One person's trash can be another's treasure. For Columbia-based artist Kirkland Smith, a lifelong goal of painting in oil took a very different turn when she discovered trash - or more importantly, it's potential for creating art with a very definite statement about the American consumerist obsession. Her assemblages of a mind-boggling array of "found" objects create works of art with amazing depth and impact.
An exhibition of 21 of her works, titled Kirkland Smith: Assemblages, will be on display at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum from January 21 - April 21. An opening reception, from 1 - 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, will provide an opportunity for visitors to meet the artist and hear about her work, first-hand. Cost of the reception is $10 for non-museum-members, free to members.
Although classically trained in both painting and ceramics, with a degree in Studio Arts from the University of South Carolina, Smith's interest in working with found objects arose from an environmental landscape art contest she entered in 2008. The contest's challenge was to illustrate an environmental issue with a work of art.
"The more I looked," she recalls, "the more aware I became of the disposable nature of our society. Many conveniences I took for granted I now saw in a different light . . . And I started wondering where all this trash ends up - the stuff that doesn't make it to the landfills."
Recruiting friends and family members - including her school-age children - to bring her cast-off objects such as bottle caps, small toys, discarded remote control devices, make-up pots, buttons and other mostly small plastic objects, Smith began amassing an inventory of material. In the artist's talented hands, these items take the place of paint and other media, coming together to form astonishingly complex images: portraits of well-known celebrities such as Steve Jobs and Marilyn Monroe; landscapes and creatures from the natural world; or multicolored, kaleidoscope-like figures.
"The material for my work is plentiful and my bins of 'stuff' keep growing," Smith writes in her artist statement, noting that she receives a steady flow of material from family and friends. She adds, "My art is only as good as my trash, and the donations from others has made the work much more interesting and meaningful."
Smith's assemblages have been displayed individually at environmental conferences and meetings, but more often are collected and displayed simply for their aesthetic appeal. She has come to see her recycling-into-art as a form of redemption, finding beauty in unexpected places and turning the discarded and unwanted items into something new and beautiful. She notes that her work has given her a new perspective on our disposable society, and adds that "what we throw away says a lot about who we are, but what we choose to cherish and protect says even more in the end."
Gallery hours for Kirkland Smith: Assemblages will be from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 - 4 p.m. Sunday, beginning Thursday, Jan. 21. Admission to the museum is free at all times, but donations are welcomed.