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Miguel Rivera

11 Artists Doing Amazing Things With Recycled Materials

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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?

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Gramercy Pictures
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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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