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40 Over 40: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Artists Working with Trash

This article is part of Chicago Art Magazine’s “40 over 40” series.

In this day and age, we are looking at an environment that is undergoing massive man-made and natural changes. Climate shifts, mass extinctions, clean water shortages, peak oil, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, these are all issues common to everyday knowledge. As they have done many times in the past, artists have taken up the helm of political activism, focusing the viewers’ attention on such salient issues via the visual hook of artwork.  From Duchamp’s ready-mades up through the SMART Art Competition, artists have used cast-off detritus as a medium to jab at the status quo. Not all artists who use trash use it exclusively; it is simply one in a panoply of possible materials that artists employ in their individual practices. And so it is with the artists featured here. Each artist has repurposed cast-off goods, creating, through the transformative process of the artistic act, works which transcend their homely source and speak to the wider concerns of waste, ecology, and our place on planet earth.

Alan Emerson Hicks  2009

Alan Emerson Hicks 2009

Alan Emerson Hicks:
Alan Emerson Hicks (b. 1964) firmly positions himself within the cannon of social commentary about and through our disposal of trash. “My artwork is about transformation. I collect plastic commonplace objects and societal detritus, bottles, grocery bags, caps, hangers, video tape and use them to make sculpture. I want the viewer to see the objects of their everyday lives anew, hopefully changing the way they dispose of these items…My work is a commentary on what our society views as important and unimportant,” says Hicks. Hicks is a lifetime Chicagoan, born and raised, and shows at many Chicago venues including Murphy Hill Gallery, Crazy 8 Gallery, and Mars Gallery.







Deirdre Fox 2010

Deirdre Fox 2010

Deirdre Fox:
Deirdre Fox takes a more ethereal approach to the repurposing of trash in her works. She describes her process as, “Drawing and painting as analytic processes translat[ing] objects real or imagined to surface as marks that coalesce into interpretations of objects…I turn detritus with prior functional identity reduced or degenerated into narrative object drawings completed by the transitory – light and site position.” Fox earned a BFA from SAIC, and is included in SAIC’s Joan Flasch Artists Book Collection. Her recent exhibitions include shows at the Swedish American Museum Center, Navy Pier, Evanston Art Center, Murphy Hill Gallery, and Caro D’Offay Gallery.

Also check out Fox’s artist profile on Chicago Art Magazine





Gordon Ligocki 2003

Gordon Ligocki 2003

Gordon Ligocki:
Gordon Ligocki’s (b. 1943) work, more than any other artist featured here, has the feeling of a Victorian wunderkammer. His assemblage pieces include the old and the new, and the natural and the manufactured, blended together to create an objets d′art. In discussing his work, Tom Torluemke muses, “When viewing…a work made by Gordon Ligocki you can’t help but think, this work is made by an artist that is at peace with the cycle of life, there is a respect for young and old alike, an equal interest with new and used, its all a part of a natural process where time controls the outcome.” Ligocki lives and works in Chicago.





Patrick Miceli 2001

Patrick Miceli 2001

Patrick Miceli:
Patrick Miceli’s massive installations call into question what it means to be part of the American consumer public. Using the cast-off detritus of fast food restaurants, from the cup to the child’s toy, he forces the viewer to consider not only the consumption, but the production and disposal of these objects. In discussing his works involving burger joint toys, Miceli observes, “Coupling the ideas that the toys immediately engender (as tools of acculturation) with abundance and the toys’ source place the work into a broader, sharper dialogue that encompasses ideas such as our impulse to collect, the marketing of consumerism, material excess, and the use of human and natural resources.” Miceli earned an MFA from SAIC in 1997 and is currently the Director of Painting and Drawing at Lillstreet Art Center.