The use of found and manufactured objects as art media dates back about 100 years to the Dadaists, who used everyday objects in art as a way to criticize European civilization, which was, at the time, tearing itself apart in the great meat grinder called the First World War.
The juxtaposition of manufactured objects in surprising combinations or paradoxical contexts gave the Dadaists a means to invent works of art that had the power to shock and affront its viewers.
Before long, however, other artists began to use found materials for their own ends. Kurt Schwitters, one of the original Dadaists, began to create assemblage compositions out of found materials, which were more poetic than shocking. Pablo Picasso also began to use found materials on his painted surfaces and in doing so invented the art of collage.
By the time of the Great Depression, the American, self-taught artist Joseph Cornell was making collages and shadowboxes using nothing but found materials. His compositions and constructions have a poetic oddness to them. By now, the use of found objects is a venerable and legitimate media and means of making works of art.
Enter Lynne Farren, a Tacoma artist working very much in the vein of Cornell, utilizing a wide variety of materials to create shadowboxes and freestanding sculptures that have a mysterious, musical presence. A one-person show of Farren’s work is now on view at The Art Bank, one of the newest art venues to have opened in town.
The show, “Secret Places,” is a collection of more than 20 of Farren’s assemblage compositions. Farren uses all sorts of objects to create her physical flights of fancy. There are buttons, sequins, slips of paper, sewing patterns, passages of script torn from books, dominoes, mahjong tiles, silk butterflies, plastic birds, dolls, porcelain animals, wooden figurines, sugar bowls, fabric, silk threads, paper images, zippers, electrical resistors, miniature bird cages, stamps, baby shoes, doll parts, rhinestones, costume jewelry, toys, trinkets, tidbits, pearls, toy cat heads, tiny teddy bears, souvenirs, dried flowers, twigs, seashells, dice, old mail boxes, little shelves, tiny chests of drawers, a compass, copper washers, wires, wind-up keys (like the kind used to activate old mechanical toys), seed pods, dollhouse furniture, pukka shells, old photos, birch bark, cigar boxes, glitter, glue, goo and slews of blue (and every other color).
Doll heads and little animals are ubiquitous. There are wall-mounted, framed compositions that read like portraits and there are free standing constructions topped with hat-wearing doll heads that present themselves as magical beings. These latter are given old-fashioned names like Clementine, Matilda, Estella, Alexandrine, Nicolina, Florabelle, Valentina, Adeline, Seraphina, Emmalina and Dahlina.
Farren’s oeuvre is a poetic improvisation of contrasts. They are made of found objects, but they are carefully planned out, not thrown together on the fly. They are made of so many individual parts that they come across as busy, yet they also have soothing harmony of color and shapes that give them unity. They can seem whimsical, yet a viewer can become caught up in their depth and the richness of imagery and symbolism that are working together in each one.
Farren’s Opera Alley art studio is like a combination of a doll-maker’s workshop and a sorcerer’s lair. It is filled with amazing creations and the raw materials that she gleans from thrift shops, antique shops and flea markets. Farren’s mother was a painter of doll heads and the artist reportedly still uses some of these in her work.
Farren is a veteran of the Tacoma Art Studio tour. You can view a film clip of the artist in her studio at www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFr6DkT78o0. “Secret Places” runs through April.
The new gallery, the Tacoma Art Bank, is located in the basement of an old house just a few blocks north of 6th Avenue between Cedar and Sprague Streets (2716 S. 11th St. to be exact). Don’t be put off by the basement location. The gallery has its own entrance on the east side of the house. It is a neatly furnished and professionally lit space. The gallery director, Sharika Roland, represents a number of well-known Tacoma artists like Marit Berg, William Turner, Melissa Weinman, Eva Battle and Adam Jackson, but the gallery itself is devoted to one-person shows. Additionally, Roland is a gifted and prolific artist in her own right. The gallery likes to engage in what the proprietors call “art matchmaking,” matching the right artist to the right buyer. In addition to gallery shows, they install art in the lobbies of businesses and condominium complexes. They like for artists and collectors to get to meet each other and engage with one another. The focus is on relational engagement between artists and art appreciators.
The Art Bank is open Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. To schedule a viewing appointment e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (253) 274-0958.