- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Michael Albert never attended art school, and he has a job as a businessman, but visiting art museums one day gave him an idea.

“I knew, instead of spending time watching TV or wasting time, I could try to be productive and see if I could create a masterpiece,” said the White Plains, N.Y., resident during a telephone interview.

“Every time I have a chance, when I don’t have to be doing something for my working life or family life, I spend it trying to make art with this dream, trying to create something that is truly great.”

At first, Albert began drawing and doodling, but eventually, motivated by a desire to avoid throwing out everyday items such as cereal boxes, he began to cut them up and make pop art in the tradition of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

“I found out that a lot of things were perfectly great art materials that would otherwise have been thrown in the trash,” he said.

One of his first pieces emerged when he cut up pieces of a Frosted Flakes box and rearranged them so the result was recognizable but still different than the original.

“To me, that was my first official pop art work,” Albert said. “It’s something everybody knows. There is no American that doesn’t know what that is, whether you eat it or not. It’s so famous. And chopped up - it’s a simple idea - it’s a cool way to look at it. It’s like looking at something through a kaleidoscope.”

Many of his pieces can be viewed on his website, www.michaelalbert.com.

Even though Albert has a full-time job as the owner of a juice company, he will be taking a couple of weeks off this summer to travel around to libraries teaching an art class to children and adults.

He will be in this area on June 17 and 18 at the following times and places: 10 a.m. to noon June 17 at the Morgantown Public Library; 2 to 4 p.m. June 17 at the Taylor County Public Library in Grafton; 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 17 at the Gilmer Public Library in Glenville; 10 a.m. to noon June 18 at the Southern Area Library in Lost Creek and 2 to 4 p.m. June 18 at the Lowe Public Library in Shinnston.

“He approached us,” said Mary Beth Stenger, director of the Southern Area Library. “We had won Best Small Library in America, and it was something he wanted to do with us to celebrate. We’re excited to have him. We’re hoping it will be a fun family event for all ages. We’ve had adults and children sign up for it.”

The Best Small Library in America designation came courtesy of the Library Journal, a trade publication for librarians, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Albert already taught the class at the Lowe Public Library two years ago, said director Deborah Starkey.

“We have cereal boxes, and they bring anything of that nature and they make a picture,” Starkey said. “The kids love it. They all go home with something. They have a good hour and a half.”

Pop art emerged in the mid-20th century as a form of art that took items from popular culture and put them in a different context. Perhaps the best-known pop artist was Pittsburgh native Warhol, who was famous for his paintings of Campbell’s soup cans.

While Warhol used soup cans, cereal boxes have been Albert’s muse. He calls this type of work “cerealism.”

“I found these things are so etched into our minds,” he added. “Even if they are chopped up into million pieces, we can instantly recognize them, so there is a message there about branding.”

Another tactic Albert has used is to cut out letters from a variety of sources and reassemble them to spell something out, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“That was my first collage of a historical nature,” Albert said. “I thought it was interesting to combine sugary consumerism and working on a subject as important and historical as the Gettysburg Address. That juxtaposition was interesting to me. It was a serious subject made with materials that people don’t think of as serious.”

Other art pieces he has completed using letters feature inspirational quotes, as well as passages by Shakespeare.

He also makes landscapes out of cut-up items, but he prefers to call them “brandscapes.”

A native of Long Island, New York, Albert began doing programs at libraries he can reach within 12 to 14 hours of his home about six years ago.

“As you know, in a lot of towns, people don’t get out to a big city very often, so in order to interact with them have to go there, to the town library,” he said. “To me, it’s a great honor to share art and my story and projects with people.”

He also likes the free services that libraries offer, noting that because he uses found objects for his art, his pieces also are very inexpensive to make.

“I’ve created a body of work out of garbage,” he said. “It doesn’t make it less of masterpiece because it’s cereal boxes. There shouldn’t be a barrier in art related to money. The barrier is related to effort.”

Besides, he noted, Vincent Van Gogh never made any money off his art while he was alive, so judging art and assessing its value can be tricky.

“I realized somebody like Vincent Van Gogh was never able to make money on art in his lifetime,” Albert said. “A hundred years later, everything he created is in a museum or in a collection. An artist’s job is to create great art. Only time will tell what is great art.”


Information from: The Exponent Telegram, https://www.theet.com

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