‘Worthless little tokens’ is a series of paintings cataloguing a collection of free, found and received objects: matchboxes picked up in pubs or in the street; pens received through the post from charities and credit card companies as an incentive to sign up to a particular product or scheme; sugar, salt and sauce sachets collected as mementos of trips to, and along the way to, places far and wide. Palmer arranges these everyday bits and bobs into small groups, isolated from their original functional context, and presented as if for scientific or taxonomic classification. The objects depicted are drawn from a larger collection that is neither wholly random nor entirely specific in composition. The objects can be classified by type (matchbox, pen etc) and also by how they came to be in the artist’s possession (found, received as a gift from a friend or more frequently an unknown source, borrowed or ‘stolen’). Many of the objects feature a logo or design that is a kind of adjunct to the original functional purpose, often in themselves miniature works of art that allude to distant shores, remarkable feats of creativity, political power and design.

Collecting can be seen as a way of establishing a different order of things and of developing a source of specialised knowledge that defies accepted intellectual knowledge. In an age when it is difficult to manifest individualism through other means, collecting affords a way of determining your own system of value and meaning. Collectors collect more than objects, they collect knowledge about those objects, and this knowledge empowers them to take advantage of someone else’s ignorance. The obsessive accumulation of objects can therefore be a means of compensating for something you lack – collecting is simultaneously a manifestation of power and a symptom of powerlessness.

The act of both collecting and then painting images of these objects has the effect of taking away their original function and giving them a new one. Some of these objects now act as souvenirs, as a material means of articulating a distant memory or feeling. For Palmer, painting images of these souvenirs is an attempt to re-enforce their power and the memories each contains – to reacquaint him self with these memories. Often, Palmer doesn’t actually remember where he picked these things up or what it is they are supposed to recall, so even the object’s new function has been exorcised. Other objects are ones the artist has accumulated without meaning to. Painting them is a means of taking control in a culture that attempts to disenfranchise the individual’s right to pick and choose the things they want to own.

Read Roy Exley’s essay Recycling with a difference