Striking discoveries;Creativity

27th August 1999 at 01:00
'I do not seek, I find', said Picasso. Here Gerald Haigh takes the same path to look at the concept of found art

Can anything be art? One of the ways an artist might capture attention is through the materials he or she uses. There's nothing new in this - Michelangelo's choice of white Carrara marble for a sculpture was just as important a decision for him - and for us - as his choice of subject. Each of the artists whose work is illustrated here, however, has chosen to work with materials or components that were originally made for something else, or part of nature. The artist's task is to explore boundaries, try new things, take risks.

So the beautiful giraffe head, with soulful eyes, is made of matches - obvious once you know, is it not? The giraffe is by David Mach, who specialises in sculptures made from lots of the same thing - like matches, or in the case of the portrait, Likeness Guaranteed (left), wire coathangers. Mach often does very big structures - he achieved fame in the eighties with Polaris, a huge submarine made from car tyres, at London's Hayward Gallery and has made several pieces using tonnes of newspapers and magazines.

It is important that Mach is not using junk material - everything, including the matches and the magazines, is pristine and new. reflecting the profligate nature of modern life, which produces more consumer goods than we need.

Another artist who uses "found" materials is Andy Goldsworthy. He works mostly out of doors, making arrangements and structures from leaves, ice, snow, twigs, pebbles - whatever is around. Usually, they aren't intended to last, and so what most of us see of his work is in books of beautiful colour photographs which he has taken himself. The one on the next page is of a work called Sunflower, which is made from maple leaves.

At the most basic level (or the highhighest, depending on your viewpoint) is the kind of art which collects objects - ordinary or extraordinary - from the street, the seashore, the jungle, and presents them for the viewer to enjoy or reflect upon in his or her own way.

Such is the work of the American artist Mark Dion, currently preparing the "Tate Thames Dig". With volunteers, he searches in the tidal mud for the flotsam and jetsam of London's river - a rusty bolt here, a fragment of Victorian china there - to be exhibited at the new Tate Gallery, Millbank in October.

Can art be so unusual that it makes you laugh? The picture of Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely's construction L'Avant Garde (above) ought to provide the answer. It is put together from metal and mechanical parts and topped off by grotesque masks. You smile at the sheer cheek of it. Tinguely believed that art could move around (see the castors?) and did not have to last forever - he once built a large piece called Homage to New York that was designed to destroy itself.

Another way of using "different" material is to cut pictures out of newspapers and magazines, or to use other pieces of paper such as tickets, and put them together in a way that sends a message to the viewer. This form of art is called "collage", or "photomontage" if it consists of photographs. It was first done by Picasso in about 1919.

The collage we have here (below) was made by Hannah Hoch in 1923 and is called High Finance. You get some idea from the images she chose of what she thought about money and business.

Some artists specialise in using unusual materials. For others, like Picasso, it is one technique among many. Although some of his most famous works are oil paintings, he also made a bull's head from a bicycle seat and a pair of handlebars. One of his works, Chevre (see previous page), is a goat made from wicker baskework, pottery, pine leaves, wood, metal and plaster. Perhaps the goat is made from the things that a goat might eat if it had the chance - or is that too fanciful?


* If I put a cup and saucer in an art gallery and write "Cup and Saucer 1999" on it, does it become art? Certainly there are artists who have experimented with ideaslike this.

* If we wanted to make artworks in class from "found" materials, what could we use? What small multiple objects might we use, for example - paperclips, perhaps?

* Andy Goldsworthy took photographs of his work. If the photograph lasts, and the sculpture disappears, does the photograph become the piece of art? Or is it still just a photograph of a piece of art?

* Does art just have to sit there? Tinguely didn't think so. Can we make things that deliberately fall apart, or structures that can be moved?

* Can we produce art that makes you laugh out loud when you see it, like Tinguely's?

* Can we go out - into the surrounding area, or on a special trip - and make temporary sculptures and shapes and structures out of what we find, and then photograph them?

* Next time it snows can we do something more than just make snowmen?

* Is part of our site ever covered with autumn leaves? Can we do something with them of our own, inspired by Goldsworthy?

* Can you imagine, without seeing Picasso's example, how a bicycle saddle and a pair of handlebars could make a bull's head? Could you try it? What might you do with other bits of a bicycle?

* Can you make collages or photomontages which express opinions or give powerful messages?

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today