Broken table legs, scraps of fabric, pieces of packaging material and molded plastic foam. To most people, these items would be considered trash and discarded. But in the hands of Steven Spann these bits and pieces have been transformed into pieces of art.
During the recently completed Las Vegas Market at World Market Center Las Vegas, Spann collected pieces of trash created by unpacking items for the show or furnishings that were damaged during shipping and transformed them into art. Marketgoers were able to watch Spann at work throughout the five-day event and the finished pieces were incorporated into the Trash = Art exhibit.
“Trash generated from World Market Center is amazing. There’s so much variety,” Spann said.
“As an industry, we’re actually very connected to our trash. We would recognize our own personal debris,” said Margaret Casey, director of programming at World Market Center and Las Vegas Design Center, of those visiting the exhibit. “Initially, some people didn’t know what it was, and there was some hesitation to enter the space and learn more about it. But those who did were delighted by it. They couldn’t help but get on board with such a clever and engaging concept.”
Trash = Art was a joint collaboration between Spann, World Market Center and Opportunity Village’s Art Enrichment program, which gives those with developmental and related disabilities the chance to explore their artistic sides.
“Steven came to us with the idea and, of course, as vice president of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, I was immediately engaged with the concept,” Casey said. “The idea of taking trash – broken furniture legs, busted mirror frames and scraps of material – and partnering with Steven and people from Opportunity Village seemed like a wildly imaginative experiment. And who knows what could come out of this experiment.”
Spann said the project afforded him the chance to help raise people’s awareness of the volume of materials that is thrown away and the potential of these items.
The artist, who hails from Texas, said he works with recycled materials a lot.
“It’s the nature of business. I see something on the floor and pick it up and put it in my painting.”
The challenge with this project was that the materials were often brought to him.
“It’s one thing for an artist to find a piece and then create something. What’s interesting is when they bring you the material to create something. It’s your job to figure out how they all interact.”
Casey said market officials arranged to have members of the janitorial staff collect things they saw that were “particularly interesting” and bring them to Spann. It helped prevent him from having to climb into the dumpsters as well as allowed him to work with materials other than just cardboard and foam.
Spann said he considers his work a discourse in society, figuring out how a variety of dissimilar things can get along. “Take a table leg over here and old crappy piece of Styrofoam over here and see how they go together.”
Although he is hesitant to label his art as belonging to a particular style, Spann said his work is best described by fellow Las Vegas artist Joe Palermo. According to Spann, Palermo coined the term “Vandalism” to describe his work that borrows elements from a variety of styles and meshes them into one piece.
Spann has been painting all of his life and was an art major at the University of North Texas. While attending college, he began having problems concentrating and, after a battery of test, the counselors determined he should sit in the front of the class, have someone else take his notes and never take another math class.
“I got so mad I changed my major to finance. I spent 10 years as a financial adviser before I realized I was still trying to prove that counselor wrong.”
At that point, Spann returned to the world of art and hasn’t looked back.
Several of his finished pieces were sold during the market, raising a few thousand dollars for Opportunity Village, and others are still for sale. Spann also is currently serving as the artist in residence at the Cosmopolitan and has a few pieces in his studio space there.
Not only did proceeds from the sale benefit Opportunity Village, clients of the facility were invited to participate by helping create some of the artwork, Spann said.
He said working with the people from Opportunity Village was a great opportunity for him.
One piece in particular features a variety of unique drawings created by one of the nonprofit’s clients. “I did the underlayment, the first layer of the painting, and then gave him a marker and let him add his touches.”
According to Spann, he drew aliens and then added foam pieces of a dog, a lady and a cow.
“So the piece became this alien living a simple life – landing and then hanging out with a dog and a cow.
“By engaging the Opportunity Village people, it brought in a note of levity and brought in an element of fun,” Casey added.
The project was so successful, Casey said there are plans to continue it, with Spann planning to return to the center in May. The exact format of his return, however, was still being worked out.