The Art of Assemblage: Inspired by Louise Nevelson (November 2012)

Assemblage is the art of creating a three-dimensional sculptural composition from found objects. One of the best known assemblage artists of the 20th century was the Russian-born American sculptor, Louise Nevelson (1899-1988).

Sky Cathedral, 1982, painted wood, 265.1 x 732.5 x 40 cm
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gold relief, 1964


Nevelson called herself “the original recycler”. She often made her art from discarded household objects, particularly wooden items such as furniture legs, chair backs, stair spindles, finials and other architectural mouldings.

She transformed these found objects into large wall-mounted and free-standing reliefs, which often take the form of stacked boxes and compartments. Once assembled, the sculpture was spray-painted with a single colour – usually black, white or gold – which served to to unify the complex sculptural elements as well as bringing symbolic meaning.

I thought it would be fun for my three and four year olds to collect their own ‘found objects’ from home and transform them into works of art. I asked them to look for small objects with interesting shapes, such as buttons, old keys, cotton reels, matchboxes, lids from drinks cartons, beads, plastic cutlery, unwanted jigsaw pieces and small toys. On the day of the project the kids were excited to reveal the treasures they had been hoarding for weeks!

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I had also been collecting for this project – cardboard fruit and vegetable cartons from the supermarket. Each child chose a box in which to create their own assemblage. I squeezed some glue into the bottom of the boxes at the beginning, as I wanted the children to be able to concentrate on arranging their objects rather than getting obsessed with the sticky glue – I find that young children often get distracted by stirring, daubing, and then picking the glue off their fingers!.

blog DSCF2510When the kids were happy with their compositions, we left them to dry, and then the final step was up to me. I took the assemblages outside and the children watched through the window as I coated them with gold spray paint.

ES DSCF2671At this point, I realised that the paint wasn’t adhering to many of the objects – it was just beading, pooling and dripping off the shiny plastic and rubber surfaces.

It took several coats of paint, with drying time in between, to achieve adequate coverage, and even then the effect was not as complete as I’d hoped for! (Perhaps this is why Louise Nevelson preferred using wooden objects in her sculpture?)

Despite this, I think the finished assemblages are still very effective, and the kids were very pleased with them. I quite like the subtle hints of colour showing through – a tantalising clue as to what lies beneath!

KS DSCF2674The children were fascinated by the way the gold paint completely changed the look of their sculptures. Without the distraction of all the bright colours, the shape, form and texture of each object can be seen more clearly, and the whole composition is brought together as a unified whole.

What I like best about the children’s work is that each assemblage is so unique and so personal to them…






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