Old Art, New Art

“Flowers on the Riverbank” by Ruth Warren, 30″x40″ mixed media on canvas featuring tissue collage over paint

I used to think that I always wanted a crisp, new white canvas in front of me to start a new piece of art. But all that newness and all that whiteness would very often lead me to a dreaded creative block. Where to start? What to do? What if I mess up? Blank canvases would often lead me to a blank mind.

But… what if….  What if I started with an existing piece of art and worked from there??? Suddenly, my mind started waking up and creative juices started flowing again. Once again I could see possibilities. Take artwork that was old, worn, mass produced, or discarded, and bring a new life to it. Now THAT was exciting to me!

In pursuing this journey of reusing and reclaiming resources in my artwork, I am now drawn to the possibilities of using old art as a starting point. I find the source pieces in thrift stores like Goodwill and reuse centers like The Scrap Exchange. I look for pieces without glass that have a good solid base to support button, bead or jewelry mosaic, or canvas to support collage. The old artwork may come with a frame, or may be unframed.  I tend not to collect pieces that are framed with glass, because then I have to deal with the glass and I don’t use it in my work at this time.  I might use elements of the old artwork as a starting point, or I might do something completely different.

“Flowers on the Riverbank” is a piece that I completed earlier this year that morphed out of an existing piece of vintage artwork. I found the original painting at a Goodwill store.  It was a large mid century piece measuring 30″x40″x2″. There was no signature on the front, but it had a “Vanguard Studios” stamp on the back and some hand-written notations that seemed to refer to some sort of inventory system. When researching Vanguard Studios, I discovered that it was a studio started in the mid-1960s that paid artists to mass produce decorative art. The studio was originally run by Lee Reynolds Burr, and studio artists churned out thousands of paintings under his direction for the growing decorative art industry. Paintings were signed by multiple artists under the studio names of “Lee Reynolds”, “Reynolds”, “Stuart” or “Van Gaard”. Some were not signed as all.  Lee Reynolds Burr sold his interest in the studio in the 1970s and the studio continued under several different owners before eventually going out of business. (Sources: rogallery.com and artillerymag.com.)

Since I had determined it was a vintage mass production piece, I decided to move forward and rework it.  The painting was a minimalist monochromatic floral design with thick, heavy paint strokes. (See the first picture below.)  I decided to keep the subject matter and existing paint strokes, and use them as a base for a detailed tissue collage using salvaged tissue papers. I reworked the design to place the flowers in a natural setting inspired by Florida riverbanks, and added a water background to represent the river and dancing river reeds, all accented by an explosion of color.

1-flowersontheriverbank-workinprogress-5All of the color in the final reworked piece comes from layers and layers of tissue paper that I applied over the original painting. I love how “Flowers on the Riverbank” turned out and am inspired to search for other pieces of old mass-produced art that might be suitable for reworking. Take a look at the slideshow to see the progression of this piece.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *