The Art of Shopping Carts: A look Into Boston’s Cooperative Gallery Space

A group of Boston-area artists teamed up to create a collaborative art community in 2006, which served as a hub for artists to grow together. That community is now housed at Atlantic Works Gallery in East Boston, Massachusetts. 

“As an artist, especially as one outside of school, the opportunities to interact with other artists reduce dramatically, and being part of a community of artists is important in the idea that artists need to be able to bounce ideas off of other artists, share critique of each other’s work and share opportunities,” said Justin Rounds, one of the artists at Atlantic Works Gallery. 

Rounds joined artist Leigh Hall to create the gallery’s current exhibition: Invasive Species, which is centered on the idea of shopping carts and its representation of human survival. The pieces were created mostly from salvaged materials. 

“We both work with nature and have been doing this series of works that uses the shopping cart as a subject and loosely based around ideas about survival with topics of modern consumer capitalism and what the shopping carts mean as this icon for both buying things but also this connotation we have of shopping carts associated with the homeless,” Rounds said.

Hall used a wall drawing technique, working with black masking tape to create the East Boston Greenway, a 26-piece detailed work that creates a larger-than-life landscape, crossing boundaries between realism and abstraction. 

The garden

“It all started with the garden because that was when I was really brainstorming with the idea of survival and models of survival: food, clothing, shelter,” Rounds said. “I was trying to grow a bunch of food and then began using the shopping cart as an image both to talk about the idea of a shopping cart as a vehicle for consumerism and this sort of vehicle for survival at the margins.”

Using salvaged materials

“I started drawing on the fabric with the yarn in a sort of embroidery way and free hand,” Rounds said. “As I was working with material and creating this almost ideal form of distilling it down to an icon, like a blue print.”

“I had this sheet and a marker, so I started drawing the shopping cart just to do something and I was interested in trying to do what I could with materials that I had found,” Rounds said. “I was making my own ink out of ballpoint pens and used a bottle of coke to tie dye the bottom just to see what would happen.”

Burning cart

“This actually came out of a conversation about what we needed to survive as a concept,” Rounds said. “I was talking with my daughters and my youngest said, ‘You have to have a campfire; if you’re trying to survive, you have to have light, heat and warmth.’ It spiraled out of that conversation; thinking about fire as this community building. So, I made a portable campfire.”

The cloud

“The cloud is a sort of running theme throughout my work where it’s symbolic of an idea and pulling something out of an imaginary, unreal space,” Rounds said. “Kind of like the way people look at clouds and say, ‘oh it’s an elephant.’ Anything that is idea-related, I use the cloud to stamp it in that way.” 

Being part of a community

“The gallery is a pretty great space and it’s an excellent opportunity for artists in the area are to be able to have a place to exhibit and have a community to collaborate with,” Rounds said. “Rather than being isolated in one’s studio every day, it’s nice to have an opportunity to come out and interact with other artists at openings and be part of the community here in Boston.”

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