ROY — Let’s just say Rex Hipwell’s tastes and artistic sensibilities run outside the mainstream.
“My mind just goes different places,” he says. “I don’t like to be Mr. and Mrs. Smith across the street with their plants.”
Rather, call him Mr. Hipwell with what wife Lynette Hipwell lovingly calls his “gutter art,” hanging in the backyard of their Roy home.
The retired Utah Transit Authority bus driver and one-time garbage man — who came to art later in life — pulls out a plastic bin packed with some of his raw material. There’s half a pair of orange plastic fangs, a chunk of black styrofoam, the broken lens of a car light, a rubber bracelet reading “Respect yourself be drug free” and more. It’s all pulled from the street while walking the dog, Missy, or during other forays around the neighborhood.
“You’ve been bringing garbage home since I’ve known you,” Lynette quips.
Admiration belies her blunt demeanor, and there’s a certain method to Rex’s art — the items he’s gathered sorted and glued to a wooden base or canvas to form an eclectic collage. This one has a poker chip with a smiley face, the rusty lid of a tin can, an old Bic lighter and a Pez dispenser of Ariel, the red-headed Disney character, among other things. That one over there has a black comb, a metal Honda car logo, the lid of a Grizzly chewing tobacco container and an old smart phone.
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Small trinkets and trash are recycled and resembled into one of Rex Hipwell’s “gutter art” pieces. Hipwell worked for decades as a bus driver and garbageman. He only began making art after retiring.
“Don’t think anything is sitting in a place by accident. It’s all placed with a lot of care,” says Lynette. She and Rex, 66, grew up in Roy and they’ve been together for 23 years, each on their second marriage.
Don’t dig too deep for meaning, however. His art could be some sort of critique of our disposable society, where the old and worn is tossed aside for the new and shiny, but Rex doesn’t get that philosophical.
“I’m looking through a bucket” — where he keeps his collected items — “and this’ll go here,” Rex says, describing the artistic process. That other thing will go right there, next to it.
Likewise, he doesn’t start a piece aiming to convey this message, that emotion. “I just put it on the board,” he explains.
It’s gotten plenty of attention from neighbors, friends and family, and Rex — sporting a tie over his green, sleeveless T-shirt — regularly gives out his artwork. Most recently, he showed some of his pieces at the Weber County Library System branch in Huntsville, which displays local artwork on a rotating basis.
“It was just so different,” says Lezlie Sokolik, who helps select art displayed at the libraries in the Weber County system. “It was just something refreshing, different and fun.”
‘Found a couple pieces’
Rex, speaking from his backyard, where he does much of his work, started collecting stuff from the streets — “gold” that caught his eye — years ago. It gathered on window sills, shelves, buckets and other nooks and crannies until he started turning it into artwork around 2010.
Now the collages and other, larger items like old bikes and tools — turned from garbage into artwork — decorate the fencing enclosing his yard and his carport. He gives away many pieces, and more decorates the homes and yards of friends and family.
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Rex Hipwell’s art hangs from the fences and rises out of the gardens of his backyard in Roy. “All of a sudden everything seemed to have a place. I don’t know why,” said Hipwell. “And if not, I’d make a place for it.”
It’s a long way from collecting stuff and letting it accumulate in the basement. Even so, Lynette says she and her husband have hippy streaks and that Rex has a creative gene, maybe quite a few of them.
“He always has been kind of artistic and loves music — what’s his name? — Bob Dylan,” she says. What’s more, there’s the art project — a drawing of a fish — that netted him an A in junior high, Rex jokes.
It may be “piddling around,” but Rex doesn’t plan to stop his artistic pursuits any time soon. Who knows when inspiration will strike to assemble one of his art pieces. But the desire to grab stuff off the street while out on walks — shredded tire chunks, bottle caps, discarded toys from fast-food restaurants, empty glue sticks, reflector pieces, broken sunglasses — never goes away.
“I just went on (a walk) this morning,” he says later, contacted by phone. “Found a couple pieces.”