Bog Man, 1990, by Margaret Mellis

Estate of the Artist

Artists of the 20th century were much preoccupied by the idea of the found object. When Marcel Duchamp, that sublime prankster, placed a urinal on a museum wall, he was concerned, in part at least, to make a gesture expressive of his hatred of the idea of the museum itself, to spit on those soaringly forbidding cultural walls. When the Surrealists seized hold of found objects for the purpose of art-making, they sang of the marvels of the aleatory impulse, the desire that art should emerge out of some chance encounter, like an act of brilliant prestidigitation – as one would meet a lover or a murderer.

Found objects can be curious things though. The very fact that they have been chanced upon and not made means that you could argue that they are unauthored. That idea would have appealed to many of those Modernist successors of Victorian traditions of narrative painting who abhorred the idea of art having authorial designs upon us – pointing up some sentimental moral, for example.

Found objects with a life to come arrive on the doorsteps of artists who possess an appetite for such things, calling out to them subliminally. That is a part of their mysterious appeal. During the last 30 or so years of her life, the artist Margaret Mellis, Scots by birth, English by adoption, kept a very close eye on the beach at Southwold in Suffolk, looking out for promising bits of driftwood.

It is no longer possible to do such a thing now. The groynes now repel the stuff. Only the delights of plastic drift in these days. Mellis would comb the shoreline, gathering her bits and pieces of driftwood serendipitously, and then store them in her studio inside the house, or stack them beside her front door in untidy heaps in order to annoy her neighbours. Sometimes, as with the bits of detritus that hang around many sculptors' studios, these bits of driftwood waited years for attention. Exactly the same thing is to be observed in the studio of Anthony Caro in north London, things large and small – wood, steel, rope – hanging around, waiting for their moment in the sun.

The point about a found object is that it is more than likely to look unlovely and unpromising – that is the very nature of its appeal. It will probably not exist for the sake of itself alone. It lives to exist in conjunction with other pieces of a similar provenance.

Few individual pieces would have looked more unpromising to the incurious eye than the elements of wood that form the elements that finally merged into the Bog Man on this page. Mellis has created an assemblage here, screwing thin, individual bits together, all so long and attenuated and almost ravaged looking, like some parched, blistered, battered saint in his tatterdemalion robes of office.

The figure itself looks terribly weak, deprived, suffering, husk-like, far beyond the reach of any living impulse. It is a sacred relic. Such is its thinness that it seems to be rising up out of itself, heavenward, mouthing mute hosannas, as if its very spare, ravaged look has made it a privileged spiritual onlooker.

None of these individual pieces of wood have been newly painted by the artist. Such bits of paint as exists on this piece at all were there already. They are barely present at all in places, merely sad, discontinuous patches. What is more, we can, to an extent, see right through him. He is present, suspended here by his own somewhat skeletal armature. The wash of the tide, the relentless grittiness of the sand, have scoured him back to this almost touching degree of visual impoverishment. And yet this bog man is wonderful precisely because he has been scarified to this degree. If he were less imperfect, less pummelled by circumstance, he would be far less magnificent in his strange, ghostly decrepitude.

About the artist: Margaret Mellis (1914-2009)

Margaret Mellis was a painter, collagist and sculptor. Her later works divides between wooden constructions and paintings, which she often made on the backs of opened out envelopes. Though Scottish by birth, her work is strongly identified with the county of Suffolk, where she lived for much of her later life.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?