Thursday, December 4, 2008

Orientalist Switchplates

Once in a great while I wax creative with stuff I've collected over the years: odd images, bits of paper, stamps, and other ephemera. As an unabashed fan of the pioneers of collage and papier collé (Picasso and Braque) as well as of their heirs (Joseph Cornell, Nick Bantock, and others), I occasionally dabble in the practice of sticking things onto other things.

Some of the best imaginable "canvases" for such an endeavor are the cheesy blank plastic plates generally used to surround light switches and power outlets in our homes. Since I can't really throw anything away without a damned good reason, and am appalled by the prices some sources ask for more artful examples, I took it upon myself a couple of years ago to decorate my own. The first couple were usable, but not exactly awe-inspiring. I finally perfected the technique to my own satisfaction, however: first paint the plate with flat acrylic, and when it's dry begin to apply the desired bits with decoupage gel and a paintbrush. After that's dry, add metallic paint or leaf, or a stamped image or two, and then coat with another layer of gel. They turn out nicely and are pretty indestructible once coated.

All of mine so far are created from origami papers, kimono wrapping paper, washi, postage stamps from Asia, newspaper, fabric, photos, images from Dover design books and other bits of Japonisme or Chinoiserie I've come across over the years--even my mother's signature "chop." I grew up in Japan and Taiwan, and (because I hoard material evidence of my past experiences--it's a genetic defect and probably also has something to do with my archaeological training) have collected myriad boxes of things that can be used for collages on small surfaces.

I once made a couple of Impressionist examples for a mother-in-law as a Christmas gift by simply applying note cards cut out to fit blank wooden plates, and used gold paint on the edges. They looked like a million bucks--but also like something you'd buy in a hobby store. The collage versions are much more personal, and offer me a connection with my past every time I turn on a light or plug in the toaster.

As we've been working on the house and making rooms more habitable, I've been adding the plates as a finishing touch. It's just plain fun to do, and a nice way to work of tensions that can't be eased by gardening this time of year. The materials are ready-to-hand, cheap to acquire, and simple to use, providing the perfect sort of art therapy one might need around the holidays. They make nice gifts, too, especially if you spring for the wooden versions. Nick Bantock I ain't, but I have nice switchplates nonetheless. The iPhone images don't exactly do them justice--but provide a general idea of the results.


Rosie said...

They don't have thoses things around switches here but I like the idea of using Japanese paper in a collage. Interesting blog you have.

Owlfarmer said...

Funny how we all solve our design problems differently. Perhaps in Spain they don't get their fingers as grubby as we do around here--or maybe they just don't use the electricity as much on the Iberian Peninsula.

Thanks for stopping by!