Art from Everyday Objects: Li Xiofeng, El Anatsui, Ye Hongxing, Isabell Beyel, Osamu Watanabe & Lee Kwan Woo

Sweet Yellow Duruma by Osamu Watanabe
Artist: Osamu Watanabe; Sweet Yellow Duruma; Resin on FRP (fibre-reinforced plastic); Art Central 2016 (Whitestone Gallery)

The artwork on this page— a painting made from stickers, a dress made from shards of porcelain, a portrait made from wine corks, cute sculptures made from imitation candy—remind me of some of the art projects done in primary school in which we created things from everyday objects like tongue depressors, pipe cleaners and pasta.

These mixed media artworks tend to attract a lot of attention from exhibition-goers; however, with this approach to creating art, there is a danger that the viewer focuses solely on the process, asking questions such as ‘Is the candy real?, ‘Where did the artist get so many stickers from?’ and ‘How long did it take to put all that together?’ before moving on without further thought. Do these works have deeper meanings or are they primarily novelty pieces?

Li Xiaofeng (李晓峰): Past Presence No. 2 (ceramic shards)

Li Xiaofeng: Past Presence No. 2 (detail view)
Artist: Li Xiaofeng; Past Presence No. 2 (2016); Ming and Qing period ceramic shards, stainless steel; Art Central 2016 (Red Gate Gallery)
Li Xiaofeng: Past Presence No. 2
Li Xiaofeng; Past Presence No. 2 (2016); Ming and Qing period ceramic shards, stainless steel; Art Central 2016 (Red Gate Gallery)

Li Xiaofeng creates dresses, uniforms and suits out of shards of antique porcelain plates and bowls. Once he has a design in mind, Li selects pieces, cleans them, cuts them and then literally stitches them together through holes drilled in each piece. His larger pieces are wearable. The dress shown above was fashioned from shards of blue and white porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties and has a silhouette reminiscent of a Chinese wedding dress, with the western-style collar and short flared sleeves adding a modern touch.

The blue and white porcelain of China has a long and famous history in China (Cultural China: The Blue and White Porcelain) as well as in the West, with Chinese porcelain ware and imitations being especially popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries (Wikipedia: Chinoiserie). The patterns on the blue and white plates often refer to mythical symbols, like the phoenix, and historical figures. A few years ago,

Thus, in Li Xiaofeng’s dresses, shattered elements from China’s past— portrayals of myths and historical scenes, the centuries-old artistry of porcelain ware (with its echoes of the tea trade and Chinoiserie), silhouettes of traditional fashion—are revived and tied together to create something new, whole and beautiful. As such, his works can be considered a kind of allegory of present-day China—a nation gathering together remnants of a gloried past and building something new and vibrant.

More about Li Xiaofeng
Artist’s page at the Red Gate Gallery website: www.redgategallery.com/content/li-xiaofeng

Video
Leading Chinese artist recycles ancient porcelain, February 2011 (by euronews): this is an introduction to the artist, his techniques and what makes his works popular. You can see the artist modelling one of his own ceramic suits.

More Art by Li Xiaofeng

More works by Li Xiaofeng
Every year, the Red Gate Gallery brings a few of Li Xiaofeng’s pieces. On this page. you can view another full-size qipao, smaller figurines and one of his military uniforms: artjouer.wordpress.com/artists/li-xiaofeng
 

 
El Anatsui: Resolution (bottle caps)

Artist El Anatsui; Resolution (2016); Bottle caps; Art Basel 2018 (Goodman Gallery)

El Anatsui is a Ghanaian artist based in Nigeria. This piece—entitled Resolution—is created from the discarded caps of liquor bottles. With its gentle folds and vibrant patterns, the sculpture is reminiscent of traditional textiles such as kente cloth.

Detail view

The bottle caps having served their commercial purpose and having been tossed aside are turned into something vibrant and new, something which reaches back to find inspiration in tradition. Perhaps this process can serve as a metaphor for the aftermath of colonialism in Africa.

More about El Anatsui
Visit the artist’s website: el-anatsui.com

Video: Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui
In this video by the Akron Art Museum, the artist discusses how he found inspiration for his work, the themes his sculptures express and the manner in which the work is produced.

 Ye Hongxing (叶红杏): Order No. 8 (stickers on canvas)

Ye Hongxing: Order No. 8
Artist: Ye Hongxing; Order No. 8 (2015, Detail view); Mixed media (stickers) on canvas; Art Central (Art+ Shanghai Gallery)

Order No. 8, a mixed media artwork by Ye Hongxing, is created using plastic stickers—the kind children use to decorate their books and stationery. In Order No. 8, the stickers are arranged in patterns to create large bills in fictional currencies. The blue bill is modeled after Egyptian currency, specifically the 10 piaster note that includes a depiction of the Saladin Citadel.

Ye Hongxing: Order No. 8 (detail view)
Detail view
Ye Hongxing: Order No. 8 (detail view)
Detail view

When looking at Ye Hongxing’s sticker-paintings, viewers tend to stand within inches of the canvas, searching for stickers and plastic figures from their childhood: Crayon Shan-chan, the Disney princess Jasmine from Aladdin and numerous variations of rabbits, pandas and frogs. Close up, the focus is on the stickers—a shiny kaleidoscope of pop-culture cuteness. From a distance, however, the individual stickers disappear and only the intricate and formal mandala-like patterns of the banknotes can be seen.

Though the cute characters may inspire memories of childhood innocence, most of them were designed with a more practical purpose in mind—to sell toys, stationery and other products. It is fitting that they are assembled to depict what they were designed to bring in: money.

In Ye Hongxing ‘Order’ series, the juxtaposition of cute cartoon characters and highly stylized graphic patterns of banknotes highlights the commercialization of pop culture, with the ‘cuteness industry’ helping to turn children into brand-loyal consumers. The ‘Order’ of the title can be interpreted in different ways—as a commercial order (i.e., as an order to sell or buy products) or in terms of social order (i.e., the manner in which materialism is ingrained during childhood and the way in which society practises a near-religious devotion to money).

More about Ye Hongxing
Artist’s page at the Art+ Shanghai Gallery website (you can download a PDF document with more information about her work): artplusshanghai.com/collection/painting-sculpture/88-ye-hongxing.html

Video
Art Basel Miami 2010 – Ye Hongxing at Art Asia, December 2010 (by Cynthia K Seymour): this is a very short video that briefly shows a couple of the artist’s painted portraits. She doesn’t just work with stickers.

More works by Ye Hongxing
During the last two Art Central exhibitions, the Art+ Shanghai Gallery has been featuring work by Ye Hongxing. Her most recent works seem to be taking on more political overtones with scenes from the news juxtaposed with political imagery, traditional Japanese erotica, scenes from movies and other forms of pop culture, images from mythology as well aspictures of weaponry, TV test patterns and wild animals. These works seem to present a chaotic vision of the world—as if alien being were receiving broadcasts from earth and trying to form a picture of the culture that produced them. They present the word as a a jungle or ocean—full of life, full of color, full of energy, but also full of danger. See these works: artjouer.wordpress.com/artists/ye-hongxing/

Isabell Beyel: Callas (mixed media, wine corks)

Callas by Isabell Beyel
Artist: Isabell Beyel; Callas (2015): Mixed media; Art Central (Mark Hachem Gallery)

To create this large portrait of the famed Italian opera diva Maria Callas, German-born, Dutch-based artist Isabell Beyel uses wine corks for the singer’s complexion and coca-cola bottle caps for her deep red lips. Strips of metal and stripes of black acrylic paint on plexiglass are arranged like vertical venetian blinds and serve to outline the singer’s features. Viewed from an angle, the image is unclear; viewed head-on, the face comes into focus. Moving closer, the viewer’s attention is drawn to the individual elements used to create the portrait.

Callas (detail view) by Isabell Beyel
Callas (detail view)

This work is based on an iconic photo of Callas (Wikipedia: Maria Callas) and is part of a series of portraits of women. The following photo shows a close up of the mixed-media portrait. Aluminium pull-rings and the top of a can are used to create a ring on the singer’s hand. On the paper background are printed excepts from the librettos of Italian operas: Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Puccini’s La Boheme.

Callas (detail view) by Isabell Beyel
Callas (detail view)

Many of the elements used to create the artwork—wine corks, ring-pulls, aluminium cans and bottle caps—are simply waste materials that are discarded either as soon as the product is opened or as soon it has been consumed. In contrast, the body of work represented in the portrait—the operas of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti and of course the image and performances of Maria Callas—lives on and thrives. Thus, the portrait juxtaposes product design and disposability with artistic expression and timelessness. These two ‘sides’, however, are not opposites. In the design of consumer products, is there not a certain level of artistry? In the careers of great performers and composers, are there not elements of commercialization? These are questions Isabell Beyel’s work invites the viewer to ponder.

More about Isabell Beyel
Artist’s page at the Mark Hachem Gallery website: www.markhachem.com/BEYEL.html

Osamu Watanabe (渡辺おさむ): Sweet sculptures (imitation candy)

The deer sculpture shown below is entitled Heavenly Messenger, a reference to the the belief that deer are messengers to the Shinto gods (Wikipedia: Kasuga Grand Shrine). I particularly like the effect of the dark purple eyes set against the pastel-coloured imitation candy.

Heavenly Messenger by Osamu Watanabe
Artist: Osamu Watanabe; Heavenly Messenger; Resin on FRP (fibre-reinforced plastic); Art Central (Whitestone Gallery)

Unlike the other works featured on this page, Japanese artist Osamu Watanabe’s works are not created from actual everyday objects. Rather his candy sculptures are created from fibre-resistant plastic that is molded and painted to look like candy. In other words, he makes likenesses of cute things using plastic imitations of artificially-coloured sweet things. This process involves Inceptionesque levels of artifice.

Sweet Dog by Osamu Watanabe (Art Central 2016)
Osamu Watanabe: Sweet Dog; Resin on FRP (fibre-reinforced plastic); Art Central (Whitestone Gallery)

Viewing these sweet pieces, I was reminded of the monologue by Momoko at the beginning of the film Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari), in which she explains why she embraces the frilly doll-like lolita aesthetic:

‘I wish I had been born in the Rococo era….
Rococo, 18th century France at it’s most lavish.
It made Baroque look positively sober.
An obscure, neglected period.
Rarely mentioned in class,
Critics called its art “cloying”…
Shallow, vulgar and indecent.
Life then was like candy.
Their world, so sweet and dreamy.
That was Rococo.’

In the film Momoko goes on to describe the dreariness of her daily life, her tawdry family background and how she found solace in her devotion to the fragile sweetness of lolita culture.

‘Sour things taste foul.
I want to fill myself only
with sweet things.’

Sweet Cat by Osamu Watanabe
Osamu Watanabe; Sweet Cat; Resin on FRP (fibre-reinforced plastic); Art Central (Whitestone Gallery)

Toward the end of the monologue, however, Momoko states:

‘So what if I was deceitful?
My happiness was at stake.
It’s not wrong to feel good.
That’s what Rococo taught me.
But actually my soul is rotten.’

Are Osamu Watanabe’s plastic sculptures similarly deceitful, offering nothing more than sweetness and kawaii? Perhaps they are, but isn’t it possible to just appreciate the happiness brought by a few moments of escape into sweet sweet cuteness?

More about Osamu Watanabe
Artist’s website: watanabeosamu.tokyo/profile_en.html

Video
Osamu Watanabe Exhibition: Sweets Kingdom Sweet Fantasy Quest, uploaded June 2014 by 渡辺おさむ

Lee Kwan Woo (이관우): Condensation (seals and stamps)

Lee Kwan Woo: Condensation
Lee Kwan Woo; Condensation; Mixed media (Korean chops); Affordable Art Fair (Gallery: Able Fine Art NY)

In this mixed-media artwork entitled Condensation, Korean artist Lee Kwan Woo uses traditional Korean seals and stamps to create a portrait of Buddha. Through centuries of Korean history, seals have functioned as personal signatures and as a kind of official certification of status and authority. They were used to sign personal and official correspondence, artwork, edicts and contracts.

Each seal used in the portrait, therefore, represents a specific person or office and each holds thousands of stories—not only the stories of the people whose names or titles are engraved on the seal, but also the stories of those who were were somehow related to the things the seals were affixed to: those who received the correspondence, those who inspired or who were inspired by the artwork, those where were affected by the edicts, reports and contacts. For the most part, these thousands of individual stories have long been lost to time, but the seals remain, the stories they represent condensed to fit within a single portrait.

In this way the painting is related to the Buddhist concept of impermanence (annica). The rough idea of impermanence is that as everything is continuously changing, coming into being and ceasing to exist, we shouldn’t become too attached to things. Though the seals still exist for the time being, the people they represent and the stories behind them are long forgotten. Whatever power each seal once carried is long gone. From a distance, the individual names and titles on the seals cannot be distinguished. They are unimportant. Assembled together, however, the seals make up a pattern and it is in this overall pattern that meaning can be found. The same can be said of people. As individuals on this speck of a planet we are exceptionally unimportant. However, we are part of the large pattern of life itself.

More on Lee Kwan Woo
These two pages have insightful articles about the artist’s worK and philosophy:

Videos
[MBC문화사색-전각, 현대예술이되다] 이관우 (in Korean), uploaded January 2014 by Do Lee

Conclusion

Yes, these made-from-every-objects do carry meaning and are not just gimmicks or novelties. In most of the works, the deeper meanings come through in the relationship between the subject of the artwork and the materials the artist used to create it.


Go Further

This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.

Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Three Questions

  1. Which artwork on this page do you like best? Why?
  2. How can the choice of material (e.g., stickers, ceramic shards, bottle caps) add a layer of meaning to a mixed-media artwork?
  3. How does Al Anatsui’s artworks reflect post-colonial Africa?

Art Challenge

Create a mixed media piece using everyday objects.


~ text and photos by longzijun

artjouer

Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists

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