We’d all like to decorate our walls with Picassos and Warhols but great art comes with even greater price tags. But that doesn’t mean having to settle for trappings from TK Maxx either. Your next work of art might be sitting right in front of you. Whether it’s an old dresser gathering dust in the garage, or a mess of bottle caps collecting at the bottom of your bin, materials that can be turned into something fabulously decorative are everywhere. With each person in the UK generating 264 kg of waste per year that isn’t recycled, according to DEFRA, there should be plenty of ‘junk’ to choose from. And if you don’t feel you’re the artistic type, there’s no need to panic. These simple and sustainable projects don’t require an art degree, but are sure to impress.
From magazines to catalogues, we all battle to get the mail out of our post boxes at times. Once you’ve read your favourite publication, immortalise it forever with some scissors, varnish and creativity. ‘The idea of cutting out bits of paper and sticking it to something else is sort of a simple and beautiful one,’ says Carol Vigurs, co-owner of Nova and Lorsten Decoupage. ‘It doesn’t need special equipment or training. So you can pick it up and have good results really quickly.’ Decoupage has suffered from a twee reputation in the past, she says, bringing to mind cherubs and smiling children. But innovative eco-artists like Vigurs have taken the art form to new levels. ‘Decoupage doesn’t have to be twee, it can be punchy; it can be punk; it can be fun, lively and culturally relevant – it’s up to you.’
Vigurs pastes colourful prints onto furniture sourced from fairs and flea markets, and then coats the pieces with resin for a lasting finish. Whether it’s a favourite comic strip, tickets from a gig or leftover wallpaper, each design can make a statement about you and your life. ‘I just liked the idea of getting something that nobody wanted anymore that was lonely and sitting there, and all it needed was a bit of love and it’s back into use again,’ she says. If you are still too timid to try on your own, head over to A Glamorous Affair Craft and Vintage Market on February 18th from 12-5pm, and see Vigurs’ work firsthand for some inspiration. And if you’re ready to take the plunge, Vigurs recommends the The Dover Bookshop in London’s Soho, which has an abundance of royalty and copyright free images for purchase, and the Deptford Flea Market, where you can find great furniture to decorate.
In addition to furniture, Nova and Lorsten has developed a recycled jewellery line using bottle caps, after Vigurs noticed how many were thrown away when she worked as a bartender. Most of us don’t need an excuse to pour a pint after work, but with a little creativity you can turn your love of beer into an art project. And if resin isn’t your thing, bottle caps – with their unique colours and logos – are ideal for murals as well. Artists such as Molly Right have already caught on, creating stunning celebrity portraits that go for £12,000 a piece. And while you might not be ready to tackle a project that big, you can easily make a one-of-a-kind mini mural for your wall. As colourful and as often discarded, plastic caps and tops are fair game as well. And if wine is your drink of choice, use the corks to create a bulletin board. ‘In addition to being de-skilled I think people have perhaps gotten a bit shy about play,’ Vigurs says. ‘And I think creativity is very much about play. You can’t get it wrong, so have a go.’
Paul Iliffe is the founder of NDI Gallery, a website the showcases the work of recycled artists from around the world. ‘I've always been in awe of those artists who can transform everyday junk into objects of beauty,’ says Iliffe. ‘I think they send a terrific message to others about caring in a different way about the environment. One of our artists has a mantra we love - he talks about “cleaning up the world one sculpture at a time.” That's a mission we would want to adhere to.’
Artists featured on the site work with everything from corrugated boxes to recycled car parts, sculpting and shaping works of art with such reclaimed materials. One NDI artist, Robert Bradford, uses discarded toys to masterfully craft quirky sculptures with personality and a touch of nostalgia. The idea came to him after he saw boxes of his children’s discarded toys in his studio and was struck by the variations in size, shape and colour. ‘I like the fact that people have used them before,’ he says. ‘I think it does add some kind of depth to the thing. That people have touched them, people have used them, people have loved them, people have memories attached to them.’ Though his initial interest in using reclaimed materials for his art was financially motivated, Bradford does like the idea of transforming rubbish into something more interesting. ‘Sometimes when I’m in a big shopping centre I have feelings of nausea really about consumption in general,’ he says. ‘I think many people are hooked on buying things, which really isn’t useful either to the environment or to the individual really.’
Bradford will be showcasing his work at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea, March 15th to 18th. Over the next three months Iliffe plans to launch a revamped NDI Gallery website that will feature more artists like Bradford. ‘Our parents and grandparents put a lot more value on finding new uses for discarded or old objects than we do,’ he says. ‘Maybe it was an effect of the wars or simply they harboured more respect for one's material belongings. If through beauty and art we can inspire people every day to think about giving their junk a second life, I think the world and the environment will benefit greatly.’
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