Field Notes in Search of My Subject IV – Assemblage Art

Notes of my Approach to making Artwork

“Every mark we make is a bit of autobiography.”

This is a misquote of Anne Carson’s assertion, it originally related to sound-making rather than mark-making, but I think the idea nonetheless holds true. Every mark, regardless of how otherwise intention-filled or loaded, how clumsy or banal is ultimately optimistic, they shout out an affirmative declaration – ‘I’m still here!.

Parts I–III of this series of posts on ‘finding my subject’ tried to go some way towards explaining the terrain of The Undersong Project, where it’s come from and what it’s about. This post will probably make more sense if you’ve read the preceding texts which can be found here I, and II and III. This post – Part IV aims to go some way towards explaining the art element of the Project.

I have many visual arts heroes, from Joseph Beuys to Alan Davie; from Cy Twombly and Tom Philips to Susan Hiller: from Rachel Whiteread and Donald Judd to Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long; from David Nash, John Nash, Paul Nash to Hamish Fulton; from Kiki Smith to David Smith; from Robert Ryman to Sean Scully to Terry Frost to Paul Johnson to Joseph Cornell… and the list could go on, and on, and on… Matisse, Picasso, Tal R, Ai Weiwei, J. W. Turner… etc. etc. etc.

The collage of images above give a flavour of the diversity of these artists work, and I wouldn’t for one moment attempt to try to link their inspiration, intention, artifacts or outcomes to some kind of universal creative grand narrative beyond stating the obvious – the one thing they all have in common – is that their work has, at some point, stopped me in my tracks, beguiled me, spoken to me and then has continued to engage me intellectually, creatively and emotionally over time.

These artists, and their work, alongside my own experience, memory, associations and imagination constitute the raw material from which I spin out what little talent I have.

The collage of images above shows fragments of my own work.

The work has many strands. Paintings dominate, but they are only part of the story. I see all aspects of my creative work as dialogue –  ongoing conversations with things. In my minds-eye I tend to think of installations, or rooms or vitrines, an assemblage of this object and that painting, those words and that pattern – and in terms of a coming together.

Most of the time I work on individual elements of a bigger installation, sub-assemblies as it were of a more complex whole. In fact the installation element has yet to be achieved in reality, it’s an aspirational end point, perhaps forever deferred. And so, in the meantime, my creative work consists of the building-up of parts, creating paintings and assembling objects for inclusion in the as yet to be realised installation.

The content and narrative passage of each of the painted component parts may be different, however there is a clear lingua franca, a vocabulary of certain family characteristics, that tend to occur again and again. Paintings tend to make use of a symbolic lexicon of signifiers…

  1. pod: family /  identity / known place / root
  2. leaf: seasonal change / time / England  / experience  / growth /
  3. cross: star / X / kiss / love / treasure as in ‘X marks the spot’
  4. flower: hope / Summer / fecundity / beauty
  5. hand (or fingerprint): self / self-knowledge / life
  6. spiral: wandering / searching / journeying / delving / diving / interior-scape
  7. diagonal slash: rain / movement / dynamism / speed / wind / turbulence / narrow valley
  8. circle: dot / moon / night / heart / centre
  9. triangle: base / start / ‘You are HERE’
  10. square: home / base
  11. rectangle: boat / doorway

And a severely limited palette…

  • jet black (indian ink to blue black) – Black Knight / Black Night / night / lost / shadow
  • ivory white (cream to blue-white) – White Knight / calm / space /
  • fleet grey (mid-grey to charcoal) – Ghost / Spirit / mute / storm / cloud / ashes
  • signal red (postbox red to red oxide) – Devil / danger / warning / blood / sun / STOP
  • grass green (pea green to British Racing) – Green Man / growth / greenery / trees cape / nature
  • yolky yellow

I paint on off-cuts of board and small canvases with matt emulsion, acrylic, blackboard paint, various glazes and varnishes, in fact anything found to hand at the moment of painting, anything found in the bargain bin at the superstore or the ‘Please Take Me’ pile in the street.

The paintings are intended to work within, and form dialogues with, things in the larger installations.

My art is the art of stuff . I’ve been collecting, without consciously realising what I was working towards, for decades. I’ve never had the heart to fully declutter the ‘special stuff’ and now I’m glad I resisted. What a goldmine of  connections!

Assembly əˈsɛmbli/


  1. a group of objects gathered together in one place for a common purpose.
  1.  the action of gathering together as a group of objects for a common purpose.
  1. an opportunity for more than one objects to interact, set up a dialogue

assemblage əˈsɛmblɪdʒ/


  1. a collection or gathering of things or people.
    “a loose assemblage of diverse groups”
    synonyms: collection, accumulation, conglomeration, gathering, group, cluster, aggregation, raft, mass, medley, assortment, selection, jumble, series, complete series, batch, number, combination, grouping, arrangement, array
  1. a machine or object made of pieces fitted together.
    “some vast assemblage of gears and cogs”
  1. a work of art made by grouping together found or unrelated objects.

  • Installations will be assemblages – an intentional assembly of objects within a defined space
  • Installations will include paintings and/or objects which may be wall mounted and/or free standing, some presented as ‘blackboards’ and some as ‘tables’
  • Paintings will have ‘shelf-like’ framing along the bottom edge on which other objects may be placed
  • Installations will make use of the idea of detournement the re-use of moribund art forms or objects through disruption (relocation, decontextualizing, physical altering), adaption and juxtaposition and held in creative tension within the assembled installation.
  • The purpose of every part of an assembled installation is to provoke dialogue between things through placing them in proximity to each other.
  • Though the assemblage is self-evidently orchestrated by me (with varying degrees of agency and intervention and decoration) in response to my reading of the evolving narrative established between the objects, my aim is always that the work, in some way, should go beyond my specific direction. The most successful work should reflect the autonomy of things, and the wealth of the story, way beyond anything I might intend or control.

The work will involve erasure… I realised early on that a blank sheet of paper or board is an overloaded and pretty intimidating place to start a piece of artwork. That acreage of white. The emptiness is daunting. I needed a way in. A strategy to help me begin to physically interact with and have a dialogue (call and response) with the work from the start. I therefore developed a preference for drawing or working on pre-used surfaces or objects, on newspaper or broken china. And also enjoyed collage and bricolage as a way of creating a disrupted surface on which to then add further marks, symbols and signs. And so the work begins.

Often, I work backwards to a resolved final image. After the layers and the loading with texture, paint and drawing, it’s time to ‘draw it back’, erasure and simplification, leaving traces, shadows, hints of the kerfuffle beneath. Swan-like, works may often be disarmingly straightforwardly calm on the surface, ah but beneath the surface, all kinds of flapping and scudding are taking place.

I’m hoping to keep an online ‘Painting Log’ to record the evolution of the painted element of the installation as they happen. These posts will eventually be able to be accessed either from the drop-down menu at the top of this page or via the ‘Explore’ option in the side bar.

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