Miguel Rivera
Miguel Rivera

11 Artists Doing Amazing Things With Recycled Materials

Miguel Rivera
Miguel Rivera

We all know that you’re supposed to reduce, reuse and recycle, but for artists, reuse and recycle often have totally different meanings than they do for the rest of us. Here are 11 artists specializing in making trash into artistic treasures.

1. Lin Evola-Smidt

No one wants their children to grow up in a world plagued by violence, but not many parents have worked as hard to fight the problem as artist Lin Evola-Smidt. When gun violence ravaged Los Angeles in the early nineties, Lin decided to help stop the problem by convincing residents to give up their guns, which would then be melted down to create statues of angels—an appropriately uplifting icon for those living in the increasingly dangerous City of Angels. “I wanted more at that moment than to just create a piece of art," she says. "I wanted people to make a shift within themselves."

The project was a success and within a few years, the area was filled with small metal angels—each reflecting more guns being taken off the city streets. The first angels were up to 3 feet tall and took a few months of work, but eventually, Evola-Smidt decided to increase the size of the sculptures so they could be centerpieces of local parks. In 1997, she completed a 13 foot tall angel called “The Renaissance Peace Angel.” After the terrorist attacks of September 11, the sculpture was moved to Ground Zero and it has since become her most famous artwork.

Seven years after the attacks, Lin announced that she was starting a new project, a global version of her past work called the Art of Peace Charitable Trust, which seeks to combat "the proliferation of small firearms, light artillery and other weapons of war." Cities such as Jerusalem, Bosnia and Johannesburg, South Africa immediately expressed interest in the concept. The first angel built under the trust will be a 30 foot tall masterpiece installed in New York City.

2. Michelle Reader

Since 1997, Michelle Reader has been working to make recycled materials into sculptures, often incorporating mechanical elements such as the working parts of toys and clocks. Her materials come from city dumps, roadsides, and thrift shops, and include both household and industrial waste. “I love the unpredictability of found materials and enjoy the inventiveness necessary to transform them into a sculpture,” she says. “I try wherever possible to use materials that are reclaimed, things with a history that have been discarded and might otherwise end up in landfill.”

Perhaps her most famous work is this family portrait, known as “Seven Wasted Men,” that was made from one month of household waste from the family. “The materials not only highlight a need to address the amount of waste each of us produces, but also tells the story of each individual through the things they discard—a child’s drawings, a shopping list, a birthday card,” she says.

3. Ptolemy Elrington

Parking lots and roadsides everywhere are adorned with damaged and lost hubcaps. But where most of us see garbage, Ptolemy Elrington sees beauty and value. “I believe that things utilitarian, or which give pleasure to the eye have the highest value, he says. “I come across many things which have been abandoned and find something more in them than their intrinsic worthlessness.”

He particularly enjoys working with hubcaps because—while they look nice—they really serve very little purpose. “They’re automatically rubbish when on the side of the road," he says. "But with a little effort and imagination I transform them into something which gives people a great deal more pleasure.”

4. Wim Delvoye

While Belgian artist Wim Delvoye isn’t the first person to create art with used tires, he might just be the most talented name in the niche. That’s because his utterly gorgeous creations manage to maintain the structure of the tires while incorporating elements from nature, such as flowers and vines, so the viewer thinks of the delicate beauty of Mother Earth while never forgetting that they are looking at something totally industrial.

The artist uses no mechanical devices during the reworking process to make his masterpieces, and tough car and tractor tires take a very long time to manually carve and sculpt.

5. Tim Noble and Sue Webster

When people first witness Tim Noble’s and Sue Webster’s Shadow Sculptures, they tend to just see a heap of trash piled up in some meaningless order. But once the creations are lit from the right angle, the artistic merit of the works finally becomes obvious. That’s because the shadows create incredibly detailed images of profiles of the artists, animals and more. Even the selection of the trash itself lends a deeper meaning to the artwork than a quick glance would tell you. For example, in “Dirty White Trash (with Gulls),” the pile of trash is made from the remains of everything the artists needed to survive for the six months it took them to complete the sculpture.

6. Yuken Teruya

We tend to toss toilet paper rolls into the garbage without even giving a second thought as to where they came from or where they will go, but Japanese artist Yuken Teruya’s “Corner Forest” series reminds us all that these simple cardboard tubes were once part of a majestic forest—forests that could be wiped out if we continue our use-once-and-destroy culture.

7. Rodney "Rodrigo" McCoubrey

Unlike many artists working with recycled materials, who feel their work carries a serious and somber meaning, the theme of Rodney McCoubrey’s work is “fun”—and it certainly shows. In fact, many of his works look like vivid and beautiful reinterpretations of children’s drawings.

While the San Diego resident is happy to gather materials out of dumpsters and next to roadsides in any city, he particularly loves fishing for inspiration around dumpsites in Baja California—a preference that no doubt influences his work.

8. Jane Perkins

Before starting a career in the arts, Jane Perkins was first a nurse for 17 years and then a stay-at-home mom for 10 more. It wasn’t until she started studying textiles at the Somerset College of Arts and Technology in 2006 that she realized how much she enjoyed working with recycled materials and, since 2008, she’s been working exclusively in that vein.

Like McCoubrey, Jane feels recycled art is a fun challenge. She particularly enjoys the unexpected surprises she uncovers as she takes inspiration from objects she discovers at recycling centers and junkyards. These days, though, she does a lot less foraging for objects to use in her work—once people in her neighborhood found out what she did, they started leaving bags of their unwanted junk on her doorstep.

Jane’s most famous creations are her celebrity portraits and her recreations of master artists' famous artworks, both of which often cost upwards of $3000. To create these masterpieces, Perkins starts out with a large photo of the person or artwork she will be depicting, and then she starts attaching appropriately colored objects to the image.

9. Miguel Rivera

From robots to race cars, Miguel Rivera’s creations prove that just because a hard drive has crashed doesn’t mean it is completely useless. Unsurprisingly, the artist found his inspiration in his day job as a systems administrator on an overseas U.S. Air Force base, where he came across ample broken hard drives and decided to do something with them.

His first creation was a race car made from 33 hard drives. The body was mostly one whole drive, but the wheels took eight discs a piece. As he started making more and more designs, the creations became more and more complex until he created his most detailed creation to date: the massive robot he calls his masterpiece. The robot contains 14 whole laptop hard drives, pieces from 18 other drives, and a few other spare computer parts.

While many artists stress and strain trying to create their work, the fact that Rivera is still creating his designs as a hobby ensures that it is something he continues to enjoy. “It’s my therapy after a five-day, 12-hour-shift work week,” he says.

10. Robert Bradford

Like Rivera, Robert Bradford has maintained another career the entire time he has worked as an artist. While he has always wanted to work in the art field, Robert didn’t want to have to be dependent on sales to maintain his livelihood, so he worked in the mental health industry after college. He ended up finding mental health to be fascinating as well, so even after his art career started to take off, he trained to become a psychotherapist part time.

In 2004, Bradford started using old toys to create sculptures. One of the most fascinating aspects of his work though remains his close connections with psychotherapy and the study of the mind, a theme that is reflected in his works, particularly those created with trashed toys. “There is also often talk about consumerism waste and recycling, which whilst not being my central concern is also in my view positive when it occurs,” he says.

11. Leo Sewell

While most artists working with recycled materials get into the idea later on in life, Leo Sewell grew up in a dump and was assembling pieces of trash together even as a boy. Since then, he’s actually developed and mastered his own assemblage technique involving nuts, bolts, and screws, enabling his creations to bear striking likenesses to the creatures he models them after while still allowing the bits of trash inside to be easily seen and recognized.

By culling trash from all over Philadelphia, Sewell has been able to create installations of all sizes, from a lifesize house cat to a 40-foot-tall torch. In many cases, the materials reflect the subject; for example, his boxer sculpture features a number of dog chew toys.

What do you guys think of recycled artworks like these? Are they an effective way to tell others about the importance of saving the planet? An ugly and preachy annoyance? Or something else entirely?

Art
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Apeel
New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
iStock
iStock

Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
iStock

The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios