CLOSE
Original image
Miguel Rivera

11 Artists Doing Amazing Things With Recycled Materials

Original image
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?

arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

arrow
language
6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
Original image
Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios