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Story By Hazel Jump, Photos By Jodi Hutchison

Turning refuse into art is the hallmark of nationally known artist and Arkansas State University professor John Salvest. His most recent work is currently on view at the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair in New York City.

Titled “Forget Me Not,” spelled out in brilliant multi-colored letters placed on cards in its center, the installation is comprised of business cards from across the world -- 35 cards tall and 35 cards wide --- mounted on four panels to which Salvest has glued 1,225 cards, forming, he explained, “a mosaic of all types of occupations in the visual art world….curators, artists, art professors, crafts people, matters and framers…”

Created to be installed in a 12-foot wide space, the work took six weeks to complete and came from a collection begun about 10 years ago by the artist, who is known for his provocative works of art fashioned from objects and materials regarded as throwaways by the public.

Additional pieces that Salvest will have in the New York show include “O;” “Home Sweet Home;” “Monument” and “Adaptation.”

While he is well known for his very large installations, some of them permanent, Salvest’s current show is comprised of smaller pieces.

“O” is actually a large letter with a mirrored surface which simulates a letter such as one sees on the exterior of a building. Its center contains a bird’s nest and an audio recording of the artist making bird chirping sounds. For “Home Sweet Home,” Salvest used a red iron mantel found in a salvage storage place in Memphis, which he mounted on a backing and will place on the floor. Long wooden matches will be glued inside the mantel, placed upright in rows and filling the space, with the matches’ white tips spelling out the message.
“Adaptation” is a slender column made of various electrical adapters, put together and topped with an illuminated light bulb.

A soap piece, called “Monument,” has multi-colored scraps of what once were bars of soap, placed one on top of the other in a soap dish.

Salvest’s studio, shared with his wife, fellow artist Les Christensen, is crammed with carefully separated objects contained in bag after bag and box after box of such mundane things as empty film canisters, bottle caps, corks, softballs, soap scraps, match boxes, plastic pill containers and an ever-growing accumulation of “stuff,” which he salvages and gives new life, The recycled items are transformed into mixed media objects and installations that the viewer finds open to interpretation and challenging to the imagination.

Salvest, a native of Kearney, N.J., graduated from Duke University with a bachelor of arts in English. He earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Iowa, and also received a master of fine arts degree in sculpture. Salvest is professor of art and sculpture at ASU.

The titles of his pieces often reflect his love of literature, which adds to the interest of each piece, and one reviewer has praised his “profound ability to breathe meaning into even the most mundane objects… John Salvest’s mixed media objects and installations are pure poetry. Items such as coffee filters, abandoned lids, blown retreads and other found objects become the subject of musings on the nature of existence.”

In addition to New York, Salvest’s work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in museums and galleries across the country and abroad, and is in private collections in Arkansas, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut.

His numerous honors include the National Endowment for the Arts Award. He has also created several public projects, including works at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Cannon Center for Performing Arts and the Memphis/Shelby County Public Library in Memphis and the American State Bank in Jonesboro. He has served as a curator, frequent lecturer and conductor of workshops throughout the country.