Although you won't find him on the front lines of a Big Oil protest or handing out pamphlets on the environment, Joshua Cain Burns is an activist, at least artistically.
The 25-year-old Starbucks barista and artist (who creates work under the name Joshua Cain) was moved by a recent experience at a monster truck rally.
"I went with (my girlfriend) Laura and (her son) Aidan to see the monster trucks. It was enjoyable, but when I saw the huge gas tanks behind on these things, it made me sick that I had bought a ticket for this.
"I'm not super pro-alternative fuels, not saying I go out and protest. (But) I feel strongly that if we don't go out and find better ways to do things, we won't be around to figure out where it went wrong. That's why I use things around me to make art."
Cain has turned recycling into an art form, canvassing the alleys and neighborhoods near his home in the heart of Oildale, looking for pieces he can use as-is or repurpose.
"I did make eyeglasses out of a piece of plywood that I found down the street from my house. It was pretty challenging. It was my first try at epoxy resin, which I'm finding more uses for as I create. I took wood-working in high school for about two to three years, and find it was very useful in what I do now, in creating things from trash wood.
"When I see trash wood, I see potential for that wood to live again. Turning ugly things into things that are beautiful or just have a use. Everything has its purpose. (It's a chance) to give everything meaning in your life, even if it isn't deep meaning, even if it's a pencil holder."
Wood also serves as a canvas for Cain, including his Eye Gallery piece, an untitled work he said was inspired by the hospitality he encountered on a recent trip to Honolulu.
"When we went to Oahu, we rented scooters. We weren't honked at, we weren't cussed at. We weren't looked down upon. I ride a scooter here (in Bakersfield), I get people honking at me, cussing at me. It's every part of town, from Oildale to Rosedale.
"I found that in Oahu, that people were really respectful of their land, took pride in their community, their lands.
"The painting resembles in the background the roads that tighten in the city of Honolulu. The flowers coming out of the middle are out of this harsh landscape of business and society, with nature still prevailing through it."
The Eye Gallery exhibit will be Cain's first at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, but not his first gallery show.
Last February, he helped open the Cabinet of Curiosities. Cain envisioned the small space on East 18th Street as a tattoo shop with art exhibits and musical performances, but eventually shut its down as finances and artistic support proved problematic.
Although the Cabinet has closed, Cain plans to continue pursuing tattooing, saving up toward a license and working on one day opening a shop. For now, he focuses on his paintings and developing his voice as an artist.
He shared more about his work in an interview.
Some of your pieces incorporate shadow boxes, clock works and found materials. Do you find inspiration in unconventional items?
I love clocks, and not necessarily the function of a clock as a measurement of time. The clock is more a measurement of experience in life along with what you pursue in it. We remember things by time and date. I think time is very important as a whole if not for everyone.
As the artist I am, I feel that I should be using everything around me to create. I think if we as artists or even creative people can use what we have around us, it would take not only trash or debris off the streets, it would turn eyesores into something useful, or beautiful to look at. This is my way to recycle and give back something beautiful to people who see the beauty made out of nothing.
Based on your body of work, you are drawn to contemplative portraits. Why is that?
Most of the people in my portraits I find to be tormented souls in one or many ways. I find comfort in that feeling. I think that people in distress can either force themselves to become great, or they can destroy themselves with all the hate and pain they feel at times.
I'm drawn to that personally. A lot of my friends ... and I can be self-loathing. Not to say I'm that way all the time. We all have those feelings some time or another. I think there's something real about that. You can see the real person through everything.
I wanted to get away from people smiling. That's what we're "supposed to do." Grab somebody around the shoulder and smile. I think smiles are a blank wall. They get boring after awhile.
Who are your favorite artists?
One of my favorite artists as of now would have to be a man named Beau Stanton, who I've been watching rise to become a great visual force. As far as locally in Bakersfield, I have much respect for a photographer named David Karnowski, also two great painters by the names of Andrew Dutton and Jeremy White.
You wrote that you have always known art would be your profession. How has your work changed since you were a child?
My work has changed from crayon and pencil to paint, wood, pen, oil, tattoo. I'm just getting more advanced and more technical. In my opinion, I'm sure that I can do anything I put my mind to artistically.
And I won't let anything or anyone get in my way of personal success.