There is no better painter, in my mind, for introducing children to the wonderful world of “found art” and assemblage then Karel Appel. I want to talk all about my own journey with Karel Appel during a summer abroad, but I have really grown to dislike that moment when I just want to cook a recipe and instead I have to read an entire diatribe about how the blogger’s day has been and all that jazz. So with that said:

The inspiration for this project came from two places:

  1. A friend loaned Hunter and I a wonderful box of children’s art activity cards called “Tate Art in a Box” that he picked up at the Tate Modern. Each card contains a specific work found in the Tate art galleries and instructions on the back for how to proceed on your own.

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On the right you can see the 1949 Karel Appel assemblage called “Questioning Children,” and it served as our visual inspiration throughout the process.

2. A visit to the (slightly less impressive) Art Gallery of Ontario, led my partner and I into a gallery where another kind of dynamic assemblage greeted us. The Art gallery has its annual Photography Prize going on, and included in the group of photographs was an installation piece that reminded me of Hunter by the performance artist Jimmy Robert:

Something about this particular assemblage of photographs and cardboard, and wallhangings reminded me so much of what Hunter does around our house on any given day with pretty much anything he can find. He’s been doing assemblage for many years and we have grown accustomed and participatory with its “artfulness.” For these reasons, it seemed to me that a “found object” art weekend with Karel Appel guiding us would really interest Hunter.

The information:

Karel Appel (1921-2006), Holland. While looking at the painting, “Questioning Children (1949) consider:

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  • What can you see?
  • What materials has Karel Appel used?
  • How many people can you see? Who do you think they are? Can you see anything other than people?
  • Look carefully at the background. Are the figures made from the same material?
  • Where has the artist signed the work?
  • Look at the shapes, how do you think they have been fixed?
  • What colours can you see?

Your Turn:

Make a painted relief of your family and friends. Who do you want to include in your relief? Just you? Some pets? Lay your pieces and arrange them into people shapes before you glue them down. Leave to dry. Next add colour to your canvas in at least 2 or 3 layers, leave time for each colour to dry or your wet paint will blend together. (Use a colour chart to help you mix colours.) Come back to your work and paint the body parts and let dry. Affix your different materials to the canvas and allow the glue to dry. Come back to your work and paint eyes, noses, mouths, fingers, and so on.

You will need:

  • A firm base (piece of word/cardboard box/canvas)
  • PVA glue, wood glue, glue spreader and a paper plate
  • Scraps of wood, corks, tree bark or use different size boxes, for example cereal and toothpaste boxes. (Turn the boxes inside out so that the glossy, printed side is on the inside and the plain card is on the outside, secure the sides with tape. The plain side can then be glued and painted).

We decided that this project would be completely of “found items,” which included finding a beaten up frame that was damaged by water and in pieces. I glued the frame back together, sanded and restained it and then began the rather slow process of repainting that vintage-y fabric “matting” that is part of the frame as it had water stains all over the place.

This is really a whole other tutorial, and not really necessary, but here are the visual steps for fixing a found frame:

After school on Friday Hunter and I began searching city streets and ravines for a bag of materials and once collected, he began priming the board we popped out of the found frame with a can of paint we found in the garage.

While he primed, I finished the frame and set up the paint supplies for the next day.The project from the point of priming and collecting took three days, in 1-3 hour stints per day, which means that when the Art box says “recommended for ages 5-11,” they mean it.

Day 2:

After priming we started the first layer of background colour blocks and cleaned and painted some of the wood pieces we found while it dried.

Day 3:

We started the day with another layer of colours on the canvas and by the afternoon we were beginning to place the pieces on the board — when we realized that many of our found objects (notably four cedar boards) were far too big for the canvas. Hacksaw to the rescue, and conveniently, the cut pieces made more pieces than we would ever need to work with.

After Hunter figured out the design, we used a paper plate and PVA glue for anything not wood, and wood glue and got everything down. While the glue dried we drew in hair, arms, legs, snake heads and tails, tiger heads and anything else we could think of to pass the time. As a last task, I took out all the finishing nails on the back of the frame and carefully placed the canvas back into its bed and drove the nails back into their original holes. (I had to be careful as everything on this canvas made it heavy to be banging around with a hammer.)

The finished product is both distinctly Karel Appel, but also distinctly Hunter as he conceived of all the designs. Many times when I’m moderating a design for Hunter, I feel like I need to step in too much, which by the end makes him and I wonder, is this his or mine? I try my best to step back and just allow whatever happens to happen. A project with Appel as its inspiration makes stepping back easy, since Appel’s goal was to produce artwork with the spontaneity and freshness that was supposed to represent the eye of the child. There really is no way to mess up this project as the way a child’s eye actually sees and assembles is the project. The final result was really fun way to spend a few hours over a long weekend that Hunter is really proud of and happy with. Once we get the eyelets and wire installed on the back, we’ll hang Hunter’s new picture somewhere in his bedroom.

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