Richmond artist Daud Abdullah no longer sees trashcans as garbage receptacles.
“We take trashcans and turn them into treasure boxes,” he said.
Abdullah, 53, is a mosaic artist with a history of transforming ordinary or run down things into pieces of art.
He recently received a $3,000 grant from the city to decorate most of its 300 trashcans with his mosaic art and to teach youth. He was chosen based on his work decorating two trashcans located at Civic Center Plaza. He decorated the bins with mosaic pieces, including one that features Rosie the Riveter and the words, “Richmond we can do it!”
A 17-year Oakland resident before he relocated to Richmond in early 2013, Abdullah took on his first public art project in Maxwell Park a few years ago, serving as a lead artist.
“We had a bathroom (at the park) that was in really bad shape,” he said. “It took about five years, but we completely mosaicked the whole building.”
He said he wanted his next public art project to avoid a big bureaucratic approval process.
“That’s when I found the thing with trashcans,” he said. Abdullah decorated about 30 Oakland trashcans before moving on to Richmond.
Abdullah made his first two trashcan mosaics earlier this year through the Richmond Art Center after city officials went there looking for artists to decorate trash bins as part of an improvement project.
“They came out great,” said Chris Chamberlain, Richmond’s Parks and Landscaping superintendent. “The cans look significantly better than the old, plain beat-up trashcans.”
The city Parks and Landscaping department is working closely with Abdullah, dropping off and picking up trashcans from him at his Bridge Storage and Art Spaces studio.
After his initial success with the trashcan mosaics, Abdullah began teaching mosaic classes at the Richmond Art Center. Working with young, aspiring artists at the center, Abdullah can point to 14 trashcans along the Richmond Greenway that now feature mosaic art alongside building murals and other art pieces.
“That’s what I love about the workshops when I teach the youth. It’s like, now you’re empowering. Now you can have some pride,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about — to make this a pretty place.”
Abdullah said he plans to work with high school students at Kennedy and Richmond to create the next series of trashcan mosaics. “I’ll give them a quick lesson on how to use all this stuff and let them loose,” he said.
Chamberlain said the city plans to place the beautified trashcans near community centers, city buildings and other public places.
Abdullah said he hopes the work will inspire the students to create more art. “Art conveys so much,” he said. “Maybe that will steer a wannabe tagger. I don’t mind a mosaic tag. Crazily enough, I did some in Oakland myself. I did glass smiley faces on rocks.”
For Abdullah mosaic public artwork is rewarding and can be full of metaphors.
“All the pieces represent the people,” he said. “So it’s great to be able to do and put it out in the public to see and take something as simple as a trashcan and say, ‘we can make a trashcan look pretty.'”