75.3″ x 32.2″ Latex Interior Paint, Acrylic on Leather, Pleather and Couch Frame
We have all heard the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and for many of us this is a motto that we live by, though it is easy to forget because we become so focused on what is convenient, and not what is good for the environment. As an artist and a resident of a large condo building in Toronto, Canada, I have always been amazed and at the same time disgusted by the amount of waste that we produce and cart down to the refuse room for disposal. Now this isn’t just my building, so I am not picking on anyone. It is everywhere and we are all responsible. I can easily take a quick look around my condo and find a lot of items that are use once, then dispose of. Most of these “disposable” items and containers are petroleum based products, non-biodegradable and will be around forever. Sure some of this does get recycled, though recycling still produces carbons and isn’t the greatest alternative to reusing and reducing.
The mindset that we can just throw anything out because it is disposable has grown. It has grown so much that we now purchase furniture that will be discarded after a few years because it is falling apart or our styles have changed. If you are of a younger vintage, I am sure you have had a piece of this furniture when you were a student which probably ended up on the curb when you moved because it broke into a hundred pieces. All those pieces of processed particle board, wood and plastic are likely now in a landfill.
As an artist I am always looking for creative ways to express what I am feeling or have my work reflect the environment that surrounds me. I have been guilty in the past of purchasing those pre-stretched canvases, and yes it was because they are convenient. They are also made out of raw materials and come shrink wrapped in a layer of plastic. It was then, when I was taking my newly purchased waste down to the refuse room, where I realized that there is a ton of waste available to be reclaimed and turned into art. Not just art that hangs on a wall with a back-story about someone’s emotions or surroundings, but art that has a message. We need to stop producing so much waste.
I never considered myself to be an environmentalist or dumpster diver, but going through piles of discarded household items, like chairs, couches, tables and dressers, I sure felt like one. The first day of my adventure just so happened to be the same day that the refuse shoot in my building was under maintenance, so traffic in the garbage room was way above average. Some people were receptive about me and my little mission, though a lot of people didn’t give me the chance to explain, avoided me like the plague, giving me a wide birth as they passed. Nonetheless, I found an item that I deemed useful; a broken, pleather/leather couch.
After removing a part of the frame that was of the closest resemblance of a frame for a canvas, I removed all of the leather and pleather that I can salvage and use as a canvas. I then had the task of removing all of the staples from the frame. There must have been around five hundred. Unfortunately most of them broke and were not salvageable.
The next step was to lay out all of the material and start sewing the pieces together. Once this was completed, I was able to stretch my new canvas and staple it to my new frame.
Now to find some paint. Cans of paint are one of the items that my building collects for proper disposal and there is a ton of it. I was pretty happy with the quality of the paint. I was however limited by the number of available colours. Not too many people paint their walls with the vibrant colours that I am used to working with and certainly not black.
Working with paint with a high viscosity posed to be a bit of a challenge as well as painting on a surface that required a lot of priming. I decided to paint on the backside of the material, because I felt that the paint wouldn’t stick well to the finished presentation of the couches material. Seeing as I am not a seamstrice, there were another of crevasses that needed to be filled with multiple layers of paint. The crevasses were also caused by the nine irregular shaped pieces of pleather and leather that was sewn together and stretched over the frame. Both of these material stretched differently, though I was happy with the end result that gives the artwork natural breaks and character.
The end result is something that I am truly proud of. Not saying that I am not proud of my other work I have created with materials of their manufactured purpose. It is the feeling that you get when you create something from scratch, mixed with the feeling that you have prevented the materials that you worked with from ending up in a landfill. Though the amount of material I reclaimed is a small percentage of the waste that is not, I feel that my work will help make people stop and think about the amount of waste they produce. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.