Every time Elon exhibiting artist Joshua Newth went for a walk around his Missouri neighborhood in 2019, he would pick up a piece of trash.
“I would do this every time I would go out for a walk, and then it just dawned on me one day that maybe I should make art about our relationship to the planet through litter and the consumption of goods via natural resources,” Newth said.
Bridging his degree in biology and interest in painting, Newth created “Confessions of the Consumer,” a collection of paintings and sculptures that reuse litter to get his audience to think about the connections between nature and humanity. The collections will be on display in Arts West until Dec. 1.
“Each and every day as people in this country, we consume all kinds of products, products that are made from natural resources, products like plastics and Styrofoam,” Newth said. “And all of these things come from our natural environments. And yet, we kind of forget about that side of things and continue to consume products.”
In his works, Newth, an art professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said he uses the human form “accessorized” with litter to explore humanity’s relationship with consumerism in a non-confrontational way.
“In a way, I'm kind of making fun of what we do as human beings in terms of consumption of natural resources … but I'm also creating an avenue for people to explore the idea, appreciate the idea and also not be offended by it,” Newth said.
While the exhibit was being constructed, Newth spent time with seniors working on their senior theses.
Michael Fels, professor of art and gallery director, said he was impressed with how Newth interacted with the students.
“I was impressed with the way that he engaged our students in a non-intimidating way that kind of brought them up to a level playing field as artists and gave them really relatable things to talk about,” Fels said.
Elon freshman Priya Makufka-Fels was one of the students that received critique from Newth on her still-life and self-portrait paintings.
“It's nice to have another perspective, the way Arts West works generally is one professor per area, so it's nice to have another voice in painting,” Makufka-Fels said.
Makufka-Fels said she felt like Newth’s work was very useful and relevant to what she is learning in her painting class.
“At least for me, the most personally useful collection that we've had in a while,” Makufka-Fels said. “It was a great time to reference because we're all working in self portraits. So in order to see portraits in the gallery, it's very helpful.”
Newth said he hopes the Elon community will be more aware of their consumer habits after seeing the exhibit.
“I hope that they see that everybody has an impact on the environment around them, and that art can provide a message, but it can also be entertaining. It can be fun. It can be uplifting and upbeat,” Newth said. “It doesn't have to be really intense and sad, even though the message that one's trying to create, reinforce or present might be on the tough side of things to hear.”