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Time and Space Marry

The art of George Herms

George Herms, 2014, assemblage, 3 feet by 2 feet; 10-inch relief

The artist: “The word start has ‘art’ in it, doesn’t it? I was very lucky that I got ‘st’arted.’” So says George Herms, a prolific assemblage artist widely noted as a member of the West Coast Beat movement of the 1950s. A longtime lecturer in studio art at UC Irvine, Herms’ work is in the permanent collection at Orange County Museum of Art (where he had his first retrospective showing in 1979, when it was still known as the Newport Harbor Art Museum). Currently his works are on exhibit at MOMA in New York through February 27. A young Herms lasted six weeks as an engineering student at UC Berkeley before abandoning his studies to “search for my path in life.” The journey took him to the jungles of Mexico, to Huntington Beach and to many other places before he landed briefly in Topanga Canyon, where he met artists/poets Wallace Burman and Bob Alexander, among others. “California artists and poets and jazz musicians became the school I studied under,” says the octogenarian. “I just started to emulate these people. They were making masterpieces, so I was making masterpieces.”

In Herms’ words: “Assemblage was interested in breaking down all the barriers between real life and art. Assemblage is a way of bringing things off of the street that previously had no artistic value, until the artist gets a hold of them and starts using them. I start off with the ground, a ¾-inch plywood. From there a collage is glued, fragments of magazine illustrations I get by looking at the magazines upside down. If I like something I rip it out of the magazine; I have thousands of pages. I call it panning for gold. So then I have a sea of colored pages, upon which I drill and glue objects. The imagery here is clocks, and some real clock parts – some of my old rusty junk. It just creeps in.”

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