EMU student wins $15,000 for creating art from trash

by Pamela Young, Published May 27, 2011

One man's trash is another man's treasure," is more than just a saying for Livonia native Ryan Bogan, who recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University.


Ryan Bogan describes his artwork created from trash.

Bogan, 23, loves dumpsters and the trash they contain. Aluminum scraps, parts of an electric typewriter, glass vials and hinges are just some of the junk he's found and recycled into award-winning art.

Some people think he's crazy for his passion for junk. That passion, however, has led to something big. As a result of his artistic creativity, Bogan is one of only ten young artists in the United States  - and the only one from Michigan - to win a 2011 Windgate Fellowship from the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design in North Carolina.

The $15,000 award, one of the nation's largest and most competitive art awards, helps outstanding graduating college seniors establish their artistic practice. More than 100 students from 70 universities applied.

"When I heard I won, I didn't believe it at first," said Bogan, who graduated from Eastern Michigan in April 2011 with a degree in jewelry/metalsmith. "Then I started running around the apartment with my roommate, giving a primordial scream."

Ryan seems to have wisdom beyond his years and the potential of being a noteworthy artist, said Gretchen Otto, professor of art, who nominated him, and is an expert metalsmith.

"This is a special honor. Ryan competed against more than one hundred other applicants, many from art schools with national reputations," she said. "His work is strong with a balance between content and craftsmanship. I knew he had a chance for the competition. It's a tribute to EMU's art department to have students work at such a high level of competency."

Although Bogan has always been interested in art, he admits it took time to decide on his specialty.

"I like miniature things and I'm fascinated by worthless things, things that people think are trash," he said. "I can't draw and I tried ceramics. I then had an eye opening moment in Dr. Otto's class. I had fought against things until I found this process and style. My whole work is based on found objects."

Among his works of art are:

  • Minks- those furry animals in real life - fashioned out of copper with beaded hands and bodies fashioned from curlers
  • A collared necklace, inspired by Egyptian art, that features test tubes filled with bright red coral, and porcupine hair and quills from what he describes as road kill
  • Clock parts with pieces of wood and vials designed to be tactile examples of time
  • Glass, brass beads and parts from a Smith Corona electric typewriter form a 30"x 7" piece called Lorraine, in honor of his mother, and
  • A piece, "Ultimate Sacrifice," submitted to the Windgate Fellowship, is made of walnut, aluminum, fly specimens, test tubes, copper, steel pins, a bell jar, brass pins, nickel, and paper among other items.

"Ryan transforms garbage into intricate and beautifully constructed works dealing with religion, community and family," said Otto, who helped him prepare for the fellowship competition.

"My work, "Ultimate Sacrifice" was inspired by my baptism (into the Lutheran church), where I was able to join many faiths together ..." Bogan said. "It was a year of reflection of who I was and where I came from. I wanted there to be a different view on an important event to many, but also be relatable to different faiths."

One of Bogan's pieces earned first place in Eastern Michigan's 2010 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, and he presented his work at EMU's prestigious 2011 Undergraduate Symposium, which features scholarly research and creative activities by undergraduate students.

When he's not fashioning art pieces or digging through dumpsters, Bogan enjoys volunteering at Elwell Elementary School in Belleville, showing children there is "more to art than dead 19th century white men, where their work goes to two extremes -either idealized or crazy modern art." 

"A lot of it is ignored," he said. "Art tells a story. It's an expression of yourself and you can give viewers a positive expression. Kids can then see how to relate to art more than buying it at Michael's (a craft chain)."

Bogan, who currently lives in Ypsilanti, plans to use his award to buy tools needed to set up a functioning studio, and to attend several workshops in Maine and Ireland. He and his friends also dream of establishing an Ypsilanti network of artists as a way of pooling resources.

Pamela Young

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