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The "Garbage Ideas" exhibit at the Tugboat Art Gallery combined the works of artists Isiah Jones and Julia Leggent. Photo by Luke Weidner/NNS.

One person’s trash is another person’s art.

At least, that is what local artist Julia Leggent learned over the past year.

With the help of Isaiah Jones, her trash was one of the main features behind the “Garbage Ideas” exhibit at the Tugboat Art Gallery on O Street throughout the month of March. Jones was invited to Peggy Gomez, who runs the gallery, to display her work, but then Jones reached out to Leggent to help fill the space and give life to “Garbage Ideas.”

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Leggent had created an unusual series of art that she created from a recycling effort. In 2021 she and her partner decided to start reducing waste after seeing how much trash they accumulated during the COVID-19 lockdown. To combat this, they put more effort into conservation and recycling. From there, inspiration struck, leading to a 52-piece weekly series called “Trash Drawings” based on the much smaller amount of trash they were producing.

“I was like, what if I started to incorporate this into my art?” Leggent said. “(I) started drawing all the trash we created, which then reduced even more, because if I didn’t want to draw the trash, we didn’t get the item.” 

The process involved collecting their trash each week in a basket. Then, Leggent would arrange it in a composition to be portrayed in graphite on a 10-inch by 10-inch canvas. She drew each piece of trash at its actual size and sometimes had to get creative with folding and stacking to fit it all in the frame. 

Every piece of trash was included, and the artwork typically had less of the canvas filled as the weeks went on and more conservation efforts were taken. In fact, one drawing was completely blank because in that October week they didn’t produce any trash.

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“October 1-7,” part of Julia Leggent’s “Trash Drawings,” on display at Lincoln’s Tugboat Art Gallery in March. Photo by Luke Weidner/NNS.

While a simple idea on its face, “Trash Drawings” also seems to give the viewer a partial window into Leggent’s life and habits throughout the year. 

“I definitely think it got personal, but my work is always very personal, so it was fine for me. I’m fine with people looking,” Leggent said. “I was also posting daily photos of my trash on Instagram. I’ve always been kind of an open book.”

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For “Garbage Ideas,” the 52 drawings of Leggent’s waste perfectly coincided with Jones’ 52 art pieces in her “IMAGINE” series, which makes up the other half of the exhibit. 

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Inspired by a bumper sticker Jones once saw, “IMAGINE” is a series of text-based works with themes of love, loss and the intensity behind these conflicting emotions. While some parts of the series seem to show a soft and emotional side, other parts have a more chaotic, somewhat sinister feeling. 

“The intensity of love paired with almost like, a serendipitous feeling of loss, and those butted up next to one another. For me, it’s just like an exciting relationship to see visually, but also like a really intense experience, like physically as a human,” Jones said. “I love putting those things together, because I think that they have to exist together.”

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Two pieces from Isiah Jones’ “IMAGINE” exhibition at the Tugboat Art Gallery. Photo by Luke Weidner/NNS.

The creative process involved creating etchings on a soft, thin copper plate, which led to the look of new wording on faded residual marks that is present on many of the pieces. This look allows for one main statement to be the central focus, but the other wordings to feel like a lingering spirit. While less noticeable at first, it quickly becomes impossible to ignore past etchings under the main piece as the copper wore away in the process. 

“Being able to see those residual marks that are left behind, you still get glimpses of perhaps the thought that was like the impetus for the whole thing,” Jones said. “So, like, these kind of ghost thoughts keep coming forward.”

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Both artists said their art worked well together. Jones felt inspired by Leggent’s view on waste and saw a common theme between “Trash Drawings” and “IMAGINE.”

“Her drawings are kind of meditations on your own actions and the waste that you produce and like considering that waste really strongly. Where I think these prints about imagining, if you will, in a way are their own kind of waste,” Jones said. “Thinking about how quickly, you know, imagined things kind of come in and out, they become waste in a way.”

Leggent agreed, saying the two exhibits share poetic connections.

“Hers is talking about harmful love,” Leggent said. “Mine’s talking about, like, harmful things to the environment. I was over the moon when we put the pieces together. I was like ‘This could not have worked out better if we planned it.’ They complement each other very well too, with the big type and then the tight little drawings. Very exciting.”

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Senior. Advertising/Public Relations & Journalism. Nebraska.