I consider myself a self-taught artist, a third generation color field painter with a passion for creating assemblages and visual poems on wood and paper using a wide variety of mediums and materials. My assemblages are puzzles, incorporating my color paintings and using found objects, the aged and broken bits of our culture's debris, that explore life and the world we live in. I like to think of my work as visual poems, a form of storytelling. In my work I juxtapose artifacts that are incongruous but that work together in an intriguing way around a central theme, which is sometimes serious and political, sometimes whimsical and humorous.
My collecting of found objects goes back to some of my earliest memories as a child picking up agates in the road with my dad back in Minnesota during the summer. He would line up the boys and we would walk down the road and talk and find stones as he would talk and tell stories. My love of telling stories must have originated then. In my teens I started to make what I used to call altars of junk in my bedroom on the book shelves; these were combined themes from my watercolor paintings, record albums, and cut outs from art books as the back grounds. Later, when I moved out on my own pad I was mostly playing in bands and I was living in apartments and so my walls became art pieces and again they all had found “things”… golf shoes, branches, shells, rocks and bits of wire, smashed cans and broken neon, lost photos, albums covers, my paintings, writings and poems I had written and cut out images from all over. As I would leave apartments I would throw big parties and give things off the walls to my friends and guests, making a crazy fun creative time of it. I would also save special objects for the new pad and start over again right away making a new wall. These grew into wallscapes which I use to do on 32x40 pieces of rag board and frame them in shadow box picture molding in the early 80’s. These were a larger form of the collages that I make now, which have 2 and 3 dimensional things on top of each other, creating a montage that fits into the theme (usually that becomes the title of the piece).
I still make all the frames for my work and if I have an idea that calls for a certain size I will make a box to fit the piece, always using found or recycled wood usually from a job site that I have worked on. These are lots of fun to make and are an endless source of humor and self-processing in my life. The act of constructing them helps me process our culture and all of the beauty and horror that is the world we live in. I love to do them and I feel it is the only way that I can survive at times. As I read and see the atrocity of the world we live in, man’s capacity to do harm to his fellow man seems bottomless, but at the same time it is equally amazing to see that man’s ability and capacity to be kind, loving, selfless, giving and generous to his fellow man is as deeply endless – something that we/I must never forget.
Having focused on making assemblages for the last 20 years I have become more refined and selective with the objects I use and also the amount of objects I use in each piece, paring down over time. This gives me a set size, boundaries and limitations to work within. As I quit playing music professionally and I started to work more on painting and house remodeling for my day job, I started to use kitchen drawers and scraps of plywood for my work and these became more of official assemblages. I am still working with the found and discarded scraps of our great beautiful ugly culture that we live in, and am using these as statements and reflections on our lives in the 21st century. Each piece is inspired by either my dreams, or what’s going on in my life and or the world we live in. When I work I listen to a lot of jazz, which influences my thinking along the way. In terms of the relationship between visual art and music, I have found that my work has evolved to be almost like a set designs for a play or operatic in design or as I like to say visual poems or puns.
Throughout it all, from my early days collecting rocks as a child to today, what has remained the same for me is the process: the making and doing, very clear direct action, no fear or second-guessing, deliberate thought and movement with intent. I’m at one with the universe when I’m in my studio working, and the universe provides what I need every time. If I need a fastener or a screw or an object to complete a statement then the world manifests it for me in my studio or somewhere in our house or yard. Now this might be because I have lived and worked in our house for twenty three years, but I feel it is also because in my life’s work I have become attuned to the world around me and when I reach out into the world I’m given just what I need to complete the piece that I’m working on.
See more of Hynes' work on our Artwork page, and at christopherhynes.com and lyrical-expressions.com
Remarkably, even the choice of materials that arrest the attention of boys and girls often seems to be gender-specific. Men’s memories cite playing with sticks, plastic pens, metal parts of disassembled devices, and such, and testify to the more aggressive way of playing with these objects as well. Women, conversely, often choose “softer” materials, whether taken from nature or household objects, and play quieter, slower-paced games:
A piece of tube… aluminum, or maybe copper or steel, 5 to 10 millimeters in diameter. Any boy would give a lot for one of those. I was lucky to have one: it used to be a towel hanger in grandma’s bathroom. I sawed it, gave a third to my younger brother, and kept the rest. The guys were jealous: the tube was big enough so a small crab apple would fit inside and you could shoot it from the tube. It would hit far and hard. A weapon! …
Ruslan Dautov, Safakulevo, Kurgan region, Russia, 1990s
Many factories were shut down, and all the equipment that was not sold or stolen was thrown out to become children’s property. From the variety of gadgets that we found and played with, I especially remember lamination stacks from electric transformers: base-metal hunters would disassemble transformers, steal the copper parts and throw away the lamination stacks. Each of those stacks contained a huge number of metal flats in the E-shape. You could twist them into new shapes or assemble things from them, and they also flew really far if you threw them.
Enot, Sevastopol, Ukraine, 1990s
When I was younger I remember using my sister's old baby wipe boxes to build more houses for my Barbies, and to give them a car. I would stack the boxes on top of one another, and arrange different pathways to be the Barbie's room, nursery, kitchen, etc. When Barbie needed to go from point A to point B, all she had to do was hop in her car or baby wipe box and drive there.
Katie, Chelsea, AL, 1990s
When I was a girl of 6 - 7, I remember how we played with my girlfriends a game called daughters-and-mothers or something of the kind. People lived rather poorly at that time and if we had dolls we didn't take them out of doors, we cherished them and kept at home. Nevertheless, we had something even better to play with outside in the yards and gardens: earcorns! Do you imagine what they look like? A long body and a mess of real brown hair on the top - Barbies of our childhood!
Galina, Lebyazhje, Kurgan region, Russia, 1960s
Even though games as described above seem the epitome of conformity, they, too, allow for a self-guided exploration of various roles and models of life. Playing through pretend social situations prepares for a smoother transition into adulthood responsibilities and the many challenges of domestic and public lives. “Trying on” various identities through engagement with material objects facilitates construction of personality, likes and dislikes, and building of relationships to both things and people. What’s more important, however, is that sometimes it is exactly such trying on of cookie-cutter identities and roles that prompts one to look further, to approach things from a different perspective, to look for alliances in the object world that are better suited to express one’s identity.
Many of the games children play serve the function of acculturation into adult life. Several of the stories from The Afterlife of Discarded Objects are about mimetic play: “mimesis,” or imitation of the real world, essentially means mimicking the socio-cultural reality as it is, creating a representation of life in art, literature, or, in this case, games. Children playing with discarded objects that once belonged to the adult world often do so to “try on” adult lives, inhabiting the vast territory of social structures and relationships that has created and made these objects necessary in the first place. Many stories recall playing pretend grocery shops, families, professional lives, etc. More often than not, as Roland Barthes made clear in Toys, such mimetic games emphasize gender distinctions as children are socialized in the gender roles and prescribed behaviors that are reinforced through objects. For example, several recollections by men from different countries feature war games of their childhood:
When I think back to my childhood on the farm in Alabama my mind is drawn back to my brother and I sword fighting in the yard. We had vivid imaginations of war and military strategy, and with a broken tree branch or an old golf club as our swords we were unstoppable.
Austin, Lafayette, AL, 1990s
[…] Some of us used tree branches as automatic guns and played war. To make a good gun, you needed to find a stick with a thick end that looks like a magazine, and then carefully shave the rest of the stick against the fence. The cut off tree branches were also used to make roofs for the snow bunkers that were guarded by kids with those same tree guns. We made bombs and grenades from snow… do not confuse with the snowball game: we firmly believed that we were throwing grenades, not snowballs.
Alexander Yakovlev, Magnitogorsk, Russia, 1980s
Women, on the other hand, have shared memories centered on games that mimicked domestic life: cooking, housekeeping, or caring for others:
We used to go around garbage hunting with my friends and then used it in our games. Though sometimes the process of garbage hunting was interesting by itself. As we were girls we used the things we found as "interior design" and household objects in our makeshift houses. I think regardless of time and place, all girls like this process of setting up home.
Anastasia, Grozny, Chechnya, 1990s
My dad has parked his work truck in the same place every day for the past twenty years. Because of this, grass simply would not grow in that small spot near the side of the house. Every morning, after he left for work, I would make my way outside. I would dig through the trashcan under the carport and pull out Styrofoam plates covered in maple syrup, forks stained red from spaghetti, and cups with the coffee ring still in the bottom. The bald spot in the yard my dad used for parking was always a gooey mud pit. I would make my way out with my new treasures and use the mud to make food. Until the sun was sinking behind the clouds, I would imagine new recipes of fancy foods or trying to make things my Grandmother did.
Kennedy, Woodland, AL, 1990s
Here we highlight featured stories from the archive, contributions by fellow writers and artists, as well as reflections and comments on the value and impact of discarded objects in our world.