Artist Rick Thomas works on his Dumpster-Drive project at Victoria’s Xchanges Gallery and Studios.

Dumpster diver takes cardboard canvas to local art gallery

At 72 years old, Rick Thomas doesn’t hesitate to go dumpster diving for cardboard boxes.

At 72 years old, Rick Thomas doesn’t hesitate to go dumpster diving for cardboard boxes.

A few years ago, he saw on the Internet that kids in New York were dumpster diving for cardboard boxes because they needed material for their artwork.

The idea prompted Thomas to go to the dumpster outside his Victoria condo, drag out a few boxes and bring them back inside. He took them apart, flattened them, then nailed them to the wall. For the next few weeks, they became his canvas and a place where his creative juices flowed.

“It kind of looked shocking to everyone at the beginning and then they got used to it and thought this is kind of fun,” said Thomas, who’s had a varied career in the arts, eventually retiring from the provincial government as a cartographic scientific technical officer and graphic artist, mapping and illustrating ecosystems, animals and the plant life of B.C.

Thomas has now taken his cardboard canvas to Victoria’s Xchanges Gallery and Studios, where he’s spending the summer months as an artist in residence — a first for both Thomas and the gallery.

As part of the ‘Dumpster-Dive’ project, Thomas will fill the four walls of the 850-square foot gallery with murals in pastel, conte and charcoal.

So far, he’s completed one cardboard wall with a bright and colourful mural of tent city, complete with the judge, Christ Church Cathedral, neighbours and of course, the campers.

“I thought it was an interesting concept — all of the rudiments of the place, the tents, the people, the judge, city council, all of that interaction going on. Nobody knew what they were doing so the thing that’s on the wall here is as much chaos as what’s going on in tent city now,” said Thomas, who has no idea what he’ll create for the other three walls.

“I won’t really know until I get into it. That’s the way it goes. I try not to do much planning because that tends to make things too restrictive.”

An avid traveller for six months of the year, Thomas has sketchbooks full of images he’s produced during his time spent in various cities throughout Europe, Asia and Mexico. The images are used as references for his current pieces and the characters are as real and true to life as he could make them.

Now that he’s retired, Thomas has been producing art like never before, finding it his salvation to live a productive life.

Five days of the week are spent at Xchanges gallery working on the Dumpster Dive project. The final piece will be donated to anyone wanting the work for their home or business. If there aren’t any takers, Thomas plans to return the work to where it came from — the dumpster, just like he does with the pieces he creates in his condo after they’ve been with him for a year.

“I like the process of doing it. I think the process is more important than the actual product in the end. I don’t know where it’s going sometimes, I really don’t, and it gets better and better and builds and builds. It’s really exciting,” said Thomas, who’s also a painter, graphic artist and set designer for theatre.

“When I was doing theatre, we would close the shows on Saturday night and I would be the hero for the set. People enjoyed the show, but then come Monday morning, I’m a bum again. That’s the way it is.”

The public is welcome to come view Thomas in his studio and see the progress being made on the mural. He will also be hosting discussions and workshops. At the end of August, Thomas will present a final exhibition gala. For more information visit xchangesgallery.org.