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6 Artists Reconnecting with Nature to Create Art from Waste

Turning trash into treasure. A growing number of artists focus on using materials that may otherwise have littered the landscape, been burned, left to rot in a landfill site, or swept into the ocean to create their art. Today, we’ll be shining a light on some of the incredible artists who use discarded items to create beautiful works of art.

1. Barefooted Welder

This Australian scrap metal artist spends most of his time outdoors, searching the landfills and hills of his native country in search of materials. His art is rugged and groundbreaking, bringing a wild sense of grit to a sustainable art form. Over the last 7 years, the Barefooted Welder has collected more than 7 tonnes of scrap metal, from copper and steel to aluminum while walking barefoot across the landscape and turned it into realistic sculptures.

2. Beverly Barkat

Struck by a distressing image of children scavenging for food and materials, this Jerusalem-based artist decided to give new life to the materials she found. She casts bits of plastic waste in clear epoxy resin, giving each piece a stained glass effect for work that is set to appear in the World Trade Center. This idea may have come from her experience as a glassblower, and it takes each item from a plastic bag or water bottle to something luxurious. Barkat doesn’t try to hide what all this waste once was, however – leaving an “unfinished” side so people can see the ugly truth about plastic waste.

3. Robert Bradford

Based in Kent, England, this artist creates sculptures out of discarded children’s toys, pegs, combs, and buttons. Some of his large statues contain bits from as many as 3,000 toys that otherwise would have been destined for the landfill. His artwork is collected by museums and galleries all over the world, and he now does commissions in which he uses pieces of clients’ old toys to turn them into unique pieces.

4. Hamdi Çınar

This Turkish artist looks to emphasize the potential of discarded material when it comes to making art. He believes that our biggest fault is over-consumption and notes that when we look around, everything turns into waste these days. His art is primarily made of discarded wood and metal objects which he turns into sculptures and wall art.

5. Erika Iris Simmons

Self-taught artists often have a hard time breaking into the art world, but Simmons is having no trouble forging a path for herself. Using old cassette tapes, she creates uncanny portraits of various celebrities, but her limits don’t lie there. Almost all of the materials she works with have been donated or discarded, from music manuscript sheets to money and wine labels. She has created pieces for Hermès, The Grammys, and collaborated with Bruno Mars.

6. Messy Msxi

Born in Singapore and trained in London, Messy Msxi won the Most Inspiring Award by the Singapore Women’s Weekly in 2013. Three years later, she was invited by the Singapore Art Museum to be part of Imaginarium: Under the Water, Over the Sea. For this project, Messy Msxi recreated the Pacific Garbage Patch, simulating the experience of being inside a ‘plastic pool.’ This project alone was exhausting, requiring her to collect, clean, and organize 26,000 pieces of discarded plastic.

These are just some of the incredible artists across the globe who dedicate their entire careers to collecting pieces of items that would likely have ended up in our waters or landfills. For many of these items, reusing materials isn’t just about creating art from free materials; it’s about producing a symbol of hope and optimism, and to remind people that they can make a difference in their daily lives.