The great philosopher Macklemore said it best in his hit song “Thrift Store” that one man’s trash is another man’s come up. This statement rings particularly true for artist and sculptor George Sabra, whose 20-year career has been influenced by the very materials people throw away. We caught up with the artist at this year’s SXSW ECO conference as he ferociously hacked away at sheets of cardboard and pieced them together to create an art sculpture right before our very eyes. Click through to learn more about the man behind the trash.

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Imagine passing by a trade show floor and being immediately confronted by two statuesque figures made entirely of cardboard. Strategically shaped, transformed and hammered onto steel beams, cardboard takes on new life as both art and a discussion on social responsibility.

Sabra enlightened us about the realities of packaging waste—an ongoing concern in society— and we raised our eyebrows when we learned that even smack dab in the center of one of the country’s most ecological conferences, waste wasn’t being handled responsibly. His creation of standing cardboard figures was produced from locally sourced materials—the actual discarded packaging materials forgotten by many of the SXSW ECO vendors.

But resourceful isn’t the only word we would use to describe Sabra. No, his work begs an impromptu discussion on society’s obsession with packaging materials and the slow movement towards a closer connection with the earth.

An Austin native, Sabra is no stranger to transforming trash into artistic expression. “I’ve used trash all of [my] life,” he explained. “I use it as raw material to create interactive art to repair the relationship between mankind and nature.” Sabra feels that this relationship needs to be exploited and promoted.

The City of Austin has been a major supporter of Sabra’s work and commissioned him last December to co-create a large-scale public sculpture titled Plastic Storm with members of the community. The 14-foot sculpture was made entirely out of reclaimed plastic bottles, cups, jars and caps. Sabra has also created high-profile art projects with students, showing them how to turn plastic bottles into works of art while helping them realize their power to spread the message.

“The idea is to pick a frame to our movement. This [packaging] is the energy of what transfers through the atmosphere when we produce,” said Sabra. “This [art] is a reminder of the movement.”

+ George Sabra


Photos by Rebecca Lyon