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Recycled Materials Art at the 2011 ArtFest in The Distillery District of Toronto, Sept 2-5
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ArtFest at The Distillery District in Toronto, Sept 2011, Artists and live music filled The Distillery District this past Labour Day weekend for ArtFest. This time around, the usual stable of oil painters and sculptors were accompanied by a diverse group of craftspeople who create art from recycled materials.

Shoppers and tourists and dental clinic patients venturing forth from the Toronto dentist and doctors in nearby health centers found it difficult to ignore the stories told by these curious art pieces. In true artistic fashion, the displays were more than the sum of their parts. Some were made from junk and everyday materials, but one thing was clear throughout the event: Despite the recycled materials, there was no recycling of ideas going on.

These artists are not afraid to repurpose everyday glass and metal in their displays. These materials seemed to be the building blocks of about half of the pieces, though most artists couldn't resist adding their own unique touches like shreds of printed paper and fragments of brass. In some corners of the festival, art made from furnace pipes and insulators stood defiantly under the summer sun, while pieces containing old transistor tubes electrified onlookers.

SHOWCASING RECYCLED MATERIALS AT ARTFEST

recycled materials compose whimical garden art by Catie RaymondAppearing above is Catie Raymond of Whimsical Garden Art. She has enjoyed great success filling the homes of wealthy Muskoka cottage owners with her artwork. Her focus on incorporating recycled, reclaimed and reused possessions intrigues customers and helps preserve Ontario's outdoors.

Artists like Catie were abundant at ArtFest, and their focus on recycled building materials set the event apart from many other art festivals in Toronto. The romantic notion of an artist starting with a blank canvas or amorphous clay doesn't apply here--these people are creating art from material with preexisting stories and connotations.

There's no doubt some artists are stepping outside of their comfort zone when they decide to incorporate recycled material into their art. After all, they are using materials that could undermine the intended harmony of their piece.

But there are also some artists (and viewers) who will find relief through using recycled material.  They weld stainless steel ice cube trays onto furnace pipes and all manner of exotic marriages to give the new object d'art a more complicated meaning.  These are the artists who are wary of the idea of an "Author-God," who believe that the interpretive value of a piece extends way beyond what its creator "intended."

In the end, these recycled components serve to anchor the pieces in a social context--one that is more open, participatory, and arguably more accessible than other forms of contemporary art.

Christian Aldo: turning everyday denim into stunning bas-relief,

fine art, paintings made from recycled denim jeans, painted , gluedChristian Aldo's mastery of sculpture and painting make it difficult to notice the amount of denim in his work. The denim gives his bas-relief art an extra dimension of texture and cultural connotations. Christian draws his inspiration from eroticism and his artwork is unrestrained as a result.

Scott makes art from stainless steel and bronze material Scott McKay enjoys forging connections between objects by welding them together. An experienced arc-welder, he creates his artwork by working with all manner of steel and a bit of bronze. He's influenced by the blacksmithing tradition, and operates the Strong Arm Forge in Newbury, Ontario.

One piece that caught my eye was his conglomeration of wrought iron and rusted red-orange metal. These aged materials would be easy to overlook in an industrial setting, but Scott's distinct arrangement gave the piece unexpected warmth and vibrancy.

Leather phoenix

artFest metal horse sculpture, west rock metal artArtist Ruta Wilson gave leather new life in her metal horse sculpture. Affectionately named Casey, the sculpture is made entirely from reclaimed materials including wrenches and barrel hoops.

Ruta's choice of materials give the sculpture the illusion of dynamism, despite the fact that it's completely static. The taut leather resembles strained muscles and the tail blows freely in the wind.

Casey is but one of Ruta's many metallic creature sculptures. More of her work can be found at West Rock Art Metal.

steet scene wooden houses, recycled materials, brass fittings, drawer pulls, Mylene Trepanier Myelene Trepanier's artwork hits a little bit closer to home—literally. She spends her time filling wooden frames with cute scenes of suburban life.

Myelene likes to pay tribute to existing homes by using metal appliques from furniture, doors and handles. Her artwork presents streetscapes in an animated light, while the empty space in each frame begs us to reinterpret our own neighbourhoods.


recycled material in street scene woodcut painting by Mylene TrepanierInterestingly, Myelene is not from Ontario and made the trek all the way from Piedmont, Quebec. More of her work can be found on http://www.creationsdoctobre.com

If you've ever had a friend who questions the "usefulness" of art, tell them to think again. On a practical level, recycled materials art is part of a trend called upcycling that aims to give old products new value.


Coined in 1994, upcycling aims to create objects with greater quality and functionality than their original product. The term is relatively new to our lexicon, but the ethos has been around for ages and can be found everywhere from the lean manufacturing practices in factories to the conservationism of the displays at this year's ArtFest.

In this sense, a great deal of the artwork at ArtFest was functional art. When I think about it, even the location of ArtFest was brilliant. After all, it's a venue that has repurposed aging industrial building to hold events like these.

The amount of recycled materials art was impressive, to say the least. And the pieces themselves were impressive, too. These artists really enriched my experience by triggering associations through simple objects like used tires and scrap metal.