San Diego artist shows work of re-purposed packaging in Encinitas gallery

What many consider trash, Tom Driscoll sees as potential art.

The San Diego resident has re-purposed plastic packaging into colored casts for about 12 years.

“You know when you buy a screwdriver or toy or something from Target or Toys ‘R’ Us, you always get this nice plastic packaging? You rip it, take the item out and throw the packaging away,” said the 71-year-old man, who lives in the City Heights area. “I use that packaging.”

Driscoll began collecting the pieces as a custodian at a research facility more than a decade ago.

There, he would find interesting packaging that once belonged to uniquely-shaped computer equipment, like old mouses.

He has since gained a habit of paying attention to packaging while at the store. His wife will also often go shopping and buy items with interesting packaging to bring home to her husband.

The packaging, which Driscoll often refers to as “molds,” is then put in a damp box and then a hard colored plaster — he has dozens of colors to choose from — is poured on. It sits for about a half hour, and then Driscoll has a new piece.

Driscoll, who studied art and sculpture at Southwestern College in Chula Vista in the 1970s, said he can also use Styrofoam packaging but he prefers plastic due to its glossiness.

He said his work, which is currently on display at the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas through March 13, is a “reflection of society’s consumerism habit.”

“I’m generally critical of how we carry on and buy too much stuff at Christmas time,” Driscoll said. “We buy toys that break, and they go in the trash. That creates waste. The stuff comes in by the ton on container ships. Then it’s purchased one-time only for the kids, then it’s gone. I come along and find the packaging and use it.”

However, he said, the work — which has also been displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla and the Oceanside Museum of Art — isn’t aimed at promoting environmentalism.

Driscoll, who described himself as a “scavenger,” said the packaging can be cast multiple times. However, the plastic or foam can wear away after three or four years.

Large knots in various colors are also on display in Driscoll’s show.

For these, he uses foam coil — the kind the highway department uses to fill cracks in the freeway — and randomly ties up knots. He then coats them with primer to solidify the surface and applies two coats of color.

In his 12 years with this project, Driscoll said he has collected about 100 different types of packaging “from the toy world to the computer world to the gardening world.”

“It’s wide open,” he said. “Whatever you buy, I’ll come by and get your molds.”

He said one of his favorite molds he has created came from a Styrofoam package of ice cream cones, which looked like triangles stacked atop one another to give a “wonderful rocket kind of shape.”

The appeal in the work is that it is easy and fast to create, Driscoll said.

He said he likes that he can pour something in a mold, come back an hour later and have a new piece.

“I think that’s maybe part of my attraction,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want to labor for months on a piece.”

For this reason, it’s also easy for Driscoll to not worry about his pieces when they break.

He recalled a museum calling him about someone bumping into one of his pieces, which then fell to the floor and shattered.

“I told them it was no problem,” he said, smiling. “It’s very unusual to be able to replace a piece within a day, but I’m glad to do it.”

The Lux Art Institute is located at 1550 S. El Camino Real Encinitas, CA 92024. For more information, visit www.luxartinstitute.org.

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