“Like the pottery archaeologists use to define human cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will signify our own throwaway society. What will these discarded fragments say about us?
– Jo Atherton
Artist Jo Atherton is the perfect example of an artist using non-traditional materials to create art. We also love that she is bringing awareness to environmental issues.
Atherton creates her art from discarded materials collected along the UK coastline. Using the energy of the sun, she makes gorgeous cyanotype prints (also known as sun prints) of the items. She also weaves tapestries from the items that she discovers.
Atherton believes that we can learn a lot about our past through these washed up objects. Some of the items she finds are 30 years old or more, like old plastic toys. It’s interesting and sad to see what happens to these items when they are no longer loved or needed. In the artist’s words:
“I weave strands of stories to engage the public with sensitive environmental issues in ways that distressing images of marine wildlife cannot. My creative practice has become a useful conduit to explore single-use plastics as most of the flotsam objects I work with are commonplace in our homes.”
Her images are stunning and beautiful, yet they also serve as reminders of the disturbing amount of trash, mainly plastic, that is accumulating in our oceans. The artist cannot solve the issue on her own, but she is doing a great job of bringing awareness to the problem. Through her process, she also recycles items that would otherwise be garbage into meaningful artworks.
It is Spring here in Maine, and believe it or not, the snow on the ground just melted a week ago. The rain season is taking over, and while the weather is warmer now, there is still a lot to be desired. In the meantime, we are dreaming of lazy days on the beach and sunny weather.
One positive aspect of Maine winters is that we are encouraged to explore warmer climates when possible. On a recent trip to Florida, we had the opportunity to meet Roy A. McLendon, Jr. We even returned home with one of his vibrant paintings.
During our visit, Roy welcomed us into his studio, and we spent some time chatting with him about his work and life. He learned how to paint from his father, Roy McClendon, Senior, who was one of the original Highwaymen artists. We were familiar with the Highwaymen from the documentary, The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road,and were thrilled to learn more from Roy firsthand.
The History of the Florida Highwaymen
The Florida Highwaymen were a group of twenty-six self-taught artists of color who worked in Florida during the early 1950s through the 1980s. Collectively, their body of work consists of over 200,000 landscape paintings. The paintings depict unusually bright and colorful scenes of Florida beaches, trees, sunsets, and other natural settings. The beautiful poinciana tree is featured in many of these paintings, often appearing in a shocking red or purple color.
Simon Sparrow (1925-2000) was a self-taught artist who was born in West Africa and raised in North Carolina. Sparrow moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s where he was known as a street preacher. Sparrow’s spiritual beliefs crossed over into his artwork. He believed he was guided by “spirit” to create.
Sparrow used unusual materials to create his mosaic-like art, including: jewelry, plastic figurines (like Star Wars figures), beads, pine cones, glitter, and other found object materials. He even covered his car in glitter and found objects.
Sparrow passed away in 2000. In 2012, he was the recipient of a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award. His work has been included in several exhibitions and was featured on a 2009 episode of Antiques Roadshow.
We recently worked on a project for kids based on the art of Simon Sparrow. As you can imagine, the kids were excited about using the recycled materials to create their work. We did this project with 6 to 8 year old children, but it can be taught to a range of ages, and the materials can be varied based on skill level. For example, older kids can use hot glue guns. With the younger kids, we used a non-toxic glue, Aleene’s Clear School Tacky Glue. Also, in order to prevent a disastrous glitter mess but still pay tribute to Sparrow’s love of glitter, we used washable glitter pens.
Continuing with the theme of recycled and found object art from previous posts, this week’s featured artist is Mary Ellen Croteau of Chicago. She creates art with bottle caps to help bring awareness to the impact of waste on the environment.
Regarding her piece Tsunami (above), Mary Ellen states on her website:
“Tsunami is made mostly of water bottle caps. I personally think that single-serve plastic bottles are a major curse on our environment, and most especially water bottles. Most of us do not need to have bottled water at hand. Getting people used to spending more money for water than they spend for a gallon of gasoline is devious and disastrous for the future of the planet; letting corporations control our water sources is evil.”
I first came across her work in 2012 at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Her Endless Columns, inspired by the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi, were vibrant towers amongst the greens of the plants and flowers. My 4-year old was very impressed, and from this, we discovered our love of collaborative art making with bottle caps. We will be posting some ideas for bottle cap art projects for kids soon!
Continuing with the theme from the previous post, Barry Rosenthal is a Brooklyn based photographer also working with beach plastic. His photo series “Found in Nature” is a collection of discarded objects found on the beaches of New York. The colorful and well-designed artworks make us forget for a moment that the truth behind his work is quite disturbing. Our overuse of plastic has lead to an abundance of waste that keeps going long after its original use. To learn more about Rosenthal’s work, visit his website at www.barryrosenthal.com.
“I am a collector. The beach is my flea market and found objects my inspiration.”
This blog will often feature art made from recycled objects and other non-traditional materials. I was excited to come across the website of artists Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang. Their work is an excellent example of using non-traditional materials.
In 1999, the Langs began to collect plastic debris washed ashore at Kehoe Beach, located in Point Reyes National Seashore in California. They have been visiting the same 1,000 yards of shoreline to gather their materials.
Using the discarded objects, the Langs create art ranging from large-scale sculptures to small jewelry. They even embellished a car with found plastic objects. Their work has been in over 70 exhibitions.
Through their work they hope to bring awareness to plastic pollution and its devastating effect on the environment, while also transforming otherwise useless objects into beautiful and imaginative works of art.
Below is an enjoyable and informative video about their work.
To see more of their artwork, visit their website here.
Image Credits: (top to bottom) Bosky Dell, Shovel Bands, Chroma Purple via the artists’ website: One Beach Plastic.
Séraphine Louis (1864 – 1942), also known as Séraphine de Senlis, was a French self-taught artist. She was from the town of Senlis, north of Paris, and worked as a house cleaner. She struggled with mental illness most of her life and seemed to find solace in her paintings.
She worked in solitude by candlelight, creating colorful and whimsical paintings of flowers and plants based mostly on her imagination. In order to afford paint, she made her own pigments using household and plant items, such as red wine, flowers, and candle wax.
Séraphine was discovered by German art collector Wilhelm Uhde in 1912. He was a collector of Henri Rousseau and Pablo Picasso’s work, among other notable artists of the time. Uhde came across a painting by Seraphine at his neighbor’s home where she worked as a cleaner. Uhde did his best to support her work as an artist and included her an exhibition held in Paris in 1928, called “Painters of the Sacred Heart,” The other artists included: Henri Rousseau, André Bauchant, and Camille Bombois.
In 2008, a film by Martin Provost was released about Seraphine’s life. You can view the trailer here.
Stephen Wright is an artist and designer from East Dulwich, an area of south London, England. About 31 years ago, he began transforming his house and garden into the House of Dreams Museum. He was inspired to create the museum after viewing Jarvis Cocker’s documentaries on outsider art, called Journeys into the Outside with Jarvis Cocker(which I highly recommend watching). His museum is full of elaborate mosaics and found object sculptures. It also serves as a shrine for his memories and a tribute to his deceased partner and parents. It was bequeathed to the National Trust and is open to the public. The visiting hours are listed on his website.
Greg Corman is a landscape designer and artist living in Tuscon, Arizona. He creates his work from recycled or salvaged wood, found objects, and steel. The above images are examples of his bee habitat sculptures, which are functional forms of art. The sculptures have holes and tunnels drilled into them to provide bees with brood chambers for their babies. He states on his website that these functional artworks are nesting spaces for native pollinator bees and do not attract honey or killer bees.
To go along with my recent post about toothpick art, I have found some fun projects for kids. I love the idea of working with nontraditional art supplies that are either lying around the house or affordable to buy. Toothpicks are definitely easy to come across. Loosely inspired by the work of artists Scott Weaver and Wayne Kusy, here are a few ideas I came across. (The project credit goes to the links under each photo.)