Many of today's artists are thinking green when they're working on
a new piece. But that doesn't mean art stores are suddenly going to run out
of green paint. These artists are striving to use reused materials in their
work, and many are looking at environmental themes in their art. They're concerned
about their environmental impact and finding ways to express those thoughts
-- without hurting the planet in the process.
For some artists, this awareness isn't just a trend. The Woodpile Collective
is a group of artists who work together. They have been conscious of their
impact on the environment for quite some time.
"We try to decipher between useful eco-practice and the new eco-hype,
and apply what we can in our daily rituals to lessen our negative effect,"
says Woodpile member Shawn O'Keefe.
"We have always used recycled materials, whether it's found wood, old house
paint or paper, and enjoy the character and aesthetic of materials with history.
Recycled materials make up a large part of our work and we're fortunate in
that it enhances the work, in our eyes."
Juanita Canzoneri is a Colorado Springs, Colorado, artist who creates mosaic
artwork, among other projects.
"In traditional mosaic work, the artist/artisan uses blocks of colored
materials -- marble/stone, tile, colored glass, etc." she says. "Using or
reusing cast-off glass -- auto glass, storm doors and windows, shower doors,
window panes, etc -- and other materials such as newspaper circulars, magazines,
catalogs and other junk mail has allowed me to stretch my color and texture
palettes as well as my artistic vocabulary.
"The other form of re-purposed material work I do is to create functional
or sculptural items out of old video and audio cassettes using forms of fiber
art usually reserved for yarn and other conventional fibers," she says.
Reusing material not only helps lessen the environmental impact of art,
but it can also open doors to new ideas. Stefan Thompson is an artist who
is known for his creative and environmentally friendly techniques.
"I do things like make my own pigments rather than buying them," he says.
"That way I know exactly where they come from and that I'm not supporting
the mining industry. My main medium this winter has been crayon and paper
collage. The crayons I use are beeswax-based with non-toxic organic pigments,
by a company called Stockmar, and there is always lots of paper that I can
recycle into the illustrations.
"I do miniature relief carving with layers of wax," he continues. "This
is something I would never have discovered had I kept on with my conventional
paints. I just had faith that there would be a green way of making art, and
so there is. I think that's the main challenge -- just believing you can do
"I've also done lots of fabric sewing onto canvas. Using colored recycled
fabric opens up a whole palette of colors. I've also experimented with fabric
collage, wood burning, fabric mache, and learning to mix my own acrylics and
oil paints that are totally non-toxic."
What about the themes they explore with their art? Well, that actually
hasn't changed a whole lot. Many artists have always thought about the world
around them, so it's hard to say this is a trend.
"We don't really set out to tackle themes or channel the viewer by intentionally
taking them to a planned destination point," says O'Keefe.
"We have a genuine love for the land that surrounds us and its history.
I think that within this common thought you see a re-occurring theme throughout
our work. Whether we create an imagined moment from the past or a prophetic
narrative of a dark future, the environment and its state is apparent."
And while it's great that people are making art with green materials, one
does wonder: are people buying green-themed art? Thompson answers quickly
when asked that question.
"Yes," he says. "I have to say that my art is not as brightly colored as
what I used to paint, but people are still buying it. I'm very lucky for that.
And to some, I think the process is important -- sort of like buying organic
"It certainly can making the art more appealing, as it's always a great
additional selling point to be able to say that your materials come from a
responsible place," says the Woodpile Collective's Sean McLaughlin.
"Would potential buyers pay twice as much for work made from green materials?
I think for the right kind of art lover, yes... but for the average one, likely
not. It's still always going to be about the art itself and how it connects
to the viewer visually."
In addition to her work as an artist, O'Keefe is also one of those customers.
She has bought some of Thompson's art. "[Thompson's] work is beautiful and
we have all bought pieces for our collections," says O'Keefe. "I don't know
to what extent his noble pursuit helped solidify the sale or will further
his career, but we think it's cool."
With the advent of artists wanting to use recycled or more environmentally
sound materials, will there be new possibilities for careers in art? Thompson
says he hasn't noticed that happening yet, but he's optimistic.
"This industry is largely untapped, mostly because I think it is still
a low priority amongst consumers, but as time goes by I think more and more
people will demand it. Certainly I think many would make the change if they
knew there was a choice, and it was easier."
"Art creates discussion," says McLaughlin, "so, naturally, if people are
willing and wanting to have a dialogue pertaining to environmental issues,
then work that stimulates that is going to find a market.
"Of course it's easy to be heavy-handed with that... not everyone wants
a painting of a garbage truck dumping its load on a bird's nest on their living-room
wall. I think the best work is subtle enough to cast a shadow in several directions
depending on the viewer's experiences."
So where does all this talk of changing supplies and exploring green themes
leave the future of art?
"I have no idea," admits Thompson. "But art being one of the things people
do, it should be investigated with this new understanding of our place in
the world. I don't think it makes much sense to try and create something beautiful
while polluting the planet that bore us and allows us to create art."
Green Art Guide
A collection of eco-friendly artists' sites
An eco-friendly paint company
Environmental Art Museum
An online collection
An artists' collective with a strong focus on environmental issues