It’s a cold world out there for trash. The wrap on your grab-and-go sandwich, the scratched CDs and ’80s Walkman, the broken toys and worn-out furniture and colorful detritus of rich, fast-paced lives are doomed to collect in landfills, antique shops and garbage-strewn street corners—unless an artist comes along.
“In 1992, my neighbor was throwing out a piece of scrap metal in his trash. I thought it was kind of interesting and random, so I brought it into my studio,” said Michael Fitts, a Charlottesville-based artist whose photorealistic Pop Art-inspired oil paintings on metal can be seen in Piedmont of Virginia Community College’s upcoming show, “A Necessary Fiction.”
“I did an abstract painting on it, and even though abstract art is not a natural fit for me, I kept the piece,” he said. “I knew it was something that would be with me a long time.”
Fitts, who worked as graphic designer and art director for years before his retirement in 2013, began collecting interesting pieces of scrap metal wherever he could find it: local scrapyards, junk shops, construction sites. “I’m constantly on the hunt, driving down country roads looking for barns that have collapsed. There are guys who do construction or roofing work and know I’ll pay them for metal if they lob it into my yard.”
It can take months before he decides which object he wants to paint onto his found canvas. When he does, it tends to be a consumable object that reminds him of childhood: a needle and a spool of thread, a box of Junior Mints, a collapsed can of Orange Crush.
Fitts said he avoids dark subject matter in favor of levity. “I did a painting of a ketchup pack that had exploded, which was an idea I’d had for a while. I remember being a kid in the cafeteria at school and stomping on a ketchup pack and getting in trouble for it,” he said. “People said they burst out laughing when they saw it.”
Kim Boggs, a mixed media artist whose sculptural assemblages will be shown alongside Fitts’ work, shares his appreciation for found materials—and the un-serious nature of juxtaposing these objects with artistic intention.
“When I was a little girl, my mom took me to garage sales and antique shops. She liked intricate silver spoons whereas I liked the dirty, rusty, not-completely-in-one-piece things. I was always attracted to patina and aging wood and metal and the crackling of paint that happens with age,” she said.
For years, Boggs collected objects and never used them—until 2007, when a switch flipped in her mind. “I remember thinking, ‘You know what, I’m ready to alter these.’ Things had always been precious in their original form to me, but now I saw their potential to be combined with other things and I was willing to slice them up.”
Now she creates hanging sculptures that layer drawers, toys, boards, Industrial Revolution-era foundry molds and other antique wooden objects, often in unusual and hard-to-find shades of peeling paint. “I go searching for colors,” she said. “I found a pinball board from the ’50s in all these gorgeous colors and wooden drawers that were painted with a mustard color I’d never found anywhere else.”
Boggs’ magpie tendencies allow a similar approach to Fitts’. “My very first official show was in 2012 at the Bridge, and it was all about toys and art as play. I believe that art can be elevated, but it should also have joy to sustain the artist.”
“A Necessary Fiction” opens on January 23 at the PVCC Gallery. The exhibit will be on display through April 1 alongside the group show “Summer of Love.” Info at www.pvcc.edu.