We’re all familiar with street art and graffiti, and most people who follow this blog know about the many ways people create street art. Paint, ash, and even salt have all been used to make art, and much of it showcased right here. But all of those involve putting something onto something else: paint sprayed onto walls, salt arranged delicately on a museum floor.
But there’s also the art of reverse graffiti, the removal of stains and marks to create an image through absence. It’s been around since cave paintings. we have handprints of artists in reverse, the paint washed over and their hands removed. At its most primitive, reverse graffiti is someone writing “Wash Me” on a dusty car in a parking garage, but at its most clever and incredible, it can take up entire walls, or even the inside of a glass bottle.
That’s where artist Jim Dingilian comes in. The New York artist has essentially collapsed the idea of reverse graffiti and the world of bottle art into something beautiful, intricate, and actually not bad for the litter problem of New York City.
Dingilian starts with finding glass bottles of all shapes and sizes around town. He picks them up, finds them in the trash, people will even bring him bottles if they’re an interesting shape or texture. According to him, taking the littered bottles and turning them into art is transformative in and of itself. “When found by the sides of roads or in the weeds near the edges of parking lots,” the artist explains, “Empty liquor bottles are artifacts of consumption, delight, or dread. As art objects, they become hourglasses of sorts, their drained interiors now inhabited by dim memories.”
These memories are made through a combination of smoke, glass, and patience. He starts by lighting a match and covering the inside of the bottle with a thin layer of smoky soot. He then uses his own personal creation, a tiny paint brush attached to a dowel rod that he suspends in the bottle’s centre, to carefully remove the soot. The process creates a variety of landscapes and scenes, all of which blend the beauty of the world around us and often the grassy patches where Dingilian finds the bottles. “The miniature scenes I depict are of locations on the edge of suburbia,” he explains, “Which seem mysterious or even slightly menacing despite their commonplace nature. The bottles add to the implied narratives of transgression.”
“Transgressive” is perhaps to on-point of a word, especially when we consider the classic role of suburbia in urban development and planning. It’s the suburbanites that pay to distance themselves from the class problems of the cities in which they work. They “protect” their families from what is left in the city, and any incursions are usually met with suspicion and quiet murmurings. In St. Albert, AB a few years ago, it turned into an all-out class war, with one citizen lobbying to stop a Habitat for Humanity development from being built on the premise that “We moved to St. Albert because we can afford it and we deserve it. This is a great city with great families. We feel comfortable joining in activities we would not have considered in Edmonton.”
He later claimed his primary concern was a parking issue.
Dingilian’s work is more than found object art, it is a blend of what we take for granted with what is always there, hiding in plain sight only if we allow it. And with pieces like his glass containers, we can see that the distance between litter and art, the apparently “unruly” and the “civilized elite” is not only ridiculous, but one and the same.