There are many reasons why I enjoy collecting junk fragments for my art pieces. I prefer to hit the streets with my eyes looking downwards rather than stare at the sky or shop in stores for something new. In my head, junk has no expiration date. Let me begin by saying junk is in my bloodstream due to being a New Orleans native. It’s about living and enjoying a world of rust, grime, and bent objects. Why would I go to a craft store when I can unearth burger wrappers, used clear plastic ice cream bowls (which make great space ships when super glued to the top of a stale, gold-spray-painted bagel), bottle caps, and so many abandoned items on the street. Yes, I am a trash-obsessed artist who loves to upcycle garbage into one-of-a-kind art pieces. This wonderful treasure hunt is exciting! The thrill I might unearth computer parts, broken watch pieces, discarded toys, rusted spring pieces, and old nuts and bolts – that perfectly complete my latest project – keeps me on the chase, day in and day out. Sure, it’s free entertainment but the exhilaration of it all is spreading it out on a flat surface and deciding what will be created is unmatched. Plus, I’m cleaning up the street and imagining who will adopt my piece and how they will cherish it. Will they surmise it’s made from street scraps? Will they marvel at the individual parts or appreciate the whole? Or will I just keep the dang thing for myself because I can’t let go and love it?!
The mystery and intrigue of my hunting is part of the allure, as in the feeling that I am breathing new life into discarded objects, who without Marie Kondo, were never properly thanked for their service before being tossed aside! (And, yes, I wear rubber gloves, sweetie; you can get cut and fashion is forgone for safety!) My eclectic addiction is fed as I rub bent pieces of metal and my imagination explodes into the metamorphosis that lies ahead.
For example, did you know you can use the dial key part of an old, flat flip phone, attach 2 forks for arms and 2 bent small spoons for legs; dress it up with big eyes and the screen becomes the mouth? You can always outline the screen with big, red lips. A sculpture from the street is born! Used and found pieces to create robots are one of my favorites. Grab a small empty can of machine oil, glue an upside-down muffin tin underneath (as in a skirt), use mismatched nuts and bolts for the arms, legs and neck, then attach an old watch facade for the face. Leftover scraps of colorful wire can be curled on a pencil attached and used as outrageous hair. There goes another wonderful coffee table piece that cost almost nothing and compliments will be flowing like The Red Sea.
Try to find some peeling old, cracked fence posts and paint ghost eyes and a mouth on one side. Just a dab of black paint will do. Make sure the post has some cracks with lots of pock marks and set it on a shelf in triptychs. Make them about 13” tall. You can also drill a hole in larger beat-up fence posts with carved designs for large candlesticks. You win the lottery on this if you have a piece of wood that a bird has pecked a design on. What a NOLA find! All of these pieces I collect have a junk function to begin. These castaways travel straight to my happy place and the right side of my brain runs on overdrive. I grew up in a city of urban decay, but also serves as a curtain revealing magical, telling patinas and rust.
It is actually possible to find a really ugly castaway object, become inspired and see it appearing in another form. Art becomes a carbon footprint of whatever time it hit the garbage. Mother Nature of course creates extraordinary works of art. Walk around a park that has lots of landscaping. Gnarled pieces of roots are like sculptures and there is a treasure trove to be appreciated in nature. The environment is doing the hard work; we are only showcasing it. Twigs, branches, and stones have shapes humans cannot even create as nature and weather imprints incredible designs on pieces and becomes the artist.
Maybe I’m a junk critter, or a pack rat, but so be it. I love the surprise of turning the rusty and verdigris street castaways into “WOW” factors. I don’t want to pick something off a department store shelf that’s been copied by the thousands with no original appeal. I love the art of surprise when someone comes to my home and says, “I can’t believe you made that sculpture out of old typewriter parts!” or when they see my magnet on the fridge made from a chewing gum tin container. Now, that magnet – once a commodity, consumer package – has become one of a kind. Spray paint it, sprinkle glitter on it, and glue treasures inside. I personally love to mix a collage and a small object (like maybe a Barbie Head or some broken jewelry parts and a mix of tiny photos). Glue a magnet on the back of the tin and your refrigerator will be one fabulous quirky talisman protecting your food.
Our planet is an assembly line terribly full of plastic. It makes some of us worry about the environment. I try to combat this looming anxiety by creating art pieces that are magical. It isn’t really just trash, but finding any used object inspires us to be more creative. Recycled and upcycled materials can really push the envelope in terms of making a “I-can’t-believe-it-was-a ___” moment. As a serial recycling artist, I just cannot even buy pieces and parts in a store or online, so there is certainly a logjam in my creative process. But for me, it’s a worth the time it takes to find these pieces organically. The magic begins with old bottle caps, tins, and rusted metal and when you really think about it, the art that comes from these throwaways actually connects us as humans. They are passed down (in some cases from generations) and cherished for the future.