Charles Wisseman, Mixed Media Artist


Charles Wisseman

Art from Medicine, Nature, and Found Objects


As a pathologist, I spent most days analyzing the layers of pattern revealed when light transilluminates slices of life mounted on  laboratory slides. The study of disease focuses awareness on time and change, on the range of variation of natural patterns, and on the complementary information apparent at different levels of observation. I am intrigued by contrasts of order and disorder, and by the influence of chance in our optimistically-planned lives. I approach this complexity by using a variety of materials and processes in mixed media constructions, often based around a common theme or by juxtaposing varied presentations of a single image. I have experimented with wood, copper, forged steel, handmade paper, stained and fused glass, plastics and resins, ceramics, fibers (including silk painting), and photography using alternative processes in the darkroom and on the computer. Biomorphic and disease-related forms arise naturally, especially in paper and clay. My house is full of found materials looking for new life. Retirement has allowed me time to think about which processes and forms to emphasize. Experimentation with materials and process is what keeps art fresh for me, though, so each piece tends to be very individual.

I have made lamps, windows, wall pieces, and functional objects, then more recently focused on book and box forms as a flexible and personal way to use multiple materials.  Boxes can function as portable personal spaces, with elements of diary, altar, meditative focus, keepsake and photo box. Book and box forms allow images and objects to be viewed in varying combinations and sequences as the boxes are opened and  manipulated.  Sometimes I incorporate motion, sound, optical effects, or touch in addition to the usual passive viewing. Some of my larger boxes use translucent panels to highlight internal structures and colors, or to channel light to a focus for contemplation of inner spaces. I have found inspiration in Joseph Cornell's boxes, cabinets of curiosities from the Baroque era, folk art assemblages and shrines, artists' books, collage art, sacred geometry and symbolism.  Other artists I find inspiring include Lee Bontecou, Kurt Schwitters, HC Westermann, and Alberto Burri. Visual psychology and mythology give clues into how the human mind structures and responds to the world,  and collage art uses symbols, patterns, colors and materials to explore the ambiguities and layers of our visual responses.  I helped with the walking labyrinth project in Crystal Lake Park in Urbana, so the labyrinth motif has become a deeply resonating symbol of introspection and renewal for me.

 Volunteering in a book conservation lab in recent years has given me a new appreciation for book forms and paper. I have done hand papermaking for years, and have been working to help revive papermaking at the University of Illinois.  Workshops at the Paper and Book Intensive workshop and  the Arrowmont Craft School  have expanded my range of skills and interests.  Assisting visiting Japanese papermaker Kyoko Ibe in 2008 gave me a much deeper appreciation for oriental papers.  Her left-over paper pulp appears in my I-ching series. 

 Recent work in the Springer Center art show in January-February 2010 is a mostly new body of wall pieces using a variety of materials, including handmade papers, ceramics, forged steel, cyanotype, found objects, wood, and fiber.  Clocks introduce some movement, and also refer to a long-standing interest in time and transience that was enhanced by a career in medicine and a near-fatal auto accident.  Pattern and symbols  interact with more random elements, as they do in life experience.



              Charles Wisseman, MD

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