Art renewed

Published 12:00 pm Monday, August 6, 2012

Old glassware is used to hold bracelets. Off the Water photo/KATHEE KIESSELBACH

I have seen the work of several artists lately who are heavily influenced by what is called “re-purposed” art. It is a “green” dream because the theory of this art form is to convert things that are no longer used or needed into other things that are useful in other ways.

Instead of being thrown into the nearby landfill, the items find new life. It may begin this new life as something functional, like a cool lamp, interesting copper necklace dripping with lake stones or a funky paper box to store things.

But it may be a piece of artwork that has no other reason to exist except for its aesthetic artistic value.

In some cases, the artist wants to do something completely unexpected — completely new and clever and never seen before to really “wow” the viewer. I think it is an admirable thing. I thought using old glass doorknobs as coat hooks was cool, but maybe not art.

The real trick is to be so good that you can use or combine things in such a way that the viewer forgets that they ever had a previous life as something else at all. Like that installation I saw where an artist used pop can tabs to transform a room into a silver wonderland.

Some artists, like Pat Denison, of Denison Tile, used old found teacups and other kitchenware to enhance her own tile piece with carved frame. It added whimsy to her work in a way that was as perfect as salt on a cantaloupe. Again, not for everyone, but for the one who loves it — delish!

We already know that art is in the eye of the beholder; it’s beauty is often not definable and each piece of artwork is intended to strike the heart of each person who views it differently. It’s a subjective thing.

Some pieces conjure up old memories or good feelings buried deep before the viewing. An old barn wood frame turned silver over the years reminds one viewer of his grandfather’s farm where he spent Michigan summers.

A bright azure blue something will draw immediate looks from all those who love the color blue.

A necklace strewn with old Girl Scout and swimming medals might remind a woman of her first “best friend.” What fun is that?

A collage using old magazine clippings, tickets and valentines spread out like scenes in a kaleidoscope might bring back memories of the days when dating was a more formal thing, and may appeal to someone who loves symmetry and harmony.

The fact is that we never know what someone will like, what will strike their fancy.

And can you imagine finding a piece of artwork that by its very existence touches a part of you inside that makes you feel so good — for no apparent reason. And that you can take that piece of work home and feel that same way every time you look at it.

We also know that other viewers of an exhibit can feel anger, confusion, embarrassment and other uncomfortable feelings busting forth from the pits of their stomachs.

Pieces of artwork seen in southwest Michigan have, on occasion, been the impetus for angry letters to the editor and withdrawn financial as well as emotional support. It is the truth that what can make one person feel absolutely violated can have absolutely no ill effect on someone else! And when a person looks at something and hates it, and they look around expecting everyone else to feel the same way, well, it reminds us that we are all different.

Repurposed art is a genuine attempt on the part of most artists who do it, to make something out of a piece of perfectly useful material that is often completely free.

Many artists who repurpose do so out of need; many do so out of respect for materials and the environment, and many do so because it is a challenge. And the same fondness an artist may have for a Petoskey stone she used in a piece of artwork may match your fondness for them as well. So the effect of that piece of artwork actually has a double whammy. But that is what art is intended to do, after all.

So next time you are attending one of the many fine art fairs around Michigan, remember that something you see that looks to be made of junk — old license plates, old ‘50s glassware, Jell-O molds or some big rusty piece of metal — might really be worth taking a second look. Even it it’s just to feel what it makes you feel. And when your reaction is unexpected — Isn’t that a curious thing?

I’d love to hear from you!