From the recycling bin to the gallery

Julia Bochenek speaks to artist Trevor Woods on his ethos of sustainability in his upcycled artwork

Artists have the wonderful gift of being able to creatively represent the world around them, and artist Trevor Woods does so with a unique twist — many of his works are made up of or incorporate upcycled materials. “I believe Art should not only look good but educate or challenge people’s thoughts and beliefs on current topics,” Woods explains in reference to  his favorite piece, the Plastic Fairy Ring Fort. This sculpture, showcased during Trinity’s Green Week in 2019, had the dual effect of brightening up Front Square while also making passers-by reflect on their personal use of plastic in their everyday lives. It is only one of the hundreds of pieces Woods has created from upcycled materials. Everything he uses is in its original state and used interpretively. 

Trevor Woods, originally from Cavan, has been working at Trinity College Dublin as a Senior Technical Officer in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for 14 years. Apart from his full-time job, Woods is very passionate about creating his beautiful artwork, a sentiment that becomes clear from his description of how “hours fly by when creating in my studio and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else to be honest”. He first became interested in art when visiting galleries with his aunt, and this passion continued as he received a Diploma in Art Design at NCAD. This course led him to the idea of using upcycled materials as a medium, and since that time he has embodied this concept fully within his pieces. He did research on biodegradable plastics and has been involved with multiple events at the Science Gallery, even giving a talk at the 2020 Zero Waste Festival on biodegradable plastics. As the Treasurer of Trinity’s Green Campus Committee, Woods is actively involved in on-campus environmental issues.

“Woods enjoys the concept of ‘taking something that would otherwise end up in landfill sites for generations and ensuring it remains as an inspirational piece of artwork for generations ahead.’”

Woods enjoys the concept of “taking something that would otherwise end up in landfill sites for generations and ensuring it remains as an inspirational piece of artwork for generations ahead.” This is the thought process that motivates him as he explores recycling points of colleges and businesses, occasionally going to building sites if safety regulations allow him to. When he goes hunting for materials, the main focus is generally on wood and plastic, as they are the most frequently available kinds of waste. Thankfully, these are common scraps that are perfect for the art he creates. The materials are not chosen at random — he says that “recycled wood makes for interesting frames, and the plastic letters from keyboards enable me to spell out quirky sayings or quotes”. Although plastic is one of his preferred materials to incorporate into his works, he notes that it is also one of the more difficult. “Plastic has its limits as it can’t really be painted or re-moulded to desired shapes,” he says, however, it works very well for his art style in which he uses litter that should be recycled instead of thrown away. 

Woods’ art fully “promotes [his] belief in recycling” as he turns what otherwise would be wasted materials into something that can be showcased and spread his important message. Currently, he places his focus on reusing old keyboards — he finds or receives hundreds of them, takes out the keys, and writes out thought-provoking quotes. In an Instagram post, he assembles: “The water in Dublin tastes different / Tells more stories / Asks fewer questions.” Another states, “Some quotes aren’t worth typing” in different-colored keys. These are just two of many keyboard quotes he has created recently. Other posts on his Instagram show his use of reused floppy disks, both on recycled woods and integrated in bird paintings. 

“His style of art has developed over time, and a constant is a return back to nature, where he can find some peace and inspiration.”

When asked about his source of inspiration, he told me that it comes “from other artists through online formats or gallery visits and magazines”. One moment in which he found great inspiration for his artform type was in May 2019 when he visited the Venice Art Biennale and was awed by the “very high standard of contemporary artwork”. While a portion of his inspiration comes from observation, after completing his diploma in NCAD he was able to develop his own practice and research new materials and methods, leading to his passion for utilising upcycled materials. His style of art has developed over time, and a constant is a return back to nature, where he can find some peace and inspiration. 

Over the span of Woods’ career as an artist, he has been able to present his pieces in marketplaces, festivals, and many events linked to going green. He first began to sell his art at Dublin Comic Con, where he had a table at Artist Alley selling fan art from his favourite movie franchise, Star Wars. He has continued to make Star Wars-based art, specifically his meditating Stormtrooper, however, since this time the focus has mostly been on using upcycled materials. Even with the opportunity to display his artwork in person, Woods realises the potential of a growing market online, specifically with social media. “I just completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative & Culture Entrepreneurship in Tangent, Trinity’s business school, and this has given me many ideas for promoting my artwork and gaining future online sales,” he says. “Having a peer-supported network of other artists always helps as we all come across the same challenges on a yearly basis.” Despite the hardships that come with an increasingly larger presence of online buyers versus in-person buyers, Woods has adapted very well by posting often on his social media about new creations and interacting with customers online.

“Art can be a beautiful representation of something, yet it can also work as a social critique as Woods’ artwork does with the use of upcycled materials.”

Art brightens up and improves our lives — people love to visit art galleries, support local artists and decorate their spaces with the creativity of artists they love. Art can be a beautiful representation of something, yet it can also work as a social critique, as Woods’ artwork does with the use of upcycled materials.  Just like many other artists, Trevor Woods has been impacted by the pandemic. “I usually sell my work at St. Stephen’s Green People’s Art market or have spots at weekend stalls and markets around the city”. He adds that “a lot of artists’ sales have been hindered across the country”. It has been a difficult time, but a positive result for Woods has been the time he gained through isolation and quarantine to create with much less interruption. 

All of the artwork Trevor Woods has created during the past few months can be seen on his Instagram at ( @artin_woods ).