Making a Billboard in the Backyard

One of the inspirational signs in High Point NC.
I like dilapidated billboards / signs a lot. This infatuation might come from the amount of them strewn about country roads near where I grew up. Most of the time they’re there to advertise some new detergent or hate spewing preacher. One layer is put on top of the next. Whenever no one rents a billboard for years on end, the layers start to meld into one big creation. Whole sections of the billboard will fall off exposing what’s underneath.  Better than whole sections coming off, little bits will flake off giving the billboard a bit more movement, a bit more drama in the unintended artwork.

For a while I tried to document these as much as I could, mostly taking pictures of billboards near where I grew up. They were always nestled in out of the way places or disused highways. Sometimes they were overgrown with weeds, left to be taken over by the surrounding foliage. It was a nice way to see the gross commercialism of highway driving slowly disappear into something more beautiful.
These are the two tests.

I wondered what it would take to get this effect. I started off with two small canvases I purchased at a local thrift store. Each canvas was 29 cents and seemed to be a from a summer camp that dumped all their unwanted and terrible art. To get the desired effect I put different kinds of tape down first. I wanted things to rip and tear and recede at different speeds. If it all came off at once it would ruin things. After covering the small 5 x 7 canvas with tape, I started layering newspaper that I found around my “making room.” I first grabbed a bunch of Japanese newspapers I bought in Japan. I then glued down another layer from a magazine that I let half dry and then pulled off. Since it was almost dry, the image only lifted off in sections. I repeated this process a few more times after. To keep what I’d done in place I glued all of that down and then filled in the larger white gaps (too temperamental to fill in with ripped paper) with tape, rubber stamps, and other bits of color. I finished two of these “test” canvases.
The stack of stuff I found at the thrift store in Winston-Salem NC.
The goal was to make something much larger, something with the imposing feel of a billboard. At the same place I found the small canvases I found a much larger one for the princely sum of 99 cents. It was priced way too low. The surface of the bigger canvas was filled with brightly colored names on the front of the work and on the sides. Like with the smaller canvases I filled the first layer with tape. I then added a layer of newspaper, and then another and then another and then another. I did four sections of colored constructions paper. I added more newspaper. I left the canvas outside for at least a week. When I went to check on it parts of the paper had started to come up in the corners. I then used the canvas as my work bench for spray-painting a bunch of thrift store frames. While I was painting I was mildly conscious of the shapes I was creating. I moved the frames around. I painted the sides of the canvas and I intentionally mixed the colors. I sat it back up against a tree and left it for another few days. At one point I looked out my bathroom window (I did this on purpose) and saw that it had fallen into the dirt, perfect.
Painted and left out in the woods to "cure."
It looks a little “worked” a little too contrived so it’s going to sit a little while longer. I’m going to add more layers of newspaper and paint. When it reaches a nice point of being properly “cooked” I’m going to do a little ripping, a little tearing, just a little damage. If the weather does all the damage I need, then I’ll leave it be. Once I think it’s all finished up I’ll glue it all down and spray it finished. This could take a while.


Dave said…
It's interesting what the combination of intention, chance and nature brings about.
I'm interested in photographing how people arrange their things, and the result of removing the people. Especially old homes and stuff. It seems we are working two sides of the same street. Nice work!
zzzzzzzz said…
Thanks so much for saying hello and thanks for the kind words. I think it's going to come out quite well. I need to put another few layers on it pretty soon. I keep having to moved it whenever I mow the back yard.
Terry O. said…
Aha! Here's the article I'm looking for...decollage! I must add that from the moment I commented on FB that I was going in search of the decollage blog, I didn't actually find it until 45 min. later. I started reading, and chuckling, reading, and enjoying, reading even more, of the other blogs you've written. Not only do I like your art, but I love your sense of humor, your engaging spirit, your way with words, and the way you experiment with different materials. And more. :-) I learned and enjoyed so much. I finally came to this article, where there was even more great reading and learning. I look forward to trying decollage. I doubt very much my project, when I finally get to it, will have as many layers as yours. But I get the idea, and I'm excited and can't wait to try it! Thank you!