Tom Gertz is always on the lookout for junk.
Gertz, who lives just outside of MacDowall, has filled his home with pieces made from machines and trinkets other residents perceived as junk. For Gertz, it’s the gateway to creating new art, and the results sit along side his more traditional creations, which include pottery and birdhouses.
“I go out and I look for junk–mainly wood items like old doors, old windows, anything I can use like a frame and then the rest of the stuff I just, it’s hard to explain,” Gertz said.
“It’s called assemblage art and actually it was started by Pablo Picasso and then there was a woman in the early 1900s. Her name was Louise Nevelson, (and she) really took off with it. She lived in New York and she roamed the streets of New York City, picked up garbage and created art.
“She’s become very popular now, and to get one of her pieces now you couldn’t touch for $100,000 and then it just went from there. Most people that do it they do it in small versions of it, mine are pretty well grand like I said I use old doors and things,” Gertz said.
His home itself is a unique art gallery. Assemblage art covers the walls, along with more conventional creation.
Gertz said he uses things such as old doors to create frames for the pieces.
“I would take the rest of the paint and I would put like a stove black on so it shines nice. It’s a really nice contrast with the old wood,” he explained. “It’s just like little chairs especially if they are decorative old chairs, I will tear those apart and use the arms and the legs on them and just create,” Gertz said.
Gertz also takes apart things like old pianos, organs, plumbing fixtures, and windows, which he then assembles into new art.
He said most people don’t understand what assemblage art is when he explains it to them–that is, until they see it in person.
“For me as an artist, everything I see, I see beauty in it,” he explained. “Even if it is a rusty old hinge or something like that I see beauty in that, or an old barn door that’s got a rusty nail in it, I see beauty in that and I show that in my work.”
Other objects he uses to build his work include old rulers and measuring sticks, with which he has created several pieces. He just stockpiles old rulers, and when enough are collected he places them in an old window.
“I took out the glass and then if you look at the one it has old saw handles on,” Gertz said. “That’s more of a masculine kind of thing that I did but, I also have some feminine types that I do.”
The work comes to him naturally and he lets the creative side of his personality take over.
“I can’t explain how I do it. I can to other artists because they would understand. I just build it to my subconscious where there is this huge well of creativity and I tap into that,” Gertz said.
“I never start off with a plan I just start to work and I just tap into that creative flow, which I call I am in a zone and it just happens. I stand back sometimes and I go where the hell did that come from.”
“I call it the source, the source that creates everything–including the universe. I am just an extension of that. I consider myself just a tool and things just happen,” Gertz said.
Gertz called himself a starving artist adding that he has been an artist his whole life and never made a living as one. He views his artistic creations as entertainment as much as art.
“I just kind of play now,” he said. “I’m 72-years-old, I am retired and everything. I live out in the country and pretty much that is all I do now, I play.”
His pottery and birdhouses have been sold at the Mann Art Gallery in Prince Albert and other art sales venues, but only friends or visitors who stop by see the assemblage art.
He was still able to add to his collection, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, and now things are starting to open back up. He visits garage or yard sales and antique dealers who have junk piles that most customers don’t see but he gravitates to.
“For example there was a guy in MacDowall that had an antique shop there and he had an old pump organ,” Gertz remembered. “It had all of the gingerbread on it. It was a beautiful thing, but he had it for two years and he decided he couldn’t sell the damn thing so he just knocked it all down. He had a big pile of pieces on the floor and I said what do you want for that I will give you like $40, but he was trying to get $600 for the pump organ.
“So a lot of the pieces I incorporated that pump organ into it and also a piano is a good one. You know the back part of the piano where you put your music up to play that makes a good frame for things.”
Gertz currently has items to create assemblage art in his garage and basement which are stuffed. Creating assemblage art is one of his life passions.
“It’s just something I have to do,” he said. “That’s the only time I am happy, let me put it that way. That’s the only time I am ever happy–when I am in that zone and I am creating, because nothing else exists in the world but what I am doing right then and there.”
Gertz said that he has photographs of his assemblage art, but it fails to capture the spirit of it in a three dimensional view. When people actually see the work in person, he often hears them say, ‘oh my God’.
“I always tell them that when you say that, then I know I have done my job,” Gertz said.
He wants to have more people come and see his assemblage art and wants to have more people come to look at it.
“I donate a lot of things especially with my pottery and the birdhouses but I usually deliver that to the people that are wanting it for silent auctions or whatever. From now on I am going to have to say you are going to have to come out and get it. That way they can be exposed to it,” Gertz said.
Gertz is originally from Fresno, California and came to the prairies following a woman from Saskatchewan after she retired and moved closer to her family.
“Originally I am from California and I did a lot of art work out there. I get a lot better response there than I have out here in the prairies,” Gertz said.
“I don’t have a family. I’m an orphan so it was easy for me to make the move. I always wanted to live in Canada and to be quite honest I am here now, (and) I never felt proud to be an American. But, I really feel proud to be a Canadian.”
Gertz, who lives north of MacDowall is interested in having people come and see his work. If you are interested, call Gertz at (306) 314-2251 to make an appointment to see his assemblage art collection.