003 Artists & Words

I was interested in looking at how words can affect the meaning of an image or sign. Words are signs in themselves. To combine them with images can change the meaning completely, emphasise the meaning, or create a sense of irony and humour.

First, I looked at They Key of Dreams by Rene Magritte:

First, I looked at They Key of Dreams by Rene Magritte. In this painting he presents the viewer with a selection of different objects, divided by frames. The division gives us a sense that the artist doesn’t want us to connect the meanings between objects. The painted representations are detailed and realistic. Because of this, they could be considered icons.

A bag, a penknife, a leaf and a sponge are all common items. A sponge and leaf are natural, and the bag and knife are man-made. He then gives them inaccurate labels: Le ciel is the sky. L’oiseau is a bird. La table is a table. However, L’eponge is the sponge, which he labels correctly. In giving these objects different names, the viewer is led to question the use of the object and whether there may be some resemblance between the object being named and the object pictured.

Is a bag open like the open sky? Is a bird’s beak sharp like a knife? Could a leaf possibly be used as a table? Or are tables made from the same tree as a leaf comes from? The contradictions make for an interesting piece. They make the viewer think, and I really like that.

Brian Rea

Brian Rea is an illustrator based in Los Angeles. His drawings and animations are playful and easy to understand. His style can be decorative but not overworked or garish. I like his restricted colour palette and hand-drawn lines. Several of his illustrations incorporate words. With few words he is able to say a lot. And this is because of how he has used the words.

(All images from BrianRea.com)

In this first example, there is the element of needing to know some background knowledge. A symbol is a sign that communicates a concept. In this instance, Rea is referring to social media likes. He signifies this without needing to draw a phone or computer screen. The words and the thumbs up icon are enough to reference the social media structure to an audience who has knowledge of social media programmes.

With this image, you would need to understand written English to be able to understand the message.

When viewing this piece, the viewer is putting together the meaning in their mind. The words and images here are of equal importance to communicate the meaning.

I then thought of words I could associate with my chosen object, The Raincoat Girl:

I cut out the labels and placed them next to the figurine. I wanted to see the effect of adding words and what I could be signifying, with the addition of these words.

The sign ‘Waiting’ suggests a narrative. The figurine is holding 2 umbrellas. The viewer can add together these 2 signs and decide that The Raincoat Girl is waiting for somebody to arrive.

I noticed that I saw the figurine in a different light depending on these captions. For instance, her expression looked more bored when she was placed next to the ‘Waiting’ sign and looked defiant when placed next to the sign that says ‘Unbreakable’. Am I imagining this? What do you think?

001 Journals

Oxford Brookes library basement, Headington Campus

Brookes University have a collection of journals available to browse. They can be found on the basement floor of the library. In this space, the range of journals are displayed on shelves. This enables me to view the covers all together. From business to architecture, politics, to the arts. I decided to pick up 2 magazines that first drew me in. This may be due to the visual language of the covers, or the appeal of the subject.

Shelves of journals, Brookes library
Journal 1 Crafts

I was first drawn to the magazine ‘Crafts’. The image used on the cover is soft-looking. I did not immediately recognise it as a textile image, seeing it as a landscape first, but I quickly recognised it as a textile material, due to the name of the magazine. The white text against the dark green of the background is very effective. The typeface used for ‘Crafts’ relates nicely to the subject matter, since crafts are seen as a traditional art form. I generally like clear in titles. Here, the title speaks for itself and means that no extra text is needed to explain the contents. This means that the image can be busy instead. I was drawn to a craft magazine, as I have always worked with traditional techniques.

Crafts, issue no. 289

I looked at an article in this magazine, titled ‘The Commission’. Being a calm subject matter, an active design layout was not necessary. For example, the use of symmetry in the double page spread creates visual balance. (Both pages contain 3 columns of text with a small photo of the author of the text). Turquoise of the sub-headings (authors names) ties in with the turquoise of the fabric in the left image. The use of a strong image at the centre acts as the visual draw and unifies the composition.

The design of this double page spread expresses the subject matter well by using an image of artists working. Crafts are very hands on, so it is helpful to have a visual representation of the physical process. The figure’s arms in the left photo, are reaching to the bottom-left of the photo, this points to the start of the text.

The image dominating the right page, being larger than the left image, shows its importance and directs viewer to the left-hand page where the narrative begins. Bright colours first draw our attention then leading lines lead us to the left page. The fence in the image act as Leading lines, drawing the eyes left towards the heading and sub-heading/introduction to the article.

Journal 2 Printmaking Today
Printmaking Today, Issue 119

I like the straight-forward title of both magazines. They tell me what the content is about without even having to open the journal. Printmaking Today as a title, tells me that the journal is about printmaking and that it is about contemporary work.

The artwork on the cover grabbed my attention. The leading lines drew me into the image as the use of white on black is quite bold. The winding shapes and title colour are fun and energetic, but the muted tones calm it down. If a cover image is too strong or garish this often puts me off. If the cover is shouting at me, I assume the content within will be the same.

Looking at the double-page spread as a whole, the 3 images are placed in an interesting way. The 2 outer images sit on the bottom line of the layout, and the centre image has been placed at the top of the page. This gives the layout energy, creating movement. The text zigzags around the images, breaking up the text into readable chunks. The colour and line used in the illustrations drew me to this article. Particularly the strong greens in the first image.

I like the lino print at the end of the piece. It emphasises the message of the article, which is about connecting people in the LGBTQ+ community. The way the portraits interlink illustrates this.

003 Artists & Objects

In our minds, objects have associations. Some we may not consciously be aware of.

From the book What Objects Mean by Arthur Asa Berger (above image):

“From a semiotic perspective, nothing has meaning in itself; an object’s meaning always derives from the network of relations in which it is embedded.”

“We always have to determine what an artifact signifies and cannot find a “rule” book that explains the significance of every artifact, just as we cannot find a dream book that explains the meaning of every dream.”

Artist Research

After reading about the significance of objects as signs, I wanted to explore a bit about how artists use objects within their art. How do they use objects to convey a message to the viewer? Can 1 object signify more than one thing? How about combining objects?

I came across these artists in my research:

Pawel Bownik


Pawel Bownik is a visual artist from Poland. He combines materials, playing with a contrast of plants (organic matter) and man-made adhesive materials. First, he breaks the plants apart. He then uses different objects to glue them back together. He appears to be ‘correcting’ nature. Taking a plant that is whole and perfect and re-assembling it using objects that humans have created.

These photographs are from his book ‘Disassembly’.

The photos demonstrate the potential of objects, in this case, rubber bands. He also uses wire, plasticine, sticky tape, and thread. By contrasting them with nature, he leads us to consider the use of objects we see every day.

In this composition, the plastic could be protecting the plant or choking it. This type of packaging is used to protect the objects we order to our house, but once we have discarded the object, it becomes the opposite and is a burden to the environment.

Diana Lelonek

Diana Lelonek | Sapporo International Art Festival 2020 (siaf.jp)

Diana Lelonek is an artist also from Poland. She looks at the environment, but in a more straight -forward way.

Her project A Center for Living Things, is a cross between art and scientific research, which grabbed my attention. The work is a collection of found objects, from shoes to plastic and electrical items. The objects were found at illegal dumping sites. She then displayed them, (naturally covered in plants and moss), to explore the idea of  what happens to an object after it has been discarded.

In this example, the circuit board is no longer useable to us. Instead, it has become a small ecosystem and is home to plant life. The work made me think about the life-cycle of an inanimate object.

Kitsch Nitsch


Kitsch Nitsch is a creative partnerships of two artists. They explore style and decoration within design.  

Artwork by Kitsch Nitsch

In this piece, they have assembled a group of objects into a composition. The objects placed together, are given a new meaning. They become part of a paradigm that is the outfit; In this case, of an imaginary person. The shoes suggest this character is male and an adult. The keyboard bag tells us this is a man whose work involves using a computer. The gloved lady’s hand looks like an assistant handing him his bag. This signifies his importance. The use of bulldog clips signifies an office environment. The artist uses these visual clues to build up a picture for the viewer. Each object on its own would still be a sign, but I am interested in the way these objects together combine into a picture and message. 

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp | IMAGE OBJECT TEXT

Marcel Duchamp was one of the key Dada artists of the early 20th century. The readymade artworks of the Dadaists were new and revolutionary at the time. The audience were not sure what message to take from these pieces.

Bicycle Wheel, 1913 Marcel Duchamp (authorised reproduction 1951, original lost)
To me, the kitchen stool acts as a stand to display the wheel. Being displayed as such, might allow a viewer to appreciate the object itself. In this context, we consider the wheel apart from its bike.

Duchamp’s intention with Bicycle wheel was to express an idea using objects. He felt that the importance was the idea and not what a piece of art looked like. This contrasted with the fine art paintings he studied, where the importance was on aesthetics. Bicycle wheel was something fresh in the art world. It was interactive. Duchamp kept the piece in his studio and would occasionally turn the wheel.

Erik Kessels

The Clock Tower — ERIK KESSELS

Erik Kessels is a Dutch artist and designer. The Clock Tower is a collection of 2800 clocks, displayed in a former clock tower in Amsterdam. Here we have multiple objects displayed together. In my opinion, they look beautiful. By creating the clock tower, Kessels has made a space where the viewer can spend time immersed in the world of clocks.

Clock Tower, Erik Kessels

Kessels brings the clock to our attention. From this photo, we can see the combination of styles he has found. The clocks on the right-hand side remind me of an old-fashioned and serious character who would have this kind of clock in their home. The clocks on the left-hand side suggest the opposite character, people who are young and bright. Each clock would belong to an individual. (We only need one clock to a room) This piece sparks my imagination and leads me to wonder about the many different personalities on display.