Gustavo Oviedo, Accidental Environmentalist, Makes New Art From Old Trash

If recycling is the mantra for environmental awareness, then Gustavo Oviedo may be its best messenger. The Miami-based artist has made it his mission to repurpose found objects for the purpose of creating original works of art, breathing new life into disposable materials that otherwise outlived their purpose. Describing himself as an "accidental environmentalist," Oviedo's often found boating in the waters off South Florida in search of discards that can be put to use for an entirely new purpose.

Not surprisingly, Oviedo's technique was born out of some practical purpose. "At one of my old studios, my area was located next to the buildings dumpster, so I would usually get first choice when an artist was moving out and leaving behind useful materials," he recalls. "When I first started using left-behind materials it was to save money on art supplies, and also because I liked the idea of transforming other people's trash into something that had value to me." 

But Oviedo's practice, born out of necessity, soon became central to his process. "Over time, I built a considerable collection. After awhile it all started taking up too much space, so I used them for different projects. It was more of a reclaiming value situation than an environmental/ecological motive. I saw it as a way to transform something and maximize that opportunity.

"When I collect human debris from the marine environment, I don't do it with an ecological agenda," he explains. "I do it because I see it as a resource that I can use to produce my work. The cleaning up is a plus."

As a result, Oviedo's upcoming exhibition at ArtCenter on Lincoln Road will likely draw the admiration of both art enthusiasts and those keen on conservation. The 33 year-old artist, who was born in Paris and raised in Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico before finally relocating to Miami, has pointedly titled his collection Nothing Goes To Waste, and, given the varied mediums he brings into his fold -- used canvases, photography, vinyl, videos, drawings and other found objects -- the banner couldn't be more explicit.

"I use my boat as a mobile studio," he explains. "One of the pieces in the show is called 'Low Tide Shopping.' It s a cluster of buoys I collected and installed together. Although it's not much of an intervention at all -- besides retrieving them from the mangroves -- I found the buoys to already have a lot of texture from drifting for long periods of time. In a way the sculpting was already done by the elements in the marine environment."

By the artist's own admission, he occasionally finds himself in the role of garbage collector in his search of his supplies. "In another piece called 'Stiltsville's Beer Bottles,' I took the boat to the areas around the stilt houses and snorkeled around looking for beer bottles," he explains. "In this case, I did work the materials to create sculptures by smashing the bottles and grouping them with epoxy resin, inside trash bags."

Oviedo's unusual techniques have garnered the interest of others, including Susan Caraballo, ArtCenter's Artistic Director. "I met Gustavo last year while working on the exhibition, I-95 South," she says. "When I conducted a studio visit with him to select the pieces for that exhibition, I learned of his repurposing objects, his own works and remnants of his work that became 'by-product' pieces. At some point, he said something about not letting anything go to waste. That sparked the idea for the exhibition."

Happily, the exhibit makes for a perfect fit with the Lincoln Road gallery's recent opening of a new exhibition space called Project 924. Located on the second floor of the 924 building, it's designed to be an interdisciplinary project space for innovative and experimental exhibitions, performances and site-specific installations of varied disciplines.

Based on Oviedo's earlier encounters, the new exhibition is bound to draw varied reactions, and that's fine as far as the artist is concerned. "One of the pieces I showed at the ArtCenter last year was called 'Coladas.' It was made of all the colada cups I drank while working on a drawing that was also in display. They were sealed in a plastic bag with epoxy resin. Some people thought it was nasty, and I agreed with them. Sometimes it s good to make art that is not meant to have positive feedback."

Nothing Goes To Waste, A Solo Exhibition by Gustavo Oviedo will be on view at ArtCenter South Florida, 924 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach July 2 -- August 24.

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