Shortly before midnight on a cool April evening, Collin Horner plunged into a rusting dumpster beside Don’s Midway Grocery in Pullman.
Seconds later he resurfaced, tossing out a flattened Hurricane High Gravity Malt Liquor box.
“Cardboard like this is really nice, because it has the imprint of what it was used for,” said Horner, who graduated last weekend from Washington State University. “There’s a lot you can do with just that. I look for boxes that already have a personality to them.”
For Horner, discarded material like cardboard is more than just landfill. As a WSU fine arts student with an exhibition studies minor, his thesis was a refurbished cathedral of sprawling murals on recycled cardboard.
“Collin’s thesis project was an ambitious and dynamic triumph of installation art,” said Joe Hedges, an assistant professor in the Department of Fine Arts. “By employing a grunge aesthetic and making heavy use of pop culture tropes in humorous and subversive ways, Colin created a unique and engaging work.”
Ashley Lopez, a classmate, said her classmates often supplied him with massive pizza boxes for his gallery’s walls.
Horner’s first cardboard canvas gallery covered three walls of his living room. He graduated on to pop-up art, enlisting friends and his girlfriend.
“He opened my eyes to a whole new world,” Jacqueline Leibold, Horner’s girlfriend, said. “New ideas, new thought processes… And it turned out to be a fun experience.”
The common thread of the work is the humble origins of its materials – all of Horner’s pieces begin in a dumpster. He typically leaves his small white sedan running while he rummages through them, often at night.
As he rummaged through the grocery’s dumpster last month, clad in a black hoodie and beanie, Horner mused on the curious variations to be found in discarded cardboard.
“My favorite is when it’s ripped in some way, when it’s all wet and torn,” Horner said. “You really don’t get those unless the box has been compromised in some way. It’s nice when nature does that for you instead of me doing that in the gallery. You get an air to go off of.”
He plunged back in, the dumpster clanging as he rummaged through the clutter. He came up smiling, holding a stack of cardboard logos.
By 1:30 a.m., Horner was back in his gallery. It took him only 17 minutes to create self-portrait on a newly salvaged piece of cardboard. In it, he’s sitting on a cactus that’s growing out of an unplugged TV, the words, “Watching them watching me watch them watch me watch us watch you,” encircled the picture.
An hour and a half later, he exited his studio, climbing down a ladder. “This is my life,” he said. “At this point everyone just says I’m King of Cardboard. You just got to mark what you are and own it.”