Guest Post: Repurpose, Reuse, Reinvent & Rebirth: Interview with a Texas Mixed-Media Artist that lives by Creative Reuse
Elizabeth Winters-Montemayor is an artist and mother of two, who currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin. She creates pen and ink drawings and paintings that examine the interplay between people and furniture. Winters-Montemayor holds a Master’s Degree in Art Education from University of Texas at Austin, where she first met Mary Elizabeth Cantu, spare parts Founder and Director.
Spare Parts helps place a variety of collected materials and supplies donated by businesses and individuals into the hands of artists and educators with creative visions for turning these items into works of art. This is twofold because it both provides access to arts and creativity in the community as well as helps to reduce waste and promote a green lifestyle. When thinking of what artists can create with repurposed materials, the possibilities are endless. In examining the process of an artist that adheres to this creative reuse vision, we can better understand how common household materials can be saved and reinvented.
I interviewed mixed media artist Dee Dee Marovich, who creates collages comprised of layers of repurposed materials, at her home and studio in Austin, Texas. We discussed her process and methods for creating works of art from repurposed materials, as well as her personal goal of getting extra materials into the right hands.
Dee Dee Marovich’s current work can be seen at the Travis Heights Art Trail held in Austin in the fall.
How do you describe your art?
Dee Dee–My expression of art is through mixed media collage. I repurpose, reuse, reinvent and rebirth images. Old becomes new, uselessness changes to possibility, and uninteresting becomes charming.
Many people have described some of my work as whimsical. I believe that life is difficult at times, and I want my art to remind people to find the humor and interest in common objects.
What materials do you use in your art?
Dee Dee–The media I work with includes items such as: magazine images, photographs, wrapping paper, junk mail, gems, feathers, plastics, jewelry, shoes, straw, ribbons and seeds. Chocolate bar packaging and coffee bags also find their way into my art. The objects are like puzzle pieces that eventually find their home.
When and how did you first become interested in reusing materials as an art media?
Dee Dee–As a child I saw my Dad making things out of scraps of wood (see left picture). He gathered materials leftover from construction sites. He started with an idea and created functional benches, wagons, napkin holders and birdhouses. I saw him transform raw materials into useful art. Watching my Dad work with his hands fascinated and inspired me. I loved the smell of sawdust, the buzz of the tools, and the intensity he had while he worked. It intrigued me to watch him create. He repurposed before the term was coined.
How do you choose and collect your reusable materials?
Dee Dee–I start by looking through magazines in search of pictures that speak to me. When I pause on a page I tear it out to come back to later. Often I immediately have an idea or a vision for a finished piece. For example, I when I see coffee in a cup I imagine removing the liquid and gluing a new object in the cup such as a flower or a fruit.
I’m also attracted to bright, colorful wrappers (see right picture). I have finished two pieces that have shiny gum wrappers in the background. As soon as I saw a friend remove the wrapper I asked if I could have the turquoise foil. I began to collect that color. I knew right there and then that I would use it in an art piece. The piece related to the sea and the wrappers represented the ocean. If the object is beautiful to me in some way, I will find a purpose for it in my art.
How do you organize and sort your collection of reusable materials?
Dee Dee–After some time I start to look through my collection of images and reusable materials for themes that emerge. From there I start to narrow down and sort into several boxes based on these themes.I also organize found objects such as jewelry, keys, and feathers and broken eye glasses into plastic bins by category.
What are some of your themes?
Dee Dee–Some recurring themes and colors that emerge include: bold colors from fruits, red paint, brown and golden colors with images of hair, coffee bags watches and chocolate wrappers. I also tend to collect graphics related to wine and travel.
Can you please describe a few of your artworks to help illustrate how the collected material drives the outcome?
Dee Dee–70-76% Cacao shows the style and beauty of the packaging for chocolate. I am attracted to the gold foils and the lettering. The word Ghiradelli reminds me of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The French words remind me of a friend I met in Paris who gave me the Chocolate Noir. The colors of red, gold and shades of brown with a touch of blue are as satisfying as feeling the chocolate on my tongue. With just enough chocolate, life is divine!
Juniper 46172 was my phone number for 19 years. When I was a child phone numbers in the Bay Area started with a word. My family had one black dial phone, and when the new pink “Princess” model came into the household it was a big deal. Years later, my sister sent me the postcard of the woman talking on the phone that I used in my collage. This was a postcard that I had kept on a bulletin board near my phone for years. The earring that I added was something I found. I made this piece at my sister’s house in England and I used pages from a London phonebook as the background. This was my first time to use a box frame.
Heels and Lace was my first attempt at assemblage. I was attracted to the red and gold wrapping paper which I used as the background. Stiletto heels fascinate me as objects with interesting shapes and curves. While working on this piece I found my little red heels and thought that they would be a good extension of the piece. I added the gems on the shoes glued to the frame to pick up the gems on the inside of the piece. In this case old shoes become new.
How important is recycling and reusing materials in your daily life?
Dee Dee–Recycling and reusing is on my mind all the time. I save materials for my grandchildren’s art classes. Also, after I go through magazines I take them to Assisted Living centers that I know can use them for art projects. I like for objects to go to the most appropriate new home for their use. For me, it is important to not throw in the garbage what someone else can reinvent.
How might you encourage others to reuse materials?
Dee Dee–Many household items can be repurposed and given to artists and educators. There is no shortage of elementary schools, high schools, preschools, childcare centers, assisted living facilities— they are in every neighborhood in most cities. You can research what is needed and pass on those materials.
Dee Dee Marovich has three daughters and four grandchildren. She is originally from San Francisco, and now resides in Austin. Dee Dee loves to travel, tap dance teach and create.
Dee Dee Marovich in Mayfield Lavender Fields in England, photo courtesy of the artist.
Earlier this year Mary Elizabeth Cantu, founder and director of San Antonio’s budding organization spare parts, presented to educators at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference in Ft. Worth. She shared the spare parts vision of creative reuse education to a standing-room only crowd–which included Heather Williams, Executive Director of Art Explorium in Hawaii.
Williams subsequently sought advice from Cantu when planning an Art Explorium materials giveaway for teachers–similar to the summer extravaganza of free, reuse art materials organized by spare parts. In the exchange of ideas, Cantu also connected with Julie Uyeno-Pidot, a Masters degree student in the Public Administration program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Julie recently completed her practicum at the Art Explorium, helping them to locate and apply for grants in support of outreach projects. Julie and Heather graciously granted me an interview via email proving that spare parts‘ influence is transcending San Antonio and becoming a national resource.
What is Art Explorium? Did the concept begin with the idea of reuse and repurposing art materials or was that something that evolved?
Julie–Art Explorium is an arts education nonprofit located in the eclectic Kaimuki area. The organization’s mission is to provide a community art studio to nurture the creative potential in children.
Creative reuse has been a part of the nonprofit’s focus since its inception. Founders Taiji and Naoko Terasaki and Nathan Smith recognized the link between arts integration and environmental sustainability and sought donations of reusable materials from local businesses and the community. These materials are utilized in Art Explorium’s programs: open studio, during which children and their families can create projects at themed centers, or make whatever they please at the Trash-to-Treasure station; workshops that introduce youngsters to local artists and their techniques and special events.
I’m curious about the situation in Hawaii regarding recycling, landfills etc. with its limited space.
Julie–Limited space is definitely an issue here. The City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Environmental Services provides curbside collection of many recyclable items, including corrugated cardboard, metal cans and newspaper. However, it only accepts #1 and #2 plastic containers, since Hawaii currently lacks the facilities to recycle other types of plastic.
Along with curbside recycling, the City also runs the H-POWER program, which converts waste to electricity through incineration. Both of these programs have diverted over a million tons of waste from Hawaii’s landfills. Art Explorium supplies Hawaii’s community with another method of waste reduction by accepting donations of non-recyclable materials (e.g. magazines, plastic bottle caps and pressed cardboard) for use in its various programs.
How did you hear about the National Art Education Association conference in Ft. Worth?
Heather–I heard about the 2013 NAEA conference in Fort Worth because one of our board members, Taiji Terasaki, had attended it in 2012 before I was hired. Our founding board members were planning to create a non-profit art studio for kids and Taiji decided to attend the conference to get started in figuring out a future Art Explorium.
How did the spare parts presentation inspire you? What were the main take aways?
Heather–The spare parts presentation was really inspirational to me. It was by far the most memorable and helpful session I attended at the conference, partly because Mary is a great presenter and has awesome ideas to share, and partly because their program was much more similar to ours than many of the other organizations at the conference. Many of the organizations there were schools or museums, so not everything related to our daily work.
I still remember Mary showing us how to make yarn out of t-shirts and make watercolors and jump ropes out of used markers. We are such a new organization but these are exactly the kind of things we love, so it was great to see we were on the right track and also to bring some practical ideas back home. We also shared with Mary how we make no-sew aprons out of t-shirts so I was glad we could offer something back to her!
What’s the status of relationships with schools? Did anything from spare parts spark ideas for working with schools and/or other nonprofits?
Julie–Art Explorium has a very positive relationship with local schools. The organization regularly hosts field trips and works with teachers beforehand to incorporate what the students are currently learning into the projects that the children participate in during their visit to the studio.
One example is a project that Art Explorium worked on with students from Hanahau’oli School, in which students built a structure using recyclable materials that encapsulated everything that they had learned in their unit on shelters and their importance to human survival. Spare parts has encouraged Williams and the rest of the Art Explorium staff to branch out from its regular activities–open studio, workshops and special events–to doing more community outreach e.g. an art supply fair.
I see you have some Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) art projects on your Facebook page, which are the kids favorites? Do you have suggestions for our readers?
Julie–The toilet paper roll Christmas decorations and decoupage gift boxes have been a big hit this season. Both toilet paper rolls and gift boxes lend themselves well to customization. Studio visitors have created adorable reindeer, snowmen and Santas with markers, ribbon, felt and paint, which can function either as stand-alone decorations or as ornaments. Colorful magazine pictures, paint brushes and a white glue and water wash make for attractive and personalized gift wrapping.
What are some of your future plans?
Julie–Art Explorium plans on holding a small-scale art supply fair this summer with one of the neighborhood schools. This will give the nonprofit a better idea of what it will need for a larger event. We put together a creative reuse lesson plan pamphlet and a creative reuse guide (inspired by the one put out by spare parts) that can be distributed to teachers at these events. Art Explorium is also interested in doing a community mosaic project with renowned local artist Leah Rigg.
This project would enable children to create their own tiles and take part in the mosaic production process. The mosaic will be mounted at Maunalani Park in Kaimuki for the enjoyment of all visitors. The organization would also like to continue participating in community events with other arts and environmental organizations (e.g Honolulu Museum of Art, Our Kakaako and Surfrider Foundation) and eventually have an artmobile that would allow it to bring its services to low-income and/or geographically remote parts of the island.
Can we come visit you?
Julie and Heather–Yes, of course!
spare parts Founder Mary Elizabeth Cantu,Texas Art Education Association 2013 Exemplary Texas Art Educator