“Take a Second Look: Art From Recycled Materials”
Spruill Center Gallery
4681 Ashford Dunwoody Road

The verdict: New work from notable Atlanta artists, and a survey of other possibilities, make this show worth seeking out.

The practice of making art from found objects has two independent sources: Trained artists of the early 20th century, from Marcel Duchamp to Pablo Picasso, who saw the sculptural possibilities in bottle racks or bicycle handlebars; self-taught or folk artists around the world, who have had to use whatever materials they could get.

This show illustrated both strands, through its self-taught Southern artist Hawkins Bolden whose work most resembles Picasso’s famous bull’s head made from a bicycle. Bolden’s coffeepots, pierced with holes to represent eyes, are strange, haunting portrait heads. They have a stark simplicity that far outstrips Leonard Streckfus’ baroque animal figures, which take their cue directly from Picasso. Lonnie Holly and Thornton Dial Sr. are represented here by strong but more symbolic combinations that evoke rather than represent their subjects.

More traditional art-making achieves its own powerful effects. Sally Mankus’ portraits on pot lids, when combined with her “Tower of Pans” with recorded kitchen noises, are a memorable testament to humble acts of domestic heroism. Jim and Mary Deacon Opasik, in their separate bodies of work, turn creditable handsome and evocative re-creations of form from everyday utensils. Chicago artist John Garrett creates vivid wall pieces from shredded soft drink cans or wallpaper samples.

Robert Walden, a New York artist educated in Atlanta, contributes some of the most astonishing work in the exhibition in the form of fragile wall pieces in which street maps have been reduced to just the pattern of the streets themselves; the rest of the map has been cut away, leaving a delicate, lacelike network of interconnected thin lines.

At the other end of the spectrum of solidity, Mary Engal’s familiar dog sculptures, encrusted with found objects in the way Southern memory jars are, faces off against Virginia Kollarik’s skinned and eviscerated stuffed animals in a confrontation that is at once comic and poignant. The vulnerability of Kollarik’s creatures is echoed in Linda Armstrong’s installation of reshaped debris from the beach at Cumberland Island. Armstrong’s “Loon,” which features a soundtrack by Atlanta composer Dick Robinson, combines taxidermied birds, deflated balloons and great chunk s of inner tubing painted to recall strands of seaweed. Tibetan prayer flags, the only items not likely to have been washed up on the shore, apparently form a votive offering to a desecrated landscape.

Curator Susan Loftin has assembled a varies show, in which the other successes range from Matt Schwede’s elegantly formal waxed paper with cigarette burns to Bobby Hansson’s functional sconces and lunchboxes made from antique and contemporary printed metal, such as olive oil cans. She has given us a number of surprises while illustrating the range of the impulse to create fresh art from discarded materials,

Jerry Cullum is an Atlanta write and the senior editor of Art Papers, a magazine of contemporary art.
©2000 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution