We dragged the beggar out of the muck and he was a fearsome thing to fight (1999)

Photo of boxed assemblage art by Frank Turek


The inside back images of this assemblage are a black-and-white photo of the opera character Mephistopheles and a color photo of an American astronaut free-floating in space. The astronaut has a one-inch square cut out of his midsection revealing an illustration of primeval foliage. Just in front of these photos is small painted wood candelabra with a single candle. A clipping of the word Misfortune is pasted on the candelabra. On the interior left is a pen-and-ink illustration of a young woman. A map pin holds one end of a jewelry chain to her outstretched hand. The other end of the chain is pinned to the hand of Mephistopheles. On the right bottom of the box is a toy green octopus, and to the left is a card collaged with a black-and-white photo of a frog. Both rest upon a black-and white-scenic photo of a large, expansive canyon. The right inside panel is a mirror, and the inside top of the box is an enlarged color photo of cellular activity as seen through a microscope. The outside frame of the box, including the bottom, is collaged with etched illustrations of various types of tweezers. The back of the box is a black-and-white photo of a struggling alligator with a taut rope around its neck and its original caption pasted across the top of the image. The whole assemblage rests atop four squat, cylindrical, red wooden blocks.


Many of my art assemblage titles have emerged from my collage materials. Most often, at some point in the process, a caption or snippet of text appears to leap out at me, insisting on being used. Typically this minor revelation occurs during the beginning process of assembling a box, as it did with the caption of this piece: We dragged the beggar out of the muck, and he was a fearsome thing to fight. As with all my titles, I want them to be directive rather than illustrative, something that points, or in this case drags the viewer in the right direction, rather than a title that appears to offer an explanation. The title should have a tenuous connection and not become the piece. When I’ve chosen the title at an early stage, I try to keep it in the back of my mind as the assemblage intuitively develops. This way, I can allow for little adventitious associations to happen. For instance, in this work there is a jewelry chain that ties together key elements—or they become key elements because of the chain—and the title combined with this scene could imply a dragging. The beggar in the title could also refer to the meaning of the artwork or even artistic intention, which is dragged out into the muck of thought, which is indeed a fearsome thing.
I also love how colloquial phrases can be contextual in their reference points, and consequently packed with dimensions of meaning, or contrariwise, a grounded understanding.