Saving the planet isn’t just for superheroes anymore. Every person in the world can do it, armed with nothing but a plastic water bottle and a blue bin. The movement toward environmental conservation is big, now stretching over several different mediums. You can find themes about the subject popping up in our politics, advertisements, films, books, articles, social media accounts- and even in our art museums. Recycled art is a specific type of creative work made from discarded materials. So this could be anything from old plastic toys to tires to cans or scraps of cloth. Artists who specialize in recycled art will literally turn our trash into treasure- fit to be exhibited for hundreds or even thousands of viewers.
At its core, recycled art is about repurposing materials and nature conservation. The underlying message behind all recycled art is in the title itself: recycle. Though each piece has meanings and themes that vary greatly, at its heart the notion of repurposing supplies into sculptures sends a strong message on its own…that we should follow suit.
As long as the materials used in the piece were discarded, there’s really no limit to what can be used and what the pieces can look like. They can vary from large scale to miniature, from two-dimensional pieces to three dimensional. It’s a growing movement but, though it’s popularity has surged recently, it isn’t an entirely foreign concept.
The process of repurposing materials to create something new in art really began with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) who specialized in the collage. He would paste together separate bits of paper, newsprint, etc., to create a new image. Other artists like Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) followed suit, actually repurposing objects like bicycle tires and street signs as art pieces.
Though these artists experimented with the process individually, the Recycled Art Movement has really gained steam within the past few decades. There are several artists that specialize in the form and several successful shows the display exclusively recycled artwork, including the Recycled Art Exhibition in Flagstaff, Arizona. This year they celebrated their 16th year. The rules for their exhibitions aren’t very restrictive. Their only requirement to participate in the exhibition is that your item is made from at least 80% repurposed or recycled materials.
One year, they created a specific judging category for broken sleds or sleds found abandoned in local forests. In an interview with the Arizona Daily Sun, Mike Frankel, executive director of the Artists’ Coalition of Flagstaff, stated, “We will display all pieces that are entered … and hopefully shine a light on a serious Flagstaff environmental problem, with the thought of mitigating it in some way.”
In the same interview, Frankel speaks on the value of the exhibit itself to the community at large, “The appeal of the City of Flagstaff Recycled Art Exhibition cuts across all ages and demographics in northern Arizona. Entrants from as young as 4 years old to 86 have been inspired over the years to create artwork that speaks … to the amount of inspiration and creativity one can put into artworks essentially created from trash, discarded materials and materials that people have no use for anymore.”
Using plastics in painting not only helps eliminate waste but also sends a strong message to viewers about the benefits of conservation. Here’s to saving the planet, one sculpture at a time.