'Whatever You Have': Artists Find Inspiration in Everyday Objects

September 2020

What do you need to make a work of art? Paint and canvas? Stone and chisel? What about human hair or old shoes? In this eclectic playlist, explore the work and philosophies of artists who call upon everyday materials to create their work. Although their intentions, methods, and preferred mediums differ wildly, together these practitioners remind us that almost anything can be used as “art supplies.”

We start this journey with Petah Coyne, Richard Deacon, Fred Wilson and Josh Faught, who discuss their personal and sometimes eccentric relationship with collecting objects. We then head to the Mission to explore late artist David Ireland’s immersive artwork, which follows the basic principle that any object or activity can be art if it is made and experienced with intention. From there, we hear from Gu Wenda, who transforms single strands of human hair into unrecognizable and poignant works, and then catch up with Vija Celmins, who finds inspiration in the simplicity of objects that surround her. We conclude with an animated, brief history of Robert Rauschenberg, who famously incorporated found materials (what some might consider trash) into his work.

Artists On Collecting

“For me, the idea of collecting is like buying a prom dress when you don’t have a prom to go to right away,” Faught says. “I’m looking for objects that have a story that exists.” In addition to Faught’s work, which can be explored in-depth here, listen to musings from Coyne, Wilson and Deacon, who share the peculiar — yet by no means uncommon — proclivity for collecting.

David Ireland at 500 Capp Street

Using archival footage from a 2001 interview conducted by the Regional Oral History Office, this excerpt showcases late artist David Ireland’s sense of humor as well as his best-known work: his house at 500 Capp Street, a ramshackle Victorian in San Francisco that he spent more than 30 years transforming.

Gu Wenda Turns Hair and Glue into Works of Art

“The viewers, at first glance, they won’t recognize this is made of hair,” Gu Wenda says of his piece united nations—babel of the millennium, 1999. “Even some critics have been writing about how this is rice paper.” In this video, the artist details his labor-intensive process of constructing the one hundred panels of glue and human hair that make up this breathtaking sculpture.

Vija Celmins on Her Life In (and Out of) the studio

Vija Celmins didn’t set out to become an artist. Instead, she describes her practice as something that “seeped” into her life at a pivotal moment. Here, the artist talks about a time when she produced two paintings a day that focused on her daily experiences — what she ate, what surrounded her, and ultimately what moved her. “I ran through them like wildfire,” she notes.

Just For Fun: Country Dog Gentleman’s Poetic Glimpse at Rauschenberg

“Out in the world there’s so much to find. What can we make with it all combined?” In the video series The Country Dog Gentlemen Travel to Extraordinary Worlds, canine characters from Roy De Forest’s playful painting Country Dog Gentlemen take you on adventures to learn about famous artworks in SFMOMA‘s collection. Here they offer a glimpse at Robert Rauschenberg’s art and ponder over their ability to create similar art of their own.

learn more about Faught’s work here

Gillian Edevane

Gillian Edevane

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