Three artists who transform found objects

Aug. 07, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

“Earth: Over and Out: Jan Dickey and sarah goetz,”
Durham Art Guild, 120 Morris St., through Aug. 16.

“Between Reason and Intuition, Allison Tierney,”
The Scrap Exchange, 923 Franklin St., Durham, through Monday.

Found objects: stuff from scrap stores, flea markets, Dumpsters, abandoned houses and yard sales have found their way into art galleries by way of both highly trained artists and those who are self-taught.
The new show by Jan Dickey and sarah goetz at the Durham Art Guild includes an installation created out of such materials as Tyvek, a waterproof, tear resistant material; mosquito netting; zip ties; white wax twine; and silver metal disks. At the Scrap Exchange Allison Tierney finds discarded things originally meant for domestic use, like old doors, Venetian blinds, scraps of chair railing, flooring and left over paint and incorporates one or more into elegant abstract compositions.
Materials from the real world incorporated into the world of fine art began with Picasso.  As the 20th century rolled on, found objects became the sole material used by certain artists. John Chamberlain (1927-2011) and his sculpture of automotive metal immediately comes to mind. The point here is that “fine art” is no longer defined under one specific set of rules. Personally, I believe traditional art-making skills should still be the core training for professional artists and after understanding those ABCs, they can and should take off into their own spheres where ideas and rules are meant to be tested and broken, if need be.
Artists spotlighted at the Scrap Exchange must use recycled materials at least in part of any work of art they show in the gallery. Tierney is a perfect candidate in this environment because in both her personal as well as her professional life she is aware of her impact on the environment and recycles what she can and saves everything else in case she finds a use for it in the future. We talked by phone and she told me she had taken four years off (she is now an MFA candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill) and had zero money and so scavenged for materials. 
Among the things she found was leftover house paint; here and there were small art paint samples. In most cases, she uses found panels as her supports, but now that she is in school and her finances are a bit better, she buys canvas and stretches it traditionally. She sometimes gessoes the canvas, but generally she lays the paint directly on its surface, not as a stain that might leak through, but to see what it will do naturally. “I do not thin the paint and, of course, the paint comes through but mostly it sits on the surface and I have the flat finish I want,” she said.
Tierney’s canvases immediately reminded me of the late work of Jasper Johns (b. 1930).  Her surfaces are smooth, rectangular, and carefully drawn, but she constantly interrupts them with some added element like a Venetian blind, or discarded chair rails or Plexiglas angled boxes. 
She has also changed a re-used door into an art object by turning it horizontally, leaving its hinges at the top and the handle at the bottom, and adding a few random paint strokes.  Tierney is an artist to watch. She is confident with her chosen materials; her compositions are carefully organized, nothing is by chance. Her results are artistically sophisticated. The Scrap Exchange invited her to show with them; other galleries need to follow their lead.
Dickey and goetz are off to MFA programs in the fall; he to Hawaii and she to Ohio. For this exhibition they joined forces and beautifully intertwined dozens of individual images.  The two have large bodies of work which were created over the past year or so when they worked in adjacent studio spaces. They had met at the Mercury Studio artist salon; the side-by-side painting space came after that. I spoke to each individually over the phone and it was clear they both were making visual connections to the natural world. 
She spoke of how forms emerge, how landscapes form, how humans grow and shape themselves. He talked about looking at nature to find that one abstract moment. 
On the back wall is Dickey’s copy of a Leonardo cartoon “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist.” He told me he had spent a year studying classical western art traditions, and the way Leonardo uses the folds of the drapery seemed to offer him an armature on which to work through his own ideas. Most of his work is in oil and moving around the gallery it is easy to see how his ideas evolved. His images of drapery have morphed into clouds, land masses, swirling rivers, and then there are the paintings where the artist pulls back one canvas to reveal another underneath.   
Goetz’s watercolor drawings are images of natural forms like flowers, lichens, fungi that act as an introduction to her first love which is sculpture and installation. Her installations are in a space carved out of the larger gallery area and take the forms of two large separate garlands of material. They fill the space but leave room for the spectator to walk in and feel what it is like to experience a work of art from inside. On one side the major material is Tyvek and metal disks and on the other it is mosquito netting and small white sales tags. The colors of cream, white and the silver of the disks make the entire room seem ethereal and goetz admitted she likes to think of this as a place on Mars. She believes installations are an important visual tool in the world of art and said they offer a way for the artist to control the space and force the visitor to slow down. Physically, these three-dimensional objects give the viewer a far different experience than any painting can.
Found objects in the hands of artists are strong components in making art. These exhibitions prove that.

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.