Sam Hundley, who describes himself as a “scrap artist," started out in his professional life as a graphic artist for newspapers. Over nearly four decades, he worked at newspapers across the country, including The Everett Herald in Washington state, The Denver Post, and at The Virginian-Pilot, where his artistic page creations were a hallmark of the paper's reputation for cutting-edge design.
In his spare time, he began collecting things that seemed to him cool and unusual - flattened aerosol cans, a baseball cowhide with stitches, not sure of what he would do with it all. His collection grew...and grew. One day in 2009, after a newspaper colleague showed him a “found object" illustration by another artist, he had an epiphany about how to use his pile of junk, and he never looked back.
His work, which upcycles scrap to create expressive portraits and figurative work, has been featured at MOCA and is now on display at the school's Perrel Gallery. The exhibit, “Putting 2 & 2 Together" (which also includes work by local artist Ryan Lytle), has fascinated students, faculty, and staff. Sam Hundley recently answered questions about his process and inspiration:
Q:You had a decades-long career at several newspapers, including The Virginian-Pilot, as a graphic artist. How did that work influence what you're doing today as a scrap artist?
That experience taught me to be prolific and to trust my instincts. I’m very impatient as a result of daily newspaper production schedules! If I can’t finish something in a day or two, I won’t even take it on. I still work quickly and shoot from the hip and move on to the next thing. I had so much fun working at The Pilot and so making art has to be fun and as effortless as possible… (I’m lazy)
Q: You call your work “scrap art." Where do you go to collect the scraps? Do people --like scrapyard owners--save items for you?
I used to have several great sources of scrap - Chenman’s Scrap Metal Yard in Ghent, Country Boy Antiques on Granby and a few other spots - they’ve all gone away and I’m in search of new places that will allow me to hunt for stuff. It’s been difficult because I’d say that 80 percent of what I do is FINDING… And yes, people donate things they find all the time, and it’s always appreciated. For example, the portable typewriter in the “Rodgers & Hart” piece.
Q:The notes to the exhibit indicate that “I want the viewer to see both the parts and the final piece as close to simultaneously as possible." Could you explain a bit more about that, and how that goal influences your creative process?
I want viewers to experience that thunderbolt of recognition that I feel when I create something. So when they see a rake and a dress, they’re building the final thing in their own mind, in the same way I did originally - that feeling of discovery is fun and what compels me to keep doing this. That’s also one reason why I try to limit the number of elements - to keep things very simple.
Q:You've written several children's books, including Gifts of the Magpie (2021), which is very funny! And you have a new children's book, Tag and the Magic Squeaker, which will be released in early 2022. Your art is very whimsical and humorous as well. Do you consider a childlike perspective and sense of wonder essential to your art?
Yes, by all means - whenever I conduct workshops with young kids, they intuitively know how to make great scrap art. The children, 4-years-old and up, dive into the piles of junk I pour out on the table and start creating people, faces, and animals. An object triggers a thought, or a thought triggers a mental image, and they go with the flow, which is exactly how I work.
Q:You are recycling discarded materials to create your art. Do you feel strongly about (and do you feel your art makes a statement about) the need for humans to use resources more wisely to preserving the planet?
Yes, I'm an environmentalist because I love nature, but I'm torn about litter because I find so much of it wonderful to look at - not the ephemeral paper wrappers and rotten food and stuff - but the discarded detritus of modern life such as car parts, metal bits and driftwood and beach toys. All of it I find deeply interesting and I piggyback on the intrinsic stories they hold. But, no, I'm not presenting myself as a Green artist of flying a flag to promote recycling, even though that may be part of it.
Do you have a piece that is your favorite, or one that was particularly challenging to create?
When I was a designer at the newspaper, I had an opportunity to use my scrap art - for a themed page about the high price of gas. I had to do it on my lunch hour, so I raced home and made a simple mosquito out of a gas pump nozzle. I had it for years. Maybe it's time to recycle that illustration...
Explore more of Sam Hundley's work by visiting his blog, samhundley.com or his Instagram, @hundleysam.