminded of a show I went to at the Photographers Gallery in 2001, where Richard Wentworth produced a body of work with a similar intention to your own, that responded to the photographs of Eugene Atget.

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  2. bryaneccleshall 18 September 2014 at 4:18 pm

    This afternoon I added an image of some crates, stacked by the back door of a shop in an alleyway in Sheffield. Within a few minutes a friend had posted a Michael Landy sculpture of exactly the same design of crate, albeit in a small wheeled trolley.

    I feel vindicated, but frustrated that perhaps I should have started remaking the sculptures and showing them.

    http://www.maxhetzler.com/uploads/tx_hetzlergallery/1990_Stack_X__1__690.jpg

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  3. oliviairvine 18 September 2014 at 5:25 pm

    I often see things that look like art. I can get a bit overwhelmed by them, which can feel uncomfortable. It’s like I don’t know what to do with them and doing nothing doesn’t seem to be an option. Photographing them and posting them on your Fb page could be a good idea, but that might just exacerbate the problem because then I would see dozens more seductively awkward art looking things and not know what to do with them. Recently, I have started writing again. I think, for me, the best way of dealing with these seductively awkward art looking things is to write about them. As it is verbal and not visual it works in a parallel kind of way and can then form a bridge from which other images can be made.

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  4. Yiannitsa Cegarra 18 September 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Great article Bryan! I’ve just joined the group. Will search my archive as I’ve taken some images of found art, including in woods.

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  5. emmadrye 18 September 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Cornelia Parker does this too – she spoke about it in her episode of ‘what artists do all day’. She’s made some casts of pavement cracks leading from the photos.

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  6. bryaneccleshall 18 September 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Of course, the parlour game side to this is to identify the artists… Lots of Abstract Expressionist painting and Minimalist Sculpture.

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  7. Aylish 19 September 2014 at 12:29 am

    This reminds me of the Angola pavilion at the Biennale in Venice last year – ‘Luana – Encyclopedic city’ which was a series of photographs of mundane objects found on the streets of Luanda – based on a series called ‘found not taken’. The images were fabulous.

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  8. ngorm 19 September 2014 at 12:04 pm

    ‘Oil Stain’ (Bethlehem) and ‘Spilt milk’ (Jerusalem) 2012-2014 by Cornelia Parker show how she uses found images in her work. I often find myself collecting images of figures and faces found in plant life, stone, earth, spillages and just about anywhere.

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  9. Bryan Eccleshall 19 September 2014 at 12:20 pm

    There’s another facebook group I’m in (not mine, though), called The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face that collects photographs of things that look like faces. Some wonderful stuff.

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  10. Rebecca moore 30 September 2014 at 10:43 pm

    I also like coming across unusual juxtapositions, such as an antiquated scooter next to a vivid yellow wall scrawled with graffiti. Often I find it is the closeup views of objects such as the patterning on punga (native tree fern) which surprise me and make me more aware of the rhythms, textures, forms and colour around us.

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  11. Anne 1 October 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Another aspect to this kind of photography that I like, is that strangers will sometimes come up to me and ask me what on earth I’m photographing, and I quite like falling into conversation that way and explaining why I might want to photograph a brick wall etc !

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  12. Deirdre NiArgain 8 October 2014 at 3:16 pm

    An exhibition of the work of the Boyle family made a lasting impession on me and my husband decades ago. Their practice was to stick a pin in the globe and go to that exact location and reproduce in detail what they found. We still find ourselves examining cracked pavements and edges of road as ‘Boyle family’ pieces. Just thinking that was years before the internet and google maps.
    On the question of being overwhelmed by this found art, I dont think its that different from found ‘natural pieces eg crooked trees or interesting rock formations that have fascinated artists for centuries. Some are made by human practices, dripping paint etc and other by the wind/rain etc.

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