Over 40 years ago, one artist living in College Point set out to turn trash into treasure, and he has never looked back.
John Norwood, 79, has lived in College Point with his wife, Ruby Malva, for almost 50 years. Originally from the south, Norwood attended the College of William & Mary, now known as Old Dominion University, for two years until he received a fellowship and attended the Art Institute of Chicago.
After school, he spent time working for architectural firms creating renderings and models and traveled the world. Norwood met Malva, who is originally from India, in 1970 and were married in 1972. They have two daughters together: Erica and Daniella.
The artist started using recycled objects as material in his art over 40 years ago.
“I’m influenced by garbage that comes into my life,” Norwood said. “Whatever comes in I try to do something with and make art.”
The recycled materials he uses are mostly things that come right into his own home, including bottles, cardboard, newspaper, cans and cigarette boxes. Many materials, like foam packaging and packing peanuts, are sourced from his wife’s business.
Malva has been a pediatrician serving the community out of her College Point office for over 40 years. Her waiting room, personal office and examination rooms are fully decorated by Norwood and one of a kind. Patients are greeted with laminated puzzles on the walls and ceiling, stuffed characters and some of Norwood’s art pieces. Even the furniture is crafted using recycled pieces.
“When the kids are looking up, they see the puzzles on the wall,” Malva said. “They love it.”
“I just think the waste in this society is so terrible; if I can do something with it, I try to,” Norwood said.
About eight years ago, the couple suffered a fire at their home and Norwood lost a large portion of his artwork. Since then, he has been working hard to put the incident behind him, steadily creating new art.
“I’ve been filling up this space again for the last eight years,” Norwood said.
The proof is in the production. Norwood keeps his life’s work in two large spaces in College Point: one below his home, which sits on a marina he and his wife own, and one above his wife’s medical office.
“Art is so personal; you bring your own stuff to it,” Norwood said.
His work examines themes of proportion and scale, much of it constructed using the metric system. His art mainly features warm colors and tones, which he said is inspired by a song he heard performed years ago at his daughter’s school: “Red, yellow, black and white; they are precious in his sight.”
“This world today is so divided,” Norwood said. “I like to express unity wherever I can.”
Today, Norwood works mainly with cardboard and foam doing collage work. He has no plans of slowing down.
“I’ll continue what I’m doing until I drop,” Norwood said.
Norwood’s work has been displayed at numerous galleries over the years, including the Queensborough Community College Holocaust Center, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning and the Queens Museum of Art.
Photos of Norwood’s art can be seen below. To learn more, visit his website.