In a city overflowing with lost and discarded items, New York City’s sustainable artists find beauty and meaning in what most people consider trash. These artists create innovative art using found objects, turning the effects of overconsumption and waste on their heads and shining a light on our ecosystem’s imbalance. This article introduces five of these talented artists and their extraordinary work.
Duke Riley breathes new life into discarded plastics by creating modern-day “Sailor Valentines,” intricate shell mosaics traditionally given by sailors to their loved ones. Using colorful plastic pieces like tampon applicators and Bic lighters, Riley’s mosaics serve as a stark reminder of single-use plastics’ environmental impact. His work is currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum in an exhibit titled “DEATH TO THE LIVING, Long Live Trash.” Riley also creates scrimshaw art, replacing traditional bone or ivory with found plastics and highlighting environmental disasters or plastic company executives instead of traditional maritime scenes.
Mixed media artist Annalisa Iadiccio repurposes rusty nails, corrugated metals, car bumpers, and other discarded materials to create her art. With a background in photography, Iadiccio’s journey led her to create installations using objects found in the streets, dumpsters, and Materials for the Arts, a creative reuse center in New York City. Her work often explores societal issues, such as her installation “2 Amendment,” inspired by the Sandy Hook School shooting. Iadiccio also founded the non-profit organization Blue Bus Project, which brings art-related activities to public spaces throughout the city using a refurbished blue school bus.
Using discarded MetroCards, East Village resident Thomas McKean creates mosaics and 3D sculptures of buildings, taxis, birds, flowers, and more. Fascinated by the MetroCard’s aesthetic and varying colors, McKean cuts the cards into pieces and repurposes them into unique and eye-catching art. McKean also incorporates lost gloves and pieces of trash in his artwork, reflecting on society’s wastefulness and the potential for beauty in discarded items.
Visual artist Lina Puerta creates stunning works using repurposed materials found throughout her daily life. Sourcing materials from the city’s streets and creative reuse centers like Materials for the Arts, Puerta’s work includes “Mother(er),” a quilt composed of discarded food nets, recycled fabrics, indigenous Guambiano belts, worn T-shirts, fake fur, shells from necklaces, and repurposed buttons. New York City plays a vital role in inspiring Puerta’s art, as she is continually motivated by the city’s creative minds, culture, and open-minded citizens.
Joan Huggard (Citybitz)
Joan Huggard believes that “nothing’s garbage,” even paint chips from the Manhattan Bridge. Huggard creates jewelry for her business, Citybitz, using bits of the city and transforming them into wearable art. She collects paint chips from the Manhattan Bridge, encases them in resin and glass, and turns them into earrings and necklaces. Huggard also incorporates reclaimed glass and mirrors into her jewelry, using glassware from estate sales and mirrors found on New York City sidewalks. With a background in textiles, decorative arts, stained glass, and gilding, Huggard’s diverse experience and passion for reusing discarded items culminate in her unique and timeless creations.
These five New York City artists demonstrate the transformative power of sustainability and creativity. By repurposing discarded objects and materials, they challenge society’s overconsumption and waste habits while creating thought-provoking.