If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve probably noticed that street art is not limited to a single idea, medium, or material. It can take many different forms, from Banksy’s painted stencilling to other artists using abandoned doors, fake street signs, or even coffee grounds to create something new, beautiful, and eye-catching. These experiments get to the heart of what street art and public art represent: a chance to innovate and change. After all, street art began as a way to use public space to show off artistic skill and express something new. It often started as something illegal, but as a way for people who weren’t allowed into the galleries to make their own galleries, as it were, and try something that those who only saw art indoors wouldn’t even recognize.
Two artists have recently taken the idea of something different into a completely new direction, one that takes one person’s waste and literally turns it into something beautiful, unrecognizable, and yet strangely familiar. The technique is colloquially known as “melting” and it’s a way to use plastics for something other than cheap trinkets and food containers.
Taking abandoned plastics, melting involves just that, melting them down into a liquid form, and then applying it to a traditional canvas. The results are a textured and colourful paint that looks and feels dramatically different from usual, latex-based paints or even textured paints. The process itself is better for the environment as well, as paint-making can be incredibly dangerous for the environment, even as companies continue to create new, more environmentally-friendly ways of creating it. But the results can be just as inventive and creative as traditional paint, even as colour selections become entirely dependent on what’s available. And it hasn’t stopped at least two artists from creating beautiful art that’s a little easier on the environment.
In South Africa, artist Mbongeni Buthelezi has taken to collecting plastic bags from around the streets of Johannesburg to create what he calls “plastic fantastic.” Despite the country having a bag levy for over a decade, bags are still frequently found all over, and Buthelezi has decided to put them to good use.
Similarly in England, sculptor and painter GRR West (Short for “Glenn Robert Ross West”) has been combining his two loves with the textures provided by melting. The unique properties of the melted plastics help his art literally pop off the page and create a new feel for traditional painting projects. One of the best examples is probably his Nutcracker series he’s released during the holidays, which have a distinctly textured look that helps bring these traditional Christmas staples to life.
Plastic melting is another example of how street art can innovate and change with the items available. It isn’t restricted by convention, only access, which is why it started in the first place. And artists like Mbongeni Buthelezi and GRR West are proving that with their economical, environmental paint alternative.