Boxes hold secrets. They might contain treasures or memories, mysteries or gifts. They might lie stacked in a dusty attic, filled with yellowing photographs and moth-eaten clothes, or be wrapped in bright paper and contain something precious. Pandora’s box, of course, held all of the miseries of the world, all of the lies, deceit, scolding, despair, accusation, envy, gossip, drudgery, scheming and old age. The very act of combining objects in the space of the box connects them and gives them new meaning together, as a collection. And boxes can be used to confine and limit, to define in a narrow tidy way, or to imprison. Ten Artspan artists construct and explore the use of boxes in a wide range of media and styles.
“Old basements and attics, dumpsters, and objects found while walking the dog, have always held a fascination for me.” Says Will Hubscher, and he combines these found objects with his unique printmaking process to create assemblages, many of which take the form of boxes overflowing with curiosities. “What is cast off by society, thrown out, and discarded, may still hold value in this world as it is repurposed and recycled into something new, something interesting, something now wanted and appreciated again by the world. I find that a bit of fence, some rusty nails, an old doll, twigs, broken chair legs, and bedazzling costume jewelry can all come together to become something new and interesting. Alone with Ball represents many different aspects of being alone, but not necessarily loneliness. There is the obvious pain of losing a spouse, child or pet. We can also be alone in our own minds with depression, ADHD, or a bad relationship. But there is also the aspect of working alone as an artist, writer, or a myriad of other creative endeavors where being alone is almost a requirement. Alone with Ball was created to represent a bit of all those aspects of where we all find ourselves at some point of our lives.”
Madhouse 13 was one of three installation artworks Alexandra Hon made in 2010 in a collaboration project with another Malaysian artist, Dhavinder Singh. “In this collaboration, we focused on using found objects and kept the act of making to a minimum, for the benefit of exercising innovative creative-thinking processes. In our contemporary society, it is a subject of taboo to ‘air one's dirty laundry in public.’ The façade of a perpetually happy home must always be maintained. However, every home has its own ups and downs and crazies, and that's nothing to be ashamed about. Madhouse 13 is a representation that a little bit of madness everyday keeps the dullness at bay.”
A box’s simple, clean form suits Trevor Young’s use of hard edges and large planes of subdued color. He explores isolation and confinement in his work Man in a Box. “Some of my paintings, such as Man-in-Box, are part of a continuous series of works that use an anonymous booth that is found on highways, in parking lots, and at ride sites. Embracing the darkness of night, when these environments are empty, the artificial light radiating from inside the booth becomes intensified and emphasizes the solitude of these structures. The otherworldly feeling in the work, which is heightened by the emptiness of the booth, reinforces that the man in the box is alone.”
Little Boxes by Anne Mourier “spurs an immediate conversation about household and family – subjects at the core of my work.The delicate, miniature domestic scenes form contained narratives born of personal reflections on childhood, family, and heredity. Encapsulated in wooden shadowboxes, these episodic contemplations are stagings of the discordance between the façade and the fact of the matter, between the romance of our ideals and the corners they work us into. The boxes are handmade and the little objects are found, altered or handmade. I enjoy the search for ‘the right object’ as much as the making of new ones…the result just has to fit the memory.”
Ellen Vogel’s Coniunctio makes intriguing use of the space within the box. Although not full of objects, it doesn’t feel empty, rather it feels mysteriously alive. “In all the boxes I wanted to draw the viewer in close; to look in and discover a richness not visible on the outside.Coniunctio is about the union of opposites. The exterior is caked with dry earth, yet peering into the small space inside, the blue velvet and pigment give the impression of moving in open space. Earth and sky united.”
Aquaticus Involvo is part of a series of Cat Schwenk’s specimen boxes, which hold surprising butterflies and moths, fashioned from scraps of words. “Words have wings. They fly from my mouth. Shaped by the words that I write, read, hear and speak, I am transformed. Like the butterfly transformed, through metamorphosis. I am altered by the words that surround me. Words: newspapers, books, signs & symbols. Words. Jogging memory, giving direction, inspiring. Building, breaking. Embracing, repelling. Revealing, encasing. Healing, hurting. Collected like rocks or bits of broken shell. Specimens and archives. Museum and vision. Morphed into safekeeping. Unconsciously collected. A personal and mysterious anthropological project of the soul. Leafing through the book and perusing the surface of the map, I select areas of interest, cut them up and fold them using Origami techniques. I then “sculpt” these paper forms with fire using a small torch. I have been creating butterfly & moth specimen boxes for over ten years now. For the past seven years or so I have been incorporating encaustic (wax) paints handmade in a small factory in my father’s hometown of Kingston, N.Y. When I visit R & F Handmade Paint, I am like a child in a candy shop, both intrigued by watching the process and seduced by the wide variety of colors.”
Elnora Nokes’ assemblages are treasure boxes of toys caught in the moment that they come to life. “I mainly work in mixed media collage. The assemblages incorporate the same technique of putting together a collection of things to create a new whole. While photographing my husband's large collection of western toys/memorabilia, I became interested in the small figures from the 1950s. The cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians were all posed and caught in a moment. It was interesting to imagine the situation or scene they were in the middle of. I combine photographs of old tin western town play sets or of real places we have visited for backgrounds and then add other found objects to create a composition. The old cheese boxes, old sewing machine drawers, cigar boxes, and any other box or drawer become a little stage for the scenes from history, movies, or my imagination. Wild Wild West matches a photo of Monument Valley with a toy cowboy in an old wooden stirrup.”
The space inside a box becomes a place to combine unlikely objects to make new meaning for Chris Mathis. “Typically, my constructions begin with a few objects that have some relationship outside of their normal meaning when presented together. After the initial discovery, there is a search through collections of found objects for materials to compliment the composition. These are then arranged and rearranged until I am satisfied that the idea has been expressed. The whole is then fastened, piece-by-piece, into a box of sorts and covered with glass or plexi-glass for protection. Justice Gets the Death Sentence, arranged in a box made of scraps, is my comment on the death penalty and the possibility of wrongful convictions resulting from prosecutorial expediency or even misconduct. The objects are chosen for both their compositional and symbolic values. There is a baby lying in a box – a sympathetic victim? A railroad track suggests a rush to justice. A torn newspaper clipping announces the theme and references a papering over of the case at hand. The arc of justice measured with an instrument so rusted that its accuracy may be questioned. Shocking.”
Thane Gorek describes his work as “deviant still life paintings.” He chooses a theme, collects some relevant objects and tosses them into a box. The randomness of their position subverts the conventional idea of an ordered still life painting, and the box itself contains them in a tight space, which changes the way they appear in relation to one another. Toy Box is inspired by the endless quantity of odd little plastic toys that seem to accumulate when you have kids. I remember looking into a drawer filled with clutter in my son's bedroom thinking, "This would make a great painting!" Toy Box is composed of toys that belong to my children, my own toys from when I was a kid, and things I've picked up at flea markets and thrift shops. What looks like a haphazard arrangement actually took quite a while to set up and get right. I think the end result is whimsical and perhaps a tad creepy...my favorite combination.”
Crash at Clear Lake, Iowa memorializes the light plane crash that killed three performers including the legendary Buddy Holly,” explains Samuel Miller, who creates small intriguing worlds with his ingenious light boxes. “The tragedy had a great impact on me as a child. In particular, I clearly remember the grim newspaper photos of the crash site. My goal with this light box was to capture the somber Iowa morning, the empty expanse of the cornfields and the sinister-looking emergency vehicles. In preparation I researched the extant photos, newspaper articles, FAA crash report, etc. I built a model of a Beechcraft Bonanza, attempted to simulate the crash and then cast the wreckage in polyurethane along with the period emergency vehicles. The scene is painted in acrylic and uses LED lighting to create the harsh overcast.”
We have a million clichés associated with boxes. Is life a box of chocolates or a box of crayons? Do we let people put us in boxes? Do we think inside box, outside of it, or get rid of the box altogether? Or do we take the box itself and make something wonderful with it?