Unexpected Materials

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

Art isn’t always made of paint, pastel, or clay. In fact, artists frequently embrace less traditional materials because they are able to convey meanings in more nuanced ways. Sonya Clark’s Madam C.J. Walker is a perfect example: this portrait, composed entirely of plastic combs, depicts a woman who built her fortune on hair care products. Alternatively, Cildo Meireles’s Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] is made up of coins, communion wafers, cattle bones, and paving stones; together, these trappings aim to illustrate the complex history behind Jesuit missionaries.

Artists also choose unconventional materials for formal qualities like shape, texture, or movement. Paintings on sheets of copper yield a rare, rich surface quality, for example, while Yayoi Kusama turned to egg crates to create a dense, evocative patchwork in No. 62.A.A.A. Together, this selection of artworks demonstrates how artists have proven their mettle in thinking outside the box (or canvas).

Image credit:
Antonio Berni
Retrato de Ramona [Portrait of Ramona], 1963 (detail)
Collage of collagraph prints
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of the Museum of Modern Art, 1982

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