The jolt experienced when encountering a beautiful and vital object informs my work as an artist. Some things are conduits. Some are agents or surrogates, symbols or codes. I create sculptures from these things, with additions from my libraries of paint, glue, adhesives, and building materials. My work often attends to the overlooked, occasionally grubby, inanimate object world that forms and transforms human life. Beauty is inherent in the color, texture, and history of my materials.
In her introduction to Things That Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, historian Lorraine Daston describes things as paradoxical. She argues that it is the paradoxical nature of things that gives them voice. The synergy of the catalog of mundane (and sometimes cherished) things in my sculpture creates narrative tension. The meaning-making capacity of materiality is central to my work.
Contemporary “orphaned” objects, fragments of unknown origin and anonymous ownership, frequently function as material in my work. These are not looted archaeological fragments of ancient Greek vases, but today’s disjecta membra. My material most often dates to the 20th or 21st century and lacks contextual data or information about its findspot. The gathered shards of plastic, glass, metal, or wood offer an understanding of the customary life and mind of contemporary society.
In addition to history, metaphor, and references to popular culture, the formal qualities of my materials (texture, color, form, weight, value, and line) drive the composition of my sculptures.
It is through materiality that my current work protests the limiting image of an artist. My work contemplates heritage, humor, and beauty through the combination and interaction of paint, quotidian objects, and vestiges that frequently serve as carriers of tradition and capsules of inheritance. Some pieces are titled with a textual fragment from literature or from a transcribed bit of conversation. The title adds to the work’s rhetoric.
One of my recent projects, Collect Things, is collaborative and with provenance. I create sculptures from personal items and ephemeral materials that once belonged to artists, writers, and thinkers such as Karen Wilken, Joyce Scott, Grace Hartigan, Graham Nickson, Lucy Sante, Rebecca Hoffberger, Carl E. Hazelwood, and Cordy Ryman. The genealogical use of the objects transformed them into things with vitality and historical force. I add my own materials to these things, propelling visual conversations as I make something new. Though the pieces are not traditional portraits, they do offer intimate biographical glimpses into the lives of the people I collected things from to make these particular works of art.
The Belgian-born American writer, critic, and artist, Lucy Sante, gave me a beautiful old slate writing tablet, a Belgian beer coaster, a brass doorknob, white shoe laces, a metal pointing hand, and a vintage firecracker in the form of a cardboard yellow monkey driving a car. I added an old typewriter keyboard, a small blue plastic boot, and a muselet I saved from a dinner with Sante. The sculpture is an ambiguous rebus made out of poignant personal and poetic items collected from Sante.
The artist Joyce Scott gave me a ceramic frog, a comb, some coral, a small piece of wood, a heart keychain, a miniature slipper, a broken vintage alarm clock, and a dreamcatcher. I constructed a shelf-like structure out of a Radio Flyer Town and Country red wagon that serves as both protection for the clock and dreamcatcher, and an altar for the rest of her things. When Scott gave me the objects, she said that all of the things were “for protection.”
Carl E. Hazlewood
In this piece, detritus from Carl E. Hazlewood’s studio is made into a trophy-like object. I added a base of steel and plaster to remnants from Hazlewood’s own projects that include acrylic skin from the inside of a paint mixing bowl, hot pink thread, a red painted stick, plastic fencing, a crumpled ball of tinfoil, and a plastic fork. The sculpture expresses the depth of humor and great generosity of Hazelwood.
The artist Ken Tisa is a zealous collector. Tisa gave me nearly seventy-five things that he collected over a lifetime. The artifacts include his mother May’s eyeglasses, teeth he inherited from his uncle who was an artist and professional maker of false teeth, and an antique pottery shard. Some of the objects were made by Tisa himself, including sculptures and a fragment of embroidery. I fastened most of Tisa’s things to a vintage thirty-foot hemp indoor climbing rope with woven knots, and other things are placed on shelves. Tisa is a collector of objects that embody wildly diverse cultural traditions.
I incorporated the pioneering painter Grace Hartigan’s pair of bright pink Crocs into this sculpture. These were the last pair of shoes Hartigan wore while she was painting. The work also includes a paint stick Hartigan used to mix paint and thinner for one of her final paintings, and her pillow, which is reminiscent of Matisse’s cut-outs. Matisse was a lifelong inspiration for Hartigan. I based the composition of the sculpture on Phillip Guston’s painting, Cellar, of 1970.
I collected green mesh bottle protectors and cardboard bottle dividers from the inventive artist Jo Smail. She also gave me orange plastic netting from a bag of clementines, and skis from an original NordicTrack used by her and her husband Julien. I added plaster feet-like forms to the skis. I created shapes that reference Matisse and the patterns and prints of African fabrics that appear in Smail’s work.
The art historian and writer Michael Marlais gave me numerous personal items with intimate meanings and I embedded those things in Red Wing boot soles. The earrings belonged to Marlais’s wife; Marlais said it is impossible for anything to represent how much his wife means to him. The hat was his father’s, given to him by his nephew, a golf pro at Laguna Seca. The dirt on the hat is from Marlais’s yard. The souvenir pin is from a trip to Russia with his students from Colby College. The ski sock was given to him by his youngest sister, born when he was a sophomore in college. The map is from a cadastre in the City Hall of Optevoz, France, where he did research on Charles-Francois Daubigny. The stamps reference Marlais’s research on Maurice Denis. The “70” stickers are seventieth birthday gifts from his two younger sisters. The hairpin is new, but refers to an incident from Marlais’s childhood: when he was a baby, he was crying, and his older sister thought he was hungry and fed him a hairpin. The thing did no harm, passing through his body. His mother kept it, wrapped in tissue, in a gift box. He still has the original and did not want to take it apart, so bought the new one to include in the sculpture. My composition alludes to Philip Guston and Marlais’s scholarship on Daubigny and Denis.
Jim Condron’s work will be shown in Maine in September 2024 at The Parsonage gallery in Searsport.
Image at top: Jim Condron, Like I Can Make Egg Salad Now. I Am Confident I Can Do It Now, oil, wood, plastic, steel, soap, 8 x 9 x 3 in., 2021 (photo: Mitro Hood).