Secondhand tea bags. Eyeglass lenses, iron washers and broken mirrors. Played-out sports sneakers. Clock parts. And, the ubiquitous tin can.
To six artists in the Belfast area, these are the things that make art.
Twenty-eight of their delightfully oddball art projects, cleverly crafted from recycled materials that you might encounter in your closet, basement, garage or trash bag, are on exhibit in a show called “Second Lives” at Waterfall Arts in Belfast. It runs through April 24.
“I used black plastic shopping bags in my work,” said contributing artist Benjamin Potter of Belfast, during the show’s well-attended opening at the art center’s Clifford Gallery in early March.
While his young son Sam squirmed in his arms, Potter pointed to one of his minimalist artworks on display titled “Pine.”
Made of cut black plastic adhered to a large sheet of heavy white paper, it depicted the photo-negative image of a row of white trees silhouetted against a black sky and ground. Ripples in the black plastic surface added texture.
“I make pretty realistic drawings and paintings based on photos, cut them onto the plastic with an X-acto knife and collage them. … I like using nontraditional materials. That is definitely why they tapped me for this show,” said Potter, who teaches art at Unity College in Unity.
He and Belfast artist Beth Henderson curated the show together.
Also on exhibit is Potter’s whimsical sculpture “The Forest is Angry.” It juxtaposes a plastic toy figure of the Marvel Comics character The Incredible Hulk with a bonsai tree. Both objects are suspended in midair on 2-foot-tall, chemistry lab armatures.
“I like art that is lighter,” he said, of the humorous sculpture that suggests a forest ready to lash back with Hulklike rage at environmentally heedless humans.
The art show is focused on “repurposed and recycled, reused materials. … It goes along with our art-and-nature theme,” said Waterfall Arts co-founder Lorna Crichton of Liberty.
‘At the art opening, visitors were drawn to Beth Henderson’s mannequin torso, inset with dozens of eyeglass lenses. Lit from within, the torso glowed seductively.
Another eye-stopping piece was the untitled sculpture created by David McLaughlin, a sculptor-engineer and indefatigable machine-parts scrounger whose studio and home are based in a cavernous, former corn cannery in Liberty.
Crafted with built-to-last, structural integrity and design, his sculpture incorporates a red-paint, vintage factory sign that spells out the warning: “Danger Live Wires.” A row of bright-copper wires, shaped like writhing trees or an electric charge are fixed in a row, atop the sign.
“I found the sign in an industrial plant in Portland. I was involved with its demolition. The feet are made of Bunsen burner bases; the wires are fastened by brass impellers. … I look hard for things that fit together,” he said.
McLaughlin brought historical perspective to the current art show.
“It all began with the Dada movement, with artists like Marcel Duchamp [1887-1968],” he said, referring to artworks using “found” materials, formerly termed “readymades,” such as Duchamp’s infamous “shock-art” sculpture made from a urinal.
“Picasso made a lot of iron sculpture from machine parts,” said McLaughlin, as he cited a Picasso sculpture of a monkey, whose head is made from a toy automobile.
As evidenced in this show, the approximately 100-year-old concept of making art from civilization’s castoffs is now morphing into an environmentally hip version – recycle and reuse.
One humorous piece created in this vein is the 4-foot-by-5-foot wall hanging titled “900,” so named because it was crafted from 900 used tea bags by artist and unquenchable tea-drinker Mark Kelly of Belfast.
“It’s like a quilt; it just happened. I stapled them here, onto the wall. When I take them down, the piece will be destroyed,” he said.
Kelly is co-founder of Aarhus Gallery, located at 50 Main St., Belfast. The piece grew out of his habit of hanging used tea bags on his art studio wall, he said. He also crafted a long chain of tea bags for the show, called “Teabag Stack.”
Jane Phillips, a retired art writer from Key West, Fla., who now lives in Northport, thought the tea bag assemblages had all the right stuff.
“It’s very inventive. He’s taking something so ordinary and turning it into something quite different,” she said. Phillips also was impressed by the lively art scene in Maine and at the gallery.
“I love how they [ Waterfall Arts] put a light on art in this community,” she said.
Art instructor Potter pointed to the creative alliance that exists between the Belfast art center and Unity College.
“Unity students have exhibited their work here at Waterfall Arts, relating to the issue of global habitat and climate change. Waterfall Arts is interested in art and the environment and art and stewardship, and Unity College is as well,” Potter said.
Creating an art community
In the roughly four years it has been in operation, the nonprofit, year-round, contemporary art center has provided the area with more than 25 art exhibits and hundreds of adult and children’s art classes and workshops, lectures, poetry readings, symposiums and performances, Crichton said.
“The [Belfast] Chamber of Commerce loves us,” she said.
In early March, Waterfall Arts was awarded $5,000 from the city of Belfast, seed money to help launch “ECo-Motion,” interactive sculptural installations made from recycled bicycle parts, to be displayed around downtown Belfast from June to September.
The community art project, part of a continuing series formerly called Co-Motion, aims to demonstrate environmental sustainability, according to the center’s executive director Giff Jamison.
The outpouring of energy, vision and talent the center is bringing to the wider arts community is not going unrecognized.
” Waterfall Arts is a crucial component of the sizable art economy that continues to distinguish Belfast and the greater midcoast region as one of the most creative places in the country,” said Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum.
The Belfast campus of Waterfall Arts is on High Street in a brick building that was formerly an elementary school. The art center was launched in 2005, thanks to a $250,000 Unity Foundation grant being dispensed in $50,000 annual increments.
To keep vibrant, especially during the economic downturn, the center continues to seek the enthusiasm of volunteers and individual donations, Crichton said.
The city-based art center is an outgrowth of its Waterfall Arts campus in rural Montville. Founded in 2000, this campus offers summer art workshops in studios set amid 11 wooded acres beautified by winding nature trails and two waterfalls. Both centers create lively venues for working artists and art appreciators from Maine and elsewhere.
For information about Waterfall Arts, call 207-338-2222; firstname.lastname@example.org; waterfallarts.org.
Lynn Ascrizzi is a freelance writer who lives in Freedom.
What: An exhibit of works created from recycled materials by Belfast-area artists Ben Potter, Karen MacDonald, Ethan Andrews, Mark Kelly, Beth Henderson and David McLaughlin.
Where: Clifford Gallery, Waterfall Arts, 256 High St., Belfast.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Waterfall Arts is open Tuesday and Wednesday evenings when classes are in session and by appointment.
How long: Through April 24.
For more: Waterfall Arts has exhibits, life drawing groups, artist lectures, open jazz jams, open clay studios. To get details, call 207-338-2222; e-mail email@example.com; or visit www.waterfallarts.org.