I get called a recycle artist. I am not offended; they are expressing the spirit of what I do. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse taught me that there is a continuum of waste reduction. First and best is reduce – stop consuming/buying so much. Second best is to reuse. If you need a glass jar, chances are you just emptied one, can you reuse what you have? Third is recycle. Recycling is a solution, but it is a process. Collect the glass jars, melt the glass jars, make new – well - glass jars... All of these steps consume resources.
I am a reuse artist. I admire the reuse art where you can see the materials. I am thinking of the murals comprised of saved bottle caps. These works are amazing and inspiring. However, I wanted to make art that the average person would want hang in their home. Fine art marries reuse.
I went to Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse to brainstorm substrates for my art. My first breakthrough was purchasing out-of-style artwork and affixing my artwork on top. I have photos of two of those pieces. The 'Carolina Wren' is on a piece that was originally from Bed Bath & Beyond. The Bees Balm flowers were applied to an old, faded photograph.
These pieces were successfully executed and even better - they SOLD. People were willing to buy my unconventional presentation.
Reduce, check – I was not purchasing new framing materials.
Reuse, also check. I was a very happy reuser.
There was however the challenge of finding the sizes and shapes that I needed. Back to the brainstorm!
February 16th, 2022
The Quest to go Unframed, Part ll
I was attending a workshop by the fabulous Pittsburgh-based artist Peggi Habets. At one point, she introduced some of her work. I was intrigued by a small piece in a plastic sleeve, which she explained was attached to a piece of foam core. The rest of the class did not seem to pay much attention, but I wanted to know more. During a break I asked about the process. She told me that she used a spray vanish first, to keep the watercolor from bleeding, then followed with a cold wax.
Yes! The varnish and wax could replace the glass.
As a budding artist, I was afraid to try submitting my work for exhibit on foamcore, because I feared it would get rejected. I adapted her idea and attached a painting to a cradled wooden panel. It worked so well! The look was clean and modern, and there was no glass between the work and the viewer. I was extremely pleased with the results.
Fueled by this success, I realized that I was not going to get the answers from someone else. Trailblazers don't have maps to follow – they blaze the trail. There were other things I wanted to accomplish by pushing my medium. So I started my own experiments.
The Quest to go Unframed
As a brand new, seeking to exhibit, artist I hated framing. Getting it done professionally, was not feasible. The expense would have put my pricing way out of league for work from a budding artist. So, I taught myself to cut mats, I purchased the most affordable frames off the shelf and matted my paintings to fit. This worked out as an affordable option and made my work ready to hang for galleries.
I would frame for a gallery show, which meant white mat and black frame. The simplicity of these recommendations were in line with my aesthetic. I like the art to take the stage and not the framing. However, the austere choices might turn off some buyers. In fact, sometimes purchasers will discard the framing supplied and get it re-framed on their own. Of course, it is important to have art displayed in the manner you choose, but I was troubled by the waste.
For the first time, I questioned the soundness of my medium. Acrylic and oil painters could paint on many, many substrates; seal their work and exhibit or sell it. Framing is an option for these mediums not a requirement. And of course, acrylic and oil paintings do not need to be behind glass.
Surely there is a solution. I started asking at art supply stores. Not former art stores turned home decor, I mean art stores selling professional materials and clerks who are probably actual artists themselves. And the answer was no. Too chancy, it won't work.
I went about my business and framed and matted like a good little artist, but the question remained, isn't there a better way?
And then one day there was...
I am so excited by the response to my first blog post. Many of you are anxious to know about my Eco-friendly ideas. You may see for yourselves at Shaler North Hills Library. I currently have 30 pieces in their gallery, more than half are utilizing my new technique. Be sure to check out my Artist Statement to learn the details. The show runs through Feb 26. www.shalerlibrary.org/
I will also participate in the “Love is Everywhere!” pop up at Ketchup City Creative on February 11 and 12. I am working feverishly to have more Eco-friendly work ready for that event! I am experimenting with some BIG pieces as well as my usual small and medium sized works. I'll be there in person for this event. www.ketchupcity.com/
If you can't make it – don't worry all will be revealed here as well - in due time. ;-)
Melissa Tai is a lifelong creative, nature lover & tree hugger.