Pop artist makes treasures for Americans, using their trash
By Jessica Farrish For The Fayette Tribune
A premier New York "cerealist" artist is in West Virginia, and he's talking to Mountain State kids.
Michael Albert is like most artists: his art started in an unconventional way. However, Albert's artistic epiphany and his pioneer leap into pop art was really, really original — even for an artist's.
He shared his story Wednesday with a group of moms and kids at the Shady Spring Public Library.
In the 1980s, Albert was a business major at the Stern School of Business of New York University in Manhattan. He liked to visit the many museums in the city. He appreciated that some museum visits were free.
One day, as he toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he was struck by a new urge.
"That's when I had a dream to try to be an artist myself," Albert recalled Wednesday. "I just had this crazy dream that maybe 100 years from now, when I'm not around anymore, maybe something that I created could be in a museum, and, maybe 50 years from now, say, some of you could come with your own children and grandchildren and look at my work and remember that we met at the library at Shady Spring."
He went back to his room, he said, and started a self-portrait, drawing himself as composed by items that appeared in his dorm room. His showed his first self-portrait, finished 27 years ago, to those at the workshop.
Over the years, he said, he began focusing on collage art.
In Albert's own words, he's a "cerealist" artist. He creates collages from cereal boxes.
Kids and adults at the workshop showed enthusiasm for Albert's work. Although he inspires kids, Albert uses whimsy and throw-away materials to construct visual representations of different concepts. Some of his pieces, like "The 23rd Psalm" and "The Lord's Prayer," visualize faith. He "cereal-ized" history with the collages "The Preamble to the Constitution" and "The Gettysburg Address."
In 2014, he made "Chemical Spill," a collage that was inspired by the Elk River chemical spill in Charleston.
In "Chemical Spill," a slightly forbidding collage, Albert twists culturally reassuring fonts like the Kellog's "ll" and Lipton "Li" into an artistic warning.
"Mostly, I make art by cutting up cereal boxes and recycling different materials with my art," he said. He added that he wants people to look at his art and ask, "Who is Michael Albert? Why did he cut up cereal boxes?"
"Maybe that's a crazy dream," Albert noted. "But it was my dream."
A father and businessman who owns Sir Real Juice in New York City, Albert keenly markets his art, offering his prints in a book ("An Artist's America"), puzzles ("Map of the USA," "The Number Pi") and postcards and greeting cards.
His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and smaller newspapers around the United States.
Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority Education Director Sherrie Hunter said Wednesday that her organization brought Albert back to West Virginia after she'd seen Albert's workshop at the Youth Museum in Beckley last year.
Hunter is the organizer of a school recycling program that's heading into its 15th year in Raleigh County schools, and helped to organize school recycling in Fayette County. This past school year, Raleigh County students turned in 432 tons of recyclable items, Hunter reported.
"We thought, what a perfect opportunity because students in Raleigh County have been recycling through elementary, middle and high schools for 14 years," Hunter said. "What's a more perfect place to have Michael Albert visit than our county, which has been promoting 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' for the last 14 years?"
She said that Albert's eye-popping collages are a perfect fit with her program message that "old things" can be turned into something new.
"He shows students that, yes, it's in a recycling bin, but you can reuse it," Hunter said. "You can put your own spin on it and create your own masterpiece."
Albert is touring and will be at the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority in Lanark today from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, he'll visit the Lively Family Amphitheater in Oak Hill at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. On Saturday, Albert will appear at the Heritage Festival in Fayetteville from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tour information and views of Albert's artwork is available on his website, www.michaelalbert.com.