Whether we like it or not, we are surrounded by a sea of vernacular detritus.

Objects, events and ‘things’ shape our lives; become signifiers of status, time and place and souvenirs of memory. Rather than focusing on the larger, more effective objects and events that drive our existence, Stephen Palmer has concerned his artistic practice with a gathering of the banalities of contemporary life – from free condiments pinched from roadside cafes, to pens offered as incentives for charity signups, and a recent collection of oddball newspaper clippings.

An easy, though somewhat lazy, comparison to draw with Palmer’s focus on the everyday is of course, Pop Art, though his is anything but the slick American style we have come to associate with the movement. Palmer’s work is, if anything, ‘anti-pop’. His chosen subject matter is carefully rendered in meticulously hand-applied paint and graphite, quite the opposite to Warhol’s Fordist factory line. There is also an indefinable ‘Englishness’ to it that is reminiscent in character to the works of George Shaw, songs by The Smiths and atmosphere of run-down seaside towns – simultaneously celebratory of the ordinary, yet tinged with a sense of melancholy and infinitely interesting in its eccentricities.

Despite their perceived mundane qualities, Palmer’s subjects are treated with the utmost attention through his painstaking working methods. For his solo exhibition ‘The end has no end’, Palmer renders a series of aforementioned newspaper clippings, letter for letter in pencil. Although seemingly disparate in relation to each other, the subjects of the articles, ranging from UFO sightings to stamp collections, are united in their appeal to the weirder curiosities of human character.

They are so accurately represented that, from a distance, the drawings actually look like framed snippets, with even the ragged edge of the torn page carefully marked and shaded. On a closer viewing, they are obviously hand-drawn and have all the simple attraction of pencil drawing – perhaps the most basic and readily available artistic medium. It is immensely satisfying to see literal graphite drawings in a contemporary context, one where a proliferation of ‘ready-mades’ and time-based media often dominate.

The consideration given to these drawings re-establishes the original content with higher importance, increasing their ‘value’ by awarding them the same treatment as a still life or drawn portrait. As our lives predominantly consist of everyday trivialities and are rarely graced by major turning points, it seems appropriate that seemingly irrelevant stories are paid greater attention in this way.

There are visible connections between several of the articles; an overarching theme being the re-discovery of material, documents and evidence of a past event, whereby an interest in that particular episode is reignited and re-contextualised with present situations. Several stories refer to events of World War II. The Road to the Village (2013) recalls the SS massacre of a Greek village and offers relevance in connection with current international relations via the European economic crisis. On the more eccentric side, File found on Hitler dog (2011) reveals the Nazi investigation into a man who trained his dog to salute Hitler, dug up for present eyes through reissued documents. Many of the stories cover subjects relevant to Palmer’s era of youth culture – a society hung over from the effects of World War II, dominated by futuristic sci-fi novels and TV, and driven to obsession via music. However, Palmer is keen to reiterate, “it’s how history impacts on the present that I’m interested in”.

Another categorisation of ‘The end has no end’ series is that of the obituary. Unlike the rest of the series, these works neglect the text of the obit itself, and instead focus on the accompanying image, leaving the deceased without any written identity, an irony in the format of remembrance. The titles are similarly non-specific, denoting general character traits such as The Lover (2012) and The Gambler (2013).

There are interesting parallels between the inclusion of the obituaries and the recent decline in popularity of printed newspapers in favour of online formats. Palmer’s work offers a facsimile of the newspaper sources that is the polar opposite of the digitally constructed version dominating news output. Internet sites allow for twenty-four hour, to-the-minute news updates. With Palmer’s laboriously rendered works the selected articles get full focus, not only for Palmer as he re-works them, but for the viewers as they’re drawn into the text, isolated on its simple white page. Created retrospectively, not as news, but as stories, they are also a much more permanent interpretation of events, the antithesis of a throwaway product, even if the content seems forgettable.

It’s not the first time that Palmer has dealt with death in subject and format. For The Dead and Alive Songs (2008) he worked with the resurgent media of the vinyl record. He again turned to the vernacular, looking no further than his own record collection to reference the grand opposing themes of life and death. Palmer produced his own limited edition vinyl single, one side of which referenced all the songs in his collection that mention ‘death’, ‘die’, ‘dying’ and ‘dead’, and the opposite side referencing songs with ‘alive’, ‘life’, ‘live’ and ‘living’ – offering a disparately optimistic or pessimistic outlook provided by the original artists, and categorised by Palmer.

Despite being outmoded in terms of technology, vinyl is far from redundant. It is becoming increasingly popular, not just with those who remember its heyday, but with a new generation of under-25s looking for a more collectable material connection to musical formats. Its resurgence can be seen as a signifier of a retaining want for physical objects in our increasingly digitised world. In addition to the Dead and Alive Songs record release, Palmer presented a series of paintings showing the paper sleeves of found records as customised by their previous owners. This personalisation of an otherwise mass-produced object is of great importance to Palmer whose Self-portrait with badges (2008) marks another interest in customising material.

The ‘collector’ is an ever-important character throughout Palmer’s oeuvre. From records and band badges, to souvenirs and memorabilia, his subjects tend to relate back to collectable items. There is a sense of mystique surrounding collectors; why they gather certain objects, what relevance they have to them, how they are presented and cared for. Their specific knowledge of a particular subject offers a strange empowerment in a specialist subject matter. Collecting is also something long associated with art but in a very different method of evaluation.

Palmer describes himself as a collector, but specifies that making work using his items as subjects is a cathartic method of recording that almost negates the need for them in the first place. An ongoing archive becomes an organically regenerating home to his sources. As more objects and clippings are gathered, others are usurped and lose relevance, unlikely to be featured in his works.

Selectivity, the reason for which we choose to invest in an object, is key to understanding the draw of Palmer’s works. The Worthless Little Tokens series (2007) documented trivial objects, free pens, condiments, and matchboxes in the medium of fine oil painting. The subjects were gathered taxonomically in classifications of type or methods by which they came into his possession, whether they were given, taken, donated in person or received through the post. The human connection to the objects, the act of giving and receiving, the memories projected onto the smallest, most insignificant ‘token’ all came through in Palmer’s considered approach to the ordinary. All Palmer’s subjects are products of the human world, man-made, ugly, interesting, bland, they are all objects of human origin. His work helps to re-define our relationship to these objects and re-discover our ownership of them. We may be surrounded by the insignificant flotsam and jetsam of modern life. But Palmer, at least, helps us realise that it’s ours.

Rebecca Travis is a writer and artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne. www.rebeccatravis.co.uk