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From trash to art: Spencer Shay’s use of the everyday

| Thursday, October 1, 2020

Mary O'Reilly | The Observer

Sculpture artist Spencer Shay is the best thing to come out of Seattle since Nirvana.

His youthful perspective directly influences his sculptures, bringing the viewer back into childhood in a pure and sincere way. As public sculptures become increasingly popular, Shay’s work echoes the art’s origins, offering private experiences for buyers and viewers alike. His use of common objects, bright colors and repetitive subjects provides poignant commentary on living in a postcapitalist world.

The art world has seen a strong resurgence of the Dada movement of the early 20th century, as young people connect with the disdainful, critical nature of its artists. Shay’s art lays on the edge of the movement, never quite pushing the boundaries of “art” but still highlighting the absurdity of life. His sculptures are often strikingly simple, aligning themselves with the movement, but also easily digestible. Shay focuses his medium on everyday objects that he might find around his eccentric Seattle apartment. His little sister reportedly once had to eat her soup with a fork, an idiosyncrasy that inspired his piece spoon hat.” The piece itself is striking, pushing the boundaries of creativity and forcing the viewer to view common day objects in a new way. The title of the piece creates ambiguity; it resembles a crown, yet he names it “hat.” Making the object not just out of the attainable, but also into the attainable, avoids the elitism that would come with its identification as a crown.

His art is easily digestible and sometimes comical. His most famous piece, Bottle Bot,” is a robot made almost entirely out of plastic soda bottles. Shay uses what most people would consider trash to create a visual representation of the spectacular. Its strong color choice only adds to this effect, featuring emerald green bottles, shiny clean silver and red glowing eyes. The repetitive linear use of the bottles displays the extent of human waste while also granting value to the devalued, all contained in a funky exterior that is reminiscent of an overgrown children’s toy. The bottles quickly become a representation of childhood itself: easily thrown away and forgotten, but worthwhile when viewed through the eyes of Shay. 

Another one of his notable works is Yippie-ya-yo-yo, a tree made out of yo-yos. The yo-yos hang off the internal structure creating an organic appearance. There is again an environmentalist interpretation of this piece, pulling the attention away from the easily discarded and towards the natural. The presence of a juvenile object provided by the yo-yos reminds the viewer of their adolescence, while the image of the tree creates art out of a subject matter thought of as mature. The juxtaposition of the two time periods in the piece creates an emotional connection to a work that, on the surface, seems absurd. While the Dada movement uses absurdism to criticize, Shay uses it as a reflective experience, allowing the viewer to again find value in images they associate with their childhood.

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