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Assemblage with a Dark Theme

Special-built Little Woman
Photo: Arthur Comings

Channeling Tom Waits


When explaining found art to an interested neophyte, I always say that assemblage artists don't start with a block of marble or a chunk of wood and carve stuff away – they find their material in the street. One of the most revered items that an artist can find is something that has literally been down there on the pavement for awhile. That's not a safe place to be for three-dimensional objects, what with heavy vehicles passing by, and after a short time in that milieu an item like a cardboard box, a trash-can lid, or a roller paint tray can undergo a sublime transformation.

The assemblage artist seizes upon one of these “carvings” with appreciative glee, and I've seen some fine pieces built upon such a platform. A few clues to the object's identity generally survive the flattening, but the simultaneous battering ensures that a new slab of material has truly been created.

When the Arc Gallery sent out a call for artists with the theme “Like a Tom Waits Song,” I knew I had the perfect piece – and I'm glad to say that the show's juror agreed. My piece is built upon a paint tray whose sides have been crushed inward and given a good surface coating of rust. The resulting shape is rounded and generally unpitted – I must have picked it up on a comparatively smooth stretch of concrete highway – and the greyish paint left in one corner accentuates whatever three-dimensionality it has managed to retain. Still and all, it didn't have the presence to carry things off alone, and backing it up is a rusty black door from a water heater that is miraculously still curved.

On the same scrounging trip that produced the paint tray, I found some toy plastic lips from a kid's Halloween outfit; they set the tone for the piece's title: “Special-built Little Woman.” In the illustration you can see a prototypical string of beads and a scrap of conversation that, in my mind, complete the piece. As I said, I'm glad someone agrees. The piece will be on display starting Saturday, May 3 at the Arc Gallery in San Francisco, along with a number of other works that celebrate Tom Waits' dark and battered vision.

“Like a Tom Waits Song”
Arc Gallery
1246 Folsom Street (between 8th and 9th streets)
San Francisco
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 3, 7-9 pm
Closing Reception and Artist Talk: Saturday, June 21, 12-2 pm

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