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10 Artworks to Get You Obsessed with Recycled Art

“…uses newspaper print to create lifelike animal sculptures. From walrus and hares to iguanas her sculptures can take up to three months to create.”

The words recycled art might conjure up mental images of school art projects; made from milk cartons and wonky hot glue guns or you might picture the sweet but alas a little tacky tin can aeroplanes of your local crafters market. What you might not immediately imagine is gallery worthy fine art. No I am not kidding; recycling and fine art certainly belong in the same sentence and the same room. But before I get into that, I am going to touch on why this topic excites me so much.

It has been a welcome relief to see the recent surges of interest in acknowledging and tackling climate change and environmental disrepair. As a long time nature lover I have often wondered what makes people cringe when environmental advocacy is discussed. I posted on my Instagram about being an animal lover and had 6 of my 600 followers- 1% unfollow me in a matter of minutes. And whilst I have never been one for social media numbers, I was honestly quite surprised. Did those people think I was climbing up the ladder of my soap box at a mere mention of animals? Or are some of us trying that hard to hide from our own shame of not doing more, that we can’t tolerate someone else sharing love? I am not sure -but I do know whether we like to acknowledge it or not is we belong to Mother Earth and we all have a responsibility to start caring for her. Which brings me back to art- how do we motivate each other to change poor habits, how do we raise awareness without the soapbox and how do we inspire people that cool things can be done and created with what we already have? Well apart from saying a quiet thank goodness for David Attenborough amongst other people, there are lots of things we can do. When it comes to art, I have already written a blog post about sourcing ethical art materials (that you can read here) but we can also look at arts role in playfully advocating and creating inspiration for meaningful change.

Art inherently communicates through symbolism, composition, context and materials. Art evokes feeling and it can initiate thought and reflection. In a noisy world where many of us feel overwhelmed, art can be the perfect spokesperson in a curious and unobtrusive manner. I do wonder if visual mediums, such as art, feel less intrusive because we can assess them fairly quickly, they are passively presented (unless you are at an artist talk) and their is a shared understanding that art is subjective, meaning we are free to share or disregard the opinion and perspective of the artist. They are also creative; so often spark wonder, surprise and awe which can play a big part in motivation.

So with that in mind and without too much further discussion I am going to take you through my favourite 10 recycled art pieces and artists  to hopefully inspire you, amuse you and give you hope.

  1. Newspaper

Chie Hitotsuyama is a Japanese artist who uses newspaper print to create lifelike animal sculptures. From walrus and hares to iguanas her sculptures can take up to three months to create. Hitotsuyama is interested in the shared fragility of the newspaper and the natural world. Find more of her beautiful artworks here. 

Recycled art newspaper walrus
Image by Ayako Hoshino
  1. Cardboard

Continuing on the paper theme for a moment is artist James lake. Like Chie, he builds largescale sculptures, except this time they are human form and out of our biggest transport material- cardboard.  James work often communicates themes around technology and social struggle and can be viewed further on his website.

Cardboard art by James Lake

  1. Thongs

They might be everyone’s favourite summer footwear but the flip flop, becomes a serious landfill and ocean risk once discarded. And if you thought they were just an Australian love, flip-flops or as we love to call them-thongs can be spotted worldwide. Kenyan company The FlipFlop Recycling Company makes recycled art from washed up flip flops including this hippo from artist John Kinywa. Watch how they are created here.

Flip Flop Hippo
Photo by Borgen Magazine
  1. Plastic bags

There is no missing the environmental impact of plastic bags. Nor is there any missing of Will Kurtz giant dog sculptures made out of plastic bags and duct tape.  Especially when they are on the streets of New York! Perhaps our favourite animals can help remind us of the importance of curbing our plastic addiction. If your not in New York, see more of his work here. 

Recycled Art Plastic Bags
Photo by Alexandre Ayer
  1. Bottle Lids

I wonder how many bottle lids we would go through in a lifetime? Someone who might have an educated guess is installation and recycled art artist Alison McDonald, she certainly makes her large scale art with impact. Her artwork flow has been reinstalled in several locations, literally flowing into different environments including Bondi’s Sculpture by the Sea. To read more about the project visit her website. 

Flow by Alison McDonald
Photo by Alison McDonald
  1. Ocean plastics

When it comes to artist highlighting ocean trash, one of my favourites is Mexican artist Alejandro Durán. Creating artwork since 2010 to highlight ocean trash and oil spills, his artworks are direct but captivating. Check out more of his works here.

Marine Plastic artwork
Photo Alejandro Duran
  1. Clothing

Guerra de la Paz is a collective of Cuban artists founded by Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz. These guys have some amazing organising and colour profiling skills. Taking their inspiration from famous artworks they are focused on bringing conversations to the gallery about our clothes consumption. You can view some of their incredible artwork and recycled art on the artworks for change website.


Scultpure by Guerra de la paz
Photo by Guerra de la paz
  1. Floppy disks

Hopefully most of my readers know what a floppy disc is still, Although I can’t remember the last time i saw one until researching Nik Gentry. If you enjoy portraiture and illusion, then you will love Nik’s work. The added bonus is he repurposes a lot of Floppy disks. Painting on the disks with oil paint, Nik creates an interesting dialogue between traditional painting craft and dead technology. Check out his artwork here. 

Recycled art Floppy disks
Photo by Wall Street International Magazine
  1. Toys

If you wonder where the toys of the world end up, you wouldn’t be alone. Whilst most end up in attics and storage before eventually at the landfill or recycling depot, there are a lucky few that make it into the hands of Robert Brandford. Joining many artists who transform waste objects into animal sculptures his artworks are bright, mechanical and thought evoking. Is our natural world the long lost stimulation that children need?

Robert Bradford toy artwork
Photo Robert Bradford
  1. Straws and single use plastics

Whilst it seems plastic straws are finally on the endangered list in some countries others are still trying to cope with the environmental back log. Von Won’s installation is made from 168, 000 plastic straws. Shockingly Von says he could have easily purchased the materials for his sculpture, with a price tag of $10 per 10,000 straws. Yes ten thousand. Working with Zero Waste Saigon, all the materials were collected from the streets of Vietnam. He has some other incredible artworks you can check out here. 

Recycled Straw Sculpture
Photograph Van Wong
  1. Match Head

I thought i would finish with the least thought of recycled art material! Match heads. Scottish artist David Mach uses a range of recycled materials in his artworks with some of the most detailed made from match heads. Coupled with the unusual material is the play on fine art as David copies the head of old roman sculptures.

match stick head sculpture
Photo David Mach

Not had your fix of recycled art yet? you can check out another list of recycled artworks here or on the artling blog.

Do you know of any other artists or do you have a favourite artist? Let me know in the comments below.