Material Renewal: Four Artists Turning Trash into Art

by Lindsey Davis | Mar 18, 2016

Every day, each of us is responsible for generating almost five pounds of trash. That’s more than one thousand six hundred pounds per person every year. With all that junk, it’s no wonder why some artists create straight from the garbage can, using discarded items to construct beautiful, sustainable works of art. For this issue, I asked four such artists for their thoughts on the process and motivation driving this fundamental form of renewal.

1. Tom Deininger

2. Federico Uribe


Nick Gentry’s work is specific both in the media he repurposes and in the images he creates. Gentry uses film negatives, x-rays, microfilm, and floppy discs to construct haunting portraits, usually seen from the shoulders up. He paints eyes, noses, mouths, and ears with acrylic and oil on these collaged compositions, and sets each piece within a light box that illuminates the film strips that make up each face. By recycling these outdated forms of physical data, Gentry casts each face as an assemblage of memories and information that can only be seen if a viewer is willing to look closely. In the case of the floppy discs, that information is completely out of reach, simultaneously symbolizing lost modes of communication and the hidden aspects of our innermost selves.

LD: Is there any connection between the images you create and the images on the floppy disks or in the film negatives? Or are you more driven by the simple task of creating something new and beautiful out of discarded materials?

Nick Gentry: I like to make connections not only throughout each portrait but also beyond the portrait, into the lives and histories of the viewers. The whole process is completely open and inclusive. The art cannot exist without the contributor or the viewer. However, a lot of these connections are ambiguous and left open to individual interpretation. I do find a certain beauty and charm in old, discarded materials. I feel lucky to have such a choice in that area!