Local artist recycles to make a point in ‘Trash Talking’

The show will run online and in-person through Aug. 18, at Mini Mart City Park in Seattle.

Trash Talking,” an art exhibition by island sculptor Mike Leavitt, shreds up America with 100 new works made from — and inspired by — recycled materials.

At once brutal and fun, the vibrant and visceral pop-art pieces are life-size replicas of politically charged objects, from sneakers to guns.

The show, which opened over the Fourth of July weekend, will run online and in-person through Aug. 18, at Mini Mart City Park. The venue, located in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood on the site of a former gas station, opened in 2022 after 10 years of planning and environmental remediation.

An opening reception will be held from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13, with games, activities and many take-away works available for less than $100. All artworks are also available for purchase online, at TrashTalkingArt.com.

The show asks: What is truly disposable?

In it, Leavitt reimagines the corner store, satirizing well known products by repurposing their packaging.

Leavitt sourced the materials used in the exhibition from the dumpster of a gas station on Vashon, selecting each item for its specific cultural implications, most of it cardboard. He then constructed a series of precise replicas that throw a bright light on toxicity and waste: juice boxes made from oil, beer, and detergent cartons; an old-school pay phone from Apple packaging; a toddler’s Little Tikes Cozy Coupe from wood pallets; and more.

Other works in Trash Talking tie products to meaningful events and places. Air Jordans are made from the packaging of cigarettes made in North Carolina, home of the shoes’ namesake. Mickey Mouse on an AR-15 evokes mass shootings in Florida, and a pistol made of Skittles boxes evokes the killing of Trayvon Martin. Leavitt also made a gas mask from menthol cigarette cartons, COVID tests, and an empty asthma inhaler, to recall the summer of 2020, when George Floyd was killed by police officers during a trip to a corner store.

A child of the 1980s, Leavitt said he grew up steeped in the seductive branding of major corporations, which drives his reinterpretation of their ubiquitous castoffs. Leavitt also has a longstanding appetite for environmental work, inspired by his father, a local alternative energy activist until his death in 2017. He said that he has been essentially been climbing around on garbage all his life.

“Trash Talking” marks Leavitt’s first gallery show since 2016, when he exhibited his work at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York City.

Leavitt is best known for his action figures depicting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Spike Lee, Andy Warhol, Bernie Sanders, and many other well-known public figures. Since he started to make cardboard shoes 20 years ago, they have since appeared in museums, galleries and shoe geek collections. Teaching units, tutorials and how-to books are now available for teachers, students, and DIY makers — for more information, visit TrashTalkingArt.com.

Mini Mart City Park is located at 6525 Ellis Ave S., in Seattle. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.