From a distance one of Kirkland Smith’s assemblages looks like a large oil painting of a famous blonde bombshell. But as you move closer, a strange melding of smaller objects begins to emerge – a collage of various colored plastic pieces that were carefully placed to create a larger picture of Marilyn Monroe. An old crème–colored hairdryer helps create a curl in her hair, plastic rings from beverage containers lend the sparkle to her eyes while a pair of mascara tubes fill out her plump red lips.
Smith’s newly–found passion for assemblage art from disposable objects stems from an environmental art contest called “Vanishing Landscapes” that she entered not long ago. “I began looking around Columbia for landscapes,” she said. “What I noticed everywhere was trash. Even at nice parks there was garbage shoved up under bushes. So I got really upset. I wanted to draw attention to this.”
Although she is a classically trained painter, Smith did not want to paint trash. So she came up with the concept of using trash as “paint.” For her first piece “Unfortunate Inheritance” she entered into the contest, she came up with a list of items she thought she could use and asked family and neighbors to set aside the trash items for her work.
What emerged was a large assemblage profile portrait of one of her sons – that Smith felt could represent any child and help highlight the volume of trash that is left behind by our consumerist society. “Most of this stuff is not recyclable even though it is plastic,” the mother of four said. “It will just end up in landfills.”
Smith works from her studio space at Gallery 80808 in the Vista, where she has amassed a wall of tubs filled with color–coordinated plastic garbage. So far she has created six pieces that she hopes to include in a show next fall. “I want to create a body of work that will bring some awareness to this issue of trash,” she said.
The process of creating one of her assemblages is labor–intensive. It took her four months to complete the portrait of Marilyn. Mostly it was a challenge to find garbage that was the right color to represent Monroe’s platinum blonde hair and pale skin. She does not like to paint the plastic or alter the components much, which makes the whole process like “putting together a puzzle.”
Smith begins with a photograph or painting as a reference point from which to sketch the base picture. Once that is finished, she places the painting flat on the floor and from her standing vantage point begins placing the pieces in the base layer. The space at Gallery 80808 really allows her to spread out – a challenge she initially faced when trying to create in her dining room.
She continually accepts donations from neighbors and friends at her church. “My mother is one of my biggest donors,” she said with a laugh. “She’ll even go out on recycling days and collect tops off things.” Her fellow artists at the gallery often pitch in by bringing odds and ends by her studio. “I still get excited when I get a bag of trash from someone!”