Tips Tuesday: Rethinking Ourselves in a World of Waste: Self-Portraits with Recycled Materials
July 17th 2012
Adjacent to the San Francisco peninsula’s El Camino Real in Redwood City, Sequoia High School occupies a large, verdant, beautifully cultivated campus. Over fifty students from three classrooms at Sequoia High School collaborated to produce the contents of a uniquely informative art book that explores trash, waste, community and custodial labor at Sequoia High School.
For their book, the artists enrolled in Kate Sheehan’s visual arts class took time for personal reflection on trash and waste in their own lives to create stunning self-portraits from up-cycled materials found in their homes and school. Drawing upon previously studied techniques of portraiture, students expanded their range of media to explore a variety of materials, from grass and sawdust to CDs and make-up. The result is a collection of portraits that reflect the brilliant diversity of these young artists and their ability transform our relationship to the stuff and things we too often discard and overlook.
Students had already practiced portraiture and studied the geometry of the human face, when they were introduced to the work of New York-based Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and his "Pictures of Garbage" project documented in the film Wasteland. The film follows Muniz from New York to Jardim Gramacho, one of the largest landfills in Latin America where Muniz initiates an artistic collaboration with several of the garbage pickers who make their living recovering recyclables from the huge tracts of waste. Working with the garbage pickers, Muniz produces stunning visual portraits of the Jardim Gramacho community out of the very materials they work with everyday. Muniz's work is especially engaging because of the enormous scale of his images, creating human portraits the size of a small soccer fields. Several time-lapse videos are available online, that allow students to observe the process of Muniz's production.
Muniz's project encouraged students to re-evaluate their relationship to waste in light of the tremendous volumes of trash depicted in the film and found in their own lives. For many students the project was a first foray into mixed media art and it helped tremendously that they were comfortable with the foundations of portraiture as the foundation of their image. Students started with a small mock-up, experimenting with a variety of materials and adhesives and then worked their way up to larger and more detailed portraits like the ones seen here by Emili Espinoza and Carlos Rodriguez.