Barry Smith: Irrelativity | AspenTimes.com
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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Picture it: You’re strolling through a pristine wilderness area – chirping birds, lush greenery, a timid deer bounding off in the distance. You stop to rest on a rock and there, on the forest floor, you see it … an empty, crumpled can of Coors Light tossed in the underbrush.

“Who the hell would leave trash in a place like this?” you ask yourself.

“Some a-hole,” is the inevitable answer.



After all, YOU would never do such a thing, and you don’t know anyone who would do such a thing. Right? So who are these people, the ones breaking Colt 45 bottles alongside babbling brooks, leaving cigarette packs at prime picnic spots and just generally cluttering up the outdoors?

Would you be surprised to learn that “those people” is actually one person? And that this person is leaving trash behind on purpose?




Enter Willard P. Carmichael, an artist who claims to be responsible for 95 percent of all the litter found in natural settings. Except that he doesn’t consider it litter – he thinks it’s art.

I recently met with Willard to conduct this brief but illuminating interview.

IRRELATIVITY: I guess I’ll get right to the point, Mr. Carmichael. Why do you throw shit in the woods?

WILLARD CARMICHAEL: As an artist I’m interested in the clash of the two opposing elements. Take a giant redwood tree, for instance. You see one of those and you’re just floored. It’s so overwhelming that all you can do is crane your neck, take a picture of someone trying to hug it and then head off to buy some postcards. But if you interject the element of, say, a dirty Molson Golden 12-pack carton, then the viewer has a context in which to fully take in this thing of majestic beauty.

IRR: You’re saying that the ugliness you’ve strewn about makes the outdoors more beautiful?

WC: Well, first of all I don’t consider it “ugliness.” I think a wadded up Wendy’s hamburger wrapper is as beautiful as a secluded waterfall. I just think people aren’t used to seeing them together. Not yet, at least. I’m trying to change that with my art.

IRR: You’ve claimed that ninety-five percent of all the trash we see in the woods is your “work.” How is this possible?

WC: I’m a bit of a workaholic. Also, I have a team of carefully supervised interns across the country. Odds are good that the rubbish you see on your next camping trip was placed there by me or one of my team. I assure you, what we do is not by accident.

IRR: You say ninety-five percent? Who does the other five percent?

WC: Copycats and wannabes. Artists who have no ideas of their own. Jerks who are ruining it for the rest of us.

IRR: The art critics have derogatory names for you, like “Litternardo da Vinci” and “Trashcasso.” Do you feel they aren’t taking your work seriously?

WC: I don’t do what I do to please the critics. I just follow my inner guidance. When my Muse says, “That beautiful pile of driftwood needs a milk carton and a disposable diaper tangled in it,” I don’t think about how the critics will respond. I can’t, otherwise I’d never get ANY litter out. (pause) That said, my favorite is “Vincent Van Garbage.”

IRR: What about all the trash along the roadside? Is that your doing, too?

WC: I wish! No, I only work in natural environments. The art you see strewn along the highways of America is the work of my good friend and colleague Narcissus Murdock. Isn’t his stuff great? I really love what he does with single shoes. Very provocative.

IRR: What can we expect in the future from Willard Carmichael?

WC: Lately I’ve been really attracted to the longevity of Styrofoam, so I’ll be adding more of that to my work. To think that I could do a piece with some greasy Styro fast food containers in a mossy forest and it would still be there for my great-great-grandkids to enjoy, well … that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

IRR: Good luck.

WC: Thank you. Hey, can I have that beer bottle when you’re finished?

(NEXT TIME: You know that jerk who’s always talking at the movies? Irrelativity interviews performance artist L. Roy Saplansky.)


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