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Themes/The everyday: Power of ordinary materials

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Artwork from Cubitt Summer School. Photograph: Cubitt Gallery.
Written by
Emme Light
Published date
13 April 2018

Common, obvious, ordinary. These aren’t the words you would normally associate with art.

Some artists make big works about giant themes, where others prefer to make work about their day-to-day environment, with materials readily at hand.

Here’s 4 artists who use everyday materials for sculptures and installations to get you inspired:

Tom Friedman

a small pink bubblegum ball in a corner
Tom Friedman - ‘Untitled’ (1990). Bubble Gum. 5 Inches in Diameter, Luhring Augustine, New York, and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Over the last 20 years Tom Friedman has built up a reputation for making art from the everyday. Sugar cubes, chewing gum, cereal boxes, toothpicks and polystyrene are some of his prefered materials. Our favourite work consists of a massive ball of bubble gum. Approximately fifteen hundred pieces of chewed bubble gum were moulded into a sphere. It is displayed wedged in a corner at head height and hangs by its own stickiness! How long do you think it took him to chew all that gum?

Explore more of Tom's work via the Stephen Friedman Gallery

Mierle Laderman Ukeles

a black and white image of two people sitting outside, opposite to each other
Mierle Laderman Ukeles (1973-1974) ‘Art Interviews’ at A.I.R Gallery, Soho, New York Part of Maintenance Art Activity series. Courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles was a feminist artist who made art from cleaning. Why did she do this? She even made a manifesto, where she laid out the rules for what she called ‘maintenance art’. To quote the artist “I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother. (Random order).

Find out more about Mierle's work via the Ronald Feldman Gallery

Karla Black

colourful installation using fabric and paper
Karla Black, Installation View, Palazzo Pisani, 2011, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne. Photograph: Gautier Deblonde

Karla Black’s materials include soap, talcum powder, cellophane, make-up, sugar paper and sellotape. Her sprawling installations take advantage of Lush products so much that they sponsored her presentation at the Venice Biennial in 2011. Later that year she was nominated for the Turner Prize here in the UK.


Watch: Tate Shots: Turner Prize 2011, Karla Black

Tonico Lemos Auad

an image of a make-believe animal laying on a soft carpet
Tonico Lemos Auad (2009) ‘Fox (Moonbeam Carpet)’, C print Framed size: 62.5 x 86 x 4cm (24 5/8 x 33 7/8 x 1 1/2in) Courtesy: Tonico Lemos Auad and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Tonico Lemos Auad is a Brazilian artist who originally studied architecture. He first rose to prominence by making animal sculptures from carpet fluff! They were so fragile that putting your foot down in the wrong place threatened to destroy them forever – the only remaining evidence of these sculptures now is the photographic documentation.

Explore more of Tonico's work via the Stephen Friedman Gallery

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