Almost daily we hear about better ways of going “green” and it appears that the trend to be environmentally friendly has hit the art world to. Artists are now beginning to find a new medium to work with: recycled objects. Their inspirations are drawn from a wide variety of subject matter, such as classical imagery, models, ideals, or simply finding an aesthetic way to display “trash.”
Vollis Simpson, 91, is a self-taught artist who makes sculptures out of steel and aluminum. His sculptures, windmills, andwhirligigs are constructed of old fans, washing machine parts, or whatever he finds in the junkyard. However, Simpson has only recently become a full time artist.
Simpson was one of twelve children and began to fix things at an early age. He built his first windmill while active in the military during World War II to power a large washing machine for soldiers’ clothing. After he returned home from the war, he went in to the equipment repair business until his retirement in the 1980s when he began to create whirligigs and he rose in the art world.
In 1996, Simpson was asked to display one of his pieces at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Since then, people from across the nation have begun to travel to his home in Lucama, North Carolina to see his garden that includes over twenty whirligigs, some even soaring up to fifty feet tall. Additionally, he does not sell his work to stores but if you visit his garden he has created smaller whiligigs that range from under a foot to about five feet tall that can be purchased.
Opening in early May, the New Britain Museum of American Art’s New/Now Exhibiton Series will feature the work of Elana Herzog. Her art is constructed by mounting found textiles and other household fabrics to the wall using thousands of metal staples. Herzog then proceeds to tare down some of her pieces, leaving holes and the evidence that fabric once hung in that spot.
Herzog admires artists, such as Frank Stella, whose work was largely influenced by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Sol LeWitt (the late genius of contemporary conceptual art), and Mark Rothko. However Herzog is unique as her materials are often cheap, tacky, or discarded household items and fabric. Furthermore, her interest in the history, labor, industrialization, and technology as demonstrated by the change in the textile industry is evident within her work. She describes her work:
My work negotiates a thin line between attraction and repulsion, pain and pleasure, vulgar and sublime. I am fascinated by the way form is generated by growth and decay, construction and destruction. My work has a relationship to Modernism which is both reverent and irreverent…To the extent that I operate from a position of alienation, my relationship to both high and low culture remains vicarious..”
These artists are able to take our broken or unwanted things and recreate them into beautiful objects to admire. In the case of Vollis Simpson’s windmills, something discarded transforms into a treasure that is not only beautiful but useful as well. Perhaps, next time you are throwing something away maybe you should think about giving it to an artist?
What do you think about this recycled art? Does the medium make it automatically less “art” than original oil paintings? Or are they more creative, since the artists turn one product into another?