Sustainability continues to be at the center of political, economic and social debates. As discussions heat up, so does the planet, and contemporary art has joined the debate through the recycled art movement. Whether they are politically motivated, or simply walking in Duchamp’s footsteps, these artists create inspirational and original pieces. By working with recycled materials, these artists encourage their viewers to question the sustainability and ecological impact of the artistic process. In favoring biodegradable media, their works are both beautiful and ephemeral. Artsper invites you to discover 10 of the best artists working with recycled materials.
1. Vik Muniz
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz is central to the recycled art movement. Discovered by an art dealer in New York in the mid-1980s, he specializes in reproducing masterpieces with recycled materials. His materials range from trash, to shredded magazines, wires, puzzle pieces and even dust. Muniz creates large-scale pieces, whose compositions require them to be digitally projected onto the ground from a height. The documentary “Waste Land” focuses on Muniz’s project Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro, which took place over three years in the world’s biggest wasteland.
For this project, Vik Muniz worked with “pickers” who collected waste for the artist and his recycled art projects. The pickers then assembled the pieces into sculptures, which were projected onto the floor inside a warehouse. At the end of the project, the artist sold all the photographs during an auction event, and donated the proceeds to the pickers who participated to the project.
2. Derek Gores
Floridian artist, designer and illustrator Derek Gores has become a master in the art of collage. He creates his works with shredded magazine paper, labels and other recycled materials. Gores starts by organizing his materials by color, and then creates images from them. His art, made from recycled materials, mostly depicts portraits of women or everyday life scenes inspired by the world of fashion and design. Although his works are a mosaic of various objects, they remain strikingly fluid and graceful.
3. Tim Noble and Sue Webster
British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster met in 1986, while studying fine art in Nottingham. The couple is known for their iconic “shadow sculptures,” made from recycled materials and rubbish. They then illuminate these in order to cast shadows on the walls and surrounding ground. At first sight, the piece may look like a pile of rubbish. However, once the light is cast, the shadow of the piece reveals an incredibly detailed and realistic image on the wall.
4. Guerra de la Paz
The Guerra de la Paz collective is a group of Cuban artists founded by Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz. Based in Miami, they work from unconventional materials like recycled clothing, from which they create very colorful sculptures. Their pieces are often interpretations of classic artworks, and frequently convey deeply political messages. Paz’s art questions modern consumer society, and the way we blindly use and discard objects that are still in good condition, such as clothes.
5. Nik Gentry
Nick Gentry is a London-based artist whose signature device is to recycle used floppy discs (the ancestor of the USB drive), on which he paints astonishingly futuristic portraits. His work is influenced by the development of consumerism, technology and cyber culture in our society. Gentry also uses used film rolls, VHS disks, and x-rays, which he skillfully integrates into his portraits.
6. Wim Delvoye
Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is famed for his transformation of used objects into spectacular artworks. For his series on tires, Delvoye carved delicate floral and organic patterns into different tires. Although the tires kept their original circular shape, the result looked like it was made from cast metal or carved wood. Delvoye also uses metal, steel caps, or even dump trucks to turn his works into precious lace-like shells.
7. Khalil Chishtee
Creating life-size sculptures out of recycled plastic bags is Pakistani artist Khalil Chishtee’s specialty. For the artist, this material is a metaphor for “recycling our identity” and a way to face the obstacles in our lives. Chishtee’s work also questions the idea of value in fine art, where bronze, wood or stone are more highly regarded due to their historical context.
8. Subodh Gupta
Indian artist Subodh Gupta lives and works in New Delhi, making large-scale sculptures from everyday materials. He chooses objects that are particularly significant in Indian culture, and then recycles them by adding them in his installations. Gupta’s art is therefore deeply rooted in Indian culture, a culture that is rapidly changing due to globalization. The objects he uses for his work already have a story, but Gupta adds another layer of meaning when he integrates them into his pieces.
9. Ptolemy Elrington
“I come across many things which have been abandoned and find something more in them than their intrinsic worthlessness.” Ptolemy Elrington is an artist based in the coastal city of Brighton, and his sculptures explore the damage caused by unsustainable resources. In using found objects from manufactured products, such as shopping trolleys or car hub caps, Erlington opens up a vital dialogue about the impact of waste on our environment.
10. Yuken Teruya
Japanese artist Yuken Teruya also explores the dangerous lengths of our rampant consumerist habits. Through his recycled art project, he transforms some of the biggest names in capitalism into mystical forests. Teruya uses the ancient Japanese art of Kirigami, a variation of origami which consists of cutting paper instead of simply folding it. His work is included in the permanent collections of some of the world’s most prestigious museums including the MoMA and The Guggenheim in New York, the Charles Saatchi Collection in London and the Mori Art Museum in Japan.