Art professor Carole Garmon found inspiration for her latest exhibit “Study for a Perfect Day” from two billboards that she spotted while driving through Tennessee last spring.
The first sign advertised attractions at the next exit yet was left blank.
Everything was lush and beautiful behind the sign, leading Garmon to contemplate: “What do we think attractions are?”
A second billboard had the simple message of “20/20.”
“How are we seeing things?” Garmon pondered. “It was divine inspiration. It’s about how we manipulate our landscape to serve what we need.”
Garmon’s exhibition at the University of Mary Washington’s duPont Gallery is open through Sunday, October 8.
The show is a major departure from past work. Garmon, who has previously found inspiration in Rembrandt paintings and the “aesthetic sublime,” uses primarily “upcycled” materials in this exhibit. Upcycling takes something old and elevates its initial use, she said.
“Probably 85 percent of this show is recycled,” she said. “I’m using anything from carpet remnants, yoga mats and thrift store purchases. It’s a very different approach to building. I hope to keep with upcycling.”
Garmon spent about a month digging through dumpsters and exploring in thrift stores to find these supplies.
Once she retrieved her materials, she took them back to her studio to cut them all into four-inch strips. While this work is tedious, Garmon said using the materials made her freer as an artist.
“A lot of what dictated scale in previous shows was what I had to work with,” she said.
While this was her first time showing with recycled materials, Garmon is familiar with the concept.
Students in her beginning sculpture class created art from theatre department leftovers a few years ago, when she sent them out to raid dumpsters for an exhibit that was later shown in the basement of Lee Hall.
“I’m not asking anything of my students that I’m not asking of myself,” she said. “Creativity isn’t just about the idea. It’s also how it’s formed. I was just thinking about how much clutter we have.”
Garmon, who earned her bachelor and master of fine arts in sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University, attributes much of her influence to the liberal arts atmosphere on campus.
She and Claudia Emerson, Arrington Distinguished Chair of Poetry and professor of English, frequently intermingle between departments to find ideas and learn more about other disciplines.
Garmon has noticed many similarities between poetry and sculpture.
“There are some really nice things happening with the work that get me excited. I kind of view this as a blank page,” she said.
She relates each piece of art to a different verse or stanza of a poem, each one making the poem more unified. In her exhibit, each piece is linked to another, sometimes unintentionally, to create the overall theme.
“So much of the idea comes from discourse with faculty,” she said. “The liberal arts experience isn’t just for students. It’s with the faculty too. If we were at a different school, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”