From Dumpster to gallery
Turning Dumpster discards into a backyard gallery
Raised by Depression-era grandparents who saved slivers of soap, it’s no surprise that Roger Braddy would grow up with a philosophy of “making do with what you have.”
What some call “trash art,” Braddy sees as a way to “keep the landfills empty by turning their contents into art.” He gets to satisfy his inner artist while honoring his desire to minimize his impact on natural resources.
“My art, it’s total pragmatism,” he said. “The way I do things stems from my childhood.”
I was both verbally entertained and visually impressed as he elaborated at the cozy East Ninth Street home he shares with his partner, Christa.
“Trash art?” Braddy began. “I call it recycling. I could go to Ellis [Art & Engineering Supplies on Main Street] and get stuff to make art. But I’m just as comfortable going across the street to the Dumpster to get supplies.”
He’s perhaps even more comfortable going the Dumpster route, one suspects, given the large number of art pieces Braddy has on display all over his house—both inside and out. They’re made from recycled materials, primarily bicycle parts, used garden tools and cast-off metal containers, such as a rusted gasoline can and an old hibachi.
Braddy is a house painter during the “on season"—that is, when the weather is good. It’s during the construction trade’s off-season that Braddy stays busy making his art.
In January, as we sat and chatted in Braddy’s dining room, his art-making season was in full swing. The table at which we sat was scattered with various recycled bits and pieces. The used bullets, bubble wrap, skeleton key, trilobite, cuckoo clock weight and section of steel flex line; and a large, smooth chunk of purple glass were all waiting to be assembled into a fanciful light fixture for the rear of Braddy’s house.
Braddy was animated as he described how all of the selected pieces will come together in the wooden box that will contain them and how he will incorporate the purple glass, soon to be melted down and reformed into a decorative pane.
“I used to be a lab tech in the glass lab at Chico State,” Braddy pointed out, and motioning toward a sizable silver-colored object on the living room floor piled with more “stuff,” added playfully, “That’s why I have a glass kiln for a coffee table!”
Braddy took me into a spare room housing a bed being used as an improvised display area for what are coming to be known as some of his signature pieces: the impressive mosaic livestock skulls and praying mantis heads he fashions from scavenged bicycle seats and other bike parts bearing names like “L. A. County Bovine” and “Bushit,” a sly political word play on the word “bullshit.”
A mantis head with almost glowing red marble eyes and mother-of-pearl mosaic inlay caught my attention, as did a blue pottery mosaic cattle “skull” with curved lengths of copper flex line indicating the forehead and part of the jaw, a bicycle kickstand for a nose, and long horns made from some of Braddy’s very favorite cast-off bike parts—the forks.
“My art is Chico-specific,” he said. “What I use is mostly bike parts; Chico’s a bike town.
“The rounded cruiser seats lend themselves to becoming mantises and the old English 3-speed seats tend to become rams and steers,” Braddy explained. “Seats and forks are pretty much what I use in my pieces.”
Braddy whisked me into the kitchen to proudly show me “Deja Moo,” a striking mosaic longhorn skull in rust tones evocative of the Southwest hanging prominently over the kitchen sink.
“That one had named himself before,” Braddy said wryly. “I’m just repeating it.”
Braddy took me into his backyard to show me his “garden art"—including more skulls, an entire mosaic-ed “art bike” that he rode in the Celebration of People parade, some mosaic “shovelheads” and a sassy-looking metal statue named “Voodoo Princess,” whose various parts include a car tire rim and bicycle handlebars.
We lingered over one of Braddy’s works-in-progress: a topiary statue of a mother and a baby that he is making from a tomato cage, an old chair, a bent-up bike basket and a discarded 1930s baby stroller frame.
“All I’ll have to do is hose her down and she’ll always look clean and fresh,” Braddy chuckled.
Braddy pointed out a small garden piece near the back door. “That was a coffee table at one time, now it’s a truck. You never know what you’re gonna find when you go out Dumpster-ing.”
Bending down over a cow skull that he’d laid out on the cement walk, Braddy picked up a rusty Sawzall blade. “Here’s a Sawzall blade that I’m going to weld on right … here,” he said, positioning it on the skull’s nose area.
Braddy walked me along the side of his house, pointing out numerous mosaic heads—the one made from a gas can, one made from what looked to be an old cake pan, and “Hibachi Head"—peeking out of the low winter greenery.
“In spring, the plants start growing up around them,” Braddy explained excitedly. “Peeping Tom artwork at its finest,” he added, laughing. “This art has issues!”
“How old is your daughter?” Braddy asked me at one point late in our conversation.
“Four,” I told him, wondering what he was getting at.
“You know,” Braddy said, “I have to leave this planet better for your 4-year-old.”
And that one comment really did explain, in a nutshell, why Braddy passionately chooses to turn the community’s garbage into beautiful, playful works of art.
Braddy’s art pieces are available through James Snidle Fine Arts in San Francisco (415) 584-1332 or by contacting Braddy himself at 345-7922.