'Charlie Ferguson: Wasted Expressions'

Dumpster diving for abstract art

<b><i>Wasted Expression 20</i></b>
Wasted Expression 20

The bold streaks of color across vivid geometric fields suggest the work of a midcentury master abstract expressionist. But rather than paint applied to canvas in deliberate, anti-figurative gestures, this is the chance work of nature: scratches, rust, and flaking paint on the sides of metal industrial containers. Self-taught photographer Charlie Ferguson has been training his lens on these accidental artworks, and now he's captured a series of them that can be seen in his exhibition "Wasted Expressions," opening this week at L. Nowlin Gallery. The Austin artist spoke with the Chronicle about how he discovered abstract art on Dumpsters. Robert Faires

Austin Chronicle: What was the "aha!" moment when you first saw one of these artistic images on the side of a Dumpster? Where were you, and how did you come to be looking at a Dumpster?

Charlie Ferguson: My previous series, Street Impressions, captured details of urban decay in Buenos Aires, Argentina. So when I moved back to Austin, I continued searching for interesting images hidden in the banal. The "aha!" moment for this series occurred when I stumbled upon a beat-up Dumpster sitting outside Austin Metal & Iron on East Fourth Street. What caught my eye were violent slashes of rust that cut across the Dumpster's gray-blue facade. The free-flowing gestures had a painterly quality reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. After finding that Dumpster, I delved into the project.

AC: How do you go about finding new Dumpsters to photograph – or at least that have the qualities that make them worth adding to your series? What are you looking for, in terms of color and texture and the like?

CF: The majority of the Dumpsters photographed in this series were found in and around scrap yards. Unlike the newly painted green Dumpster sitting in the parking lot outside my apartment, Dumpsters in scrap yards have character from years of constant collision with heavy machinery and scrap metal. Cuts created by a forklift serve as brush strokes. Rust caused by weather becomes paint. Flaking layers of paint add texture and color. So when choosing a Dumpster to photograph, I look for an interesting combination of these painterly qualities – something that approaches the aesthetic feel of an abstract painting.

AC: Are these all in Austin, or have you been shooting Dumpsters in other communities?

CF: Since I got to know the Dumpsters around Austin pretty well, I had to branch out to Houston and San Antonio, as well as some small towns in between. Along the way, Google Maps sent me on a number of wild goose chases to scrap yards that either don't exist anymore or never existed in the first place.

AC: Anything unusual happen to you when you were making any of these images?

CF: For a guy who has spent a lot of time on his hands and knees around Dumpsters, you'd think I'd have some interesting stories. But I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

"Charlie Ferguson: Wasted Expressions" runs Nov. 30-Jan. 8 at L. Nowlin Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth. For more information, visit www.lnowlingallery.com.

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Charlie Ferguson: Wasted Expressions, L. Nowlin Gallery

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