Old magazines, mundane picture frames and scraps of wood might be trash to many.
For Ian Walker Stewart, they're conduits for creating.
The Wichita artist has been piecing together "found art" collages for several years. Several of his multilayered works are on display at the Vagabond bar and coffee shop in Delano for viewers to deconstruct.
"I have huge piles of junk that has potential," Stewart said of his source material. "I use whatever is available, from second-hand frames to long-forgotten magazines to random scraps of discarded paper, and give it new meaning."
Stewart, 32, studied graphic design at Wichita State University. His creations are influenced in part by street art, which he began to identify with while living in Austin. Artist Shepard Fairey's "Obey" sticker campaign gave him the idea to develop a poster-art persona of his own. Under the moniker "Big Mention," he began to produce and distribute small publications, limited edition zines, band posters, recordings, garments and artwork in 1997. Today, he runs an art blog of the same title.
Look at one of Stewart's works and you'll find yourself gazing into a canvas of complexity. Cut-out images of people interact with blots of paint. Sketches intersect with painted wood chips. Colors collide with shapes. To the casual eye, it may all seem haphazard and scattered. To Stewart, it's anything but arbitrary.
"They definitely aren't random. I put a lot of thought into these," he said. "They're time stamps from where I was when I made them. Some are from darker periods and reflect that. Others emit joy and more positive emotions."
Integral to found art is the repurposing of meaning. One way Stewart does this is by taking words from letters people have written him and pasting them into his collages. The words are divorced from their original context and given a new function as shapes on a canvas.
Stewart said that emotion and layers are key to arrangement of his art. He'll often spread out so many materials that they cover his entire kitchen. Then, he finds objects that connect with the mood, sentiment or thought he wishes to convey. Once he has the materials organized, the layering begins. Some of his pieces have rows of string arranged over cut-out images and pasted over words. Others incorporate frames, matted paper and sketches. Most pieces have three layers.
"I try not to make the pieces too chaotic," Stewart said. "I want them to be pleasing to the eye. Layering adds dimension and texture."
In "Found Sound 006," a square piece of plywood is the horizon on which multicolored strings crisscross over a floor with cut-out images of a cowboy wearing a vintage wallpaper patch on his jacket. A pensive pioneer woman peers onward as an owl eye gazes in her direction. Blue spray-painted graffiti hovers over her head.
Though imagery is a powerful trope in his works, Stewart says he isn't trying to send an overt message with each piece. In fact, he says, there's often more meaning in the titles of his works than the images themselves.
"I don't want to make blatant statements," he said.
"I try to shy away from pop-culture images because I like representations that are more subtle. I aim to convey emotion to viewers more subconsciously. The goal is getting you to see something different each time you look at it."
If you go
ian walker stewart
What: Collages and found art by the artist.
Where: The Vagabond, 614 W. Douglas
When: Works on display through April during regular business hours, 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
How much: Admission free. Works for sale. Prints available upon request.
For more information: Visit bigmention.blogspot.com