One Artist’s Campaign To Beautify Cities, One Dumpster At A Time

C. Finley sees a blank canvas where others see an urban eyesore.

“When people see a Dumpster as a work of art, they’re delighted by trash and they want to do right by the environment.” That’s artist C. Finley talking to Co.Create about her one-woman campaign to beautify cities by wallpapering garbage bins.


Finley, who this month took on six Dumpsters in downtown Los Angeles outside Superchief Gallery, the location of her geometric art exhibition Divine Distractions, experienced a waste-bin epiphany nine years ago staring at Port of Los Angeles cargo containers. “I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool if in this sea of monotone, there was just one baroque pattern?”

Working as a set decorator for House & Garden magazine at the time, Finley happened to have two rolls of wallpaper laying around her house. “It turned out two rolls is exactly what you need to cover a dumpster,” Finley says. “When I noticed Dumpsters outside my friend’s studio, that’s when I got the idea: Here’s these big ugly metal containers. Why don’t I switch ’em up with wallpaper?”

Since 2006, Finley’s Martha Stewart-meets-Banksy makeovers have prettified alleys in Berlin, Paris, Dublin, Vienna, San Francisco, New York, and Rome, where she currently lives. German authorities refused permits, forcing Finley to take covert wallpaper action. But in Italy, art Dumpsters became something of a phenomenon after newspaper photographs of her garbage bins garnered 46,000 “likes” in one day on La Repubblica‘s website. The concept has now expanded to two more regions in Italy, where kids compete in Dumpster-decorating competitions. Finley says, “In Rome they actually delivered a brand-new Dumpster to any location I wanted so I could do more of them.”

Have Wallpaper, Will Travel

Finley initially used silk-screened wallpaper made by such high-end manufacturers as Morris & Co. and Farrow & Ball. These days, “I basically work with whatever I can get my hands on,” she laughs. “Every time I go to a new city I put two rolls of wallpaper in my bag, or else I find a hardware store when I’m on site.”

Dumpsters vary slightly in dimension from city to city, so Finley custom-cuts wallpaper on the spot. ” I bring scissors, X-ACTO knife, glue, rollers, a couple of chip brushes, and a rolling tray,” she says. “Since I can’t precut until I get there, I just work in the moment.”

Finley makes one exception when it comes to Dumpster love. “I don’t do grocery stores or fishmongers,” she says. “That’s definitely the first rule: stay away from juicy Dumpsters.”


A Transforming Effect

Finley, who changed her name from Christine to C. while studying art at Pratt Institute and Cal State Long Beach, sees her Dumpster transformations as a way to jolt urban dwellers into adopting eco-friendly behavior. “I’m bringing this boudoir mix of everything that’s feminine and private and pristine into the realm of the brutish, the dumpy and the junky,” she says.

Dumpster art has yet to go viral in North America the way it has in Italy, but at the very least, Finley hopes to spark fresh thinking about eco-activism. “The whole thing with this project is to get the environmental movement to think creatively,” she says. “I want to inspire people to make their neighborhoods more beautiful.”

About the author

Los Angeles freelancer Hugh Hart covers movies, television, art, design and the wild wild web (for San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and New York Times). A former Chicagoan, Hugh also walks his Afghan Hound many times a day and writes twisted pop songs.