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Upcycled Art Is The Next Green Thing

Updated on January 18, 2017

Barbie RePurposed

From potters to painters,from fine art to cottage crafts, upcycled art is the newest trend-- taking the notion of simplicity and conservation to new and greener pastures.

Upcycling, for those not familiar with the term, means taking discarded items which would normally end up in a land fill and finding a new use for them. It is distinct from recycling. I'm not talking here about plastic bottles that get melted down and turned into park benches or newspaper that gets boiled back down into pulp and turned into environmentally friendly paper toweling. That is recycling. Upcycling does not involve changing the original items into a new form. It means giving them a new lease onn life by upgrading them to another purpose entirely than that for which they were created.

Artists and craftspeople have been doing just this for years, of course. We've all seen the dress made out of beer can pull rings and hand bags fashioned from old license plates, but this is a little different. These green, upcycling artists and craftspeople seem to be aiming more at good usable design and real beauty rather than notoriety and shock value. Hare are some that stand out.

Barbie Jewelry by Margaux Lange

Brooklyn based Margaux Lange is one of my favorites and a case in point. She's taken Barbie to a whole new level and given new life to old dolly body parts in the process. Her wonderful jewelry( see pictures above) is fashioned entirely from old Barbie dolls-- well Ken and Midge too-- but you get the idea . Check out her website for more information. The jewelry has a sardonic as well as a nostalgic quality which some find a bit disturbing, but it is elegantly designed and beautifully made and I'll tell you one thing-- your Margaux Lange brooch or bracelet will definitely get noticed.


A New Kind of Bicycle Seat

Andy Gregg, founder of Bicycle Design Furniture has been creating contemporary seating from recycled steel and aluminum bicycle rims, handlebars, and frames.since 1990. End tables, coffee tables, coat racks and most of all chairs of all kinds are part of his collection of green furniture.As you might imagine, his designs are very popular with cycling enthusiasts, but are so cool that they appeal to the rest of us too.

These elegant recycled bike designs are frequently part of museum exhibitions, have been written up extensively ,and are widely sold in shops and galleries internationally. You can also buy them from a variety of sources online. Check everything out on thebikefurniture.com website. You can even get a discount on your order there if you have some old bike parts to donate to Andy. How green is that?

Plastc Bottles Repurposed

Aurora Robeson turns trash into artistic treasures. Her materials are junk mail, litter, and waste including plastic bottles which she turns into amazing sculptures like the one pictured here. Entitled, Spiked Cell, it is from a new series of hanging sculptures that illuminate from within using solar powered LEDs. At night, this piece gives off a subtle glow. It is fashioned from used plastic bottles and rivets.

According to her website, Robeson has diverted 30,000 plastic bottles from the trash stream in the past year alone and turned them into art. Her resume is impressive-- solo and group gallery shows and a clutch of grants and awards-- most recently, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for Sculpture. I'm thinking she deserves it all not just for creating such beauty out of found objects, but also because of those 30,000 plastic bottles that won't end up choking sea birds to death in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch She is a wonderful example of this upcycling movement in art.

Robotic Sculpture from Discarded Electronics Parts

Ann P, Smith makes whimsical little robotic sculptures from broken electronics and machine parts which are sold in shops and galleries and also in her own Etsy store online. Each little robotic creature is unique and they are all just sooooo charming.  Her work is growing in popularity. Recently she has received recognition from Wired Magazine (US), PBS Boston, DPI Magazine in Taiwan, Architectural Digest (Germany), GQ Germany, and The Discovery Channel Canada.

A graduate of The Rhode Island School of Design, Ann lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island. You can contact her through her website  and, of course you may purchase her work from  her online store

Pussycat Pillows

Upcycled art has become popular with home crafters too. Small entrepreneurs and home sewers are making a business out of turning beautiful re-usable fabrics, ribbons and laces into decorative items for the home. I've run into a number at local craft fairs and on Etsy and Ebay.

Here's an example: These pussycat pillows are made from felted wool and djuponi silk. The wool and silk are totally recycled, trimmed with ribbons and lace and hand embroidered to bring new life to a discarded wool blazer and a pair of silk curtains-- a fabulous example of upcycling.


If art imitates life then this trend bodes well for the green movement and also seems to be heralding the end of the crazy consumerism that has characterized American society for the past half century. Going green is not just about recycling tin cans and turning down the thermostat. It's a trend in art, jewelry, home décor and indeed a paradigm shift in our thinking. As Martha would say. That's a good thing.

A Collage or Upcycled Art Projects from All Over The World

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    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Interesting. I've seen handbags made from beer or pop can pull tabs. Of course, as you probably know, Marcel Duchamp was probably the first eco-artist. Here's one of his earliest pieces, a discarded urinal which he signed "R.Mutt" and hung on the wall:

      http://bugginout.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/marce...

      I think the subsequent "movement" was called "found art."

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Yes-- artists have been doing this for years but earlier pratitioners were making a different social statement I think-- they wanted to shake up society-- as Duchamp did in spades with " Nude Descending a Staircase" at the original Armory Shoe-- ditto the urinal and found art.

      The upcyclers are merging the boundaries between art and craft and their social message is more along the lines of living more simply and lowering the proverbial carbon footprint by finding new uses for discarded things-- trash toi treasure-- flax into gold-- that sort of thing. I find it really interesting.

      Thanks for the comment and for the link, Ralph. I always enjoy what you have to say:-)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      This is so interesting...I love it! I find it very exciting. My favorites, until I came to the video, were the bird and the bicycle. The artist in the video is amazing. Thank you for a wonderful hub. I'm sending it to my daughter, who's been collecting "found objects" for years and using them artistically.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi Alekhouse, and thanks for reading and commenting. As somebody who can barely thread a needle and paints with words not brushes, I am in awe of what these people are doing. I think it is just wonderful and yes, I too love Nancy Martini's work. I follow her on twitter too and read her blog too-- she is so creative.

    • Raven King profile image

      Raven King 7 years ago from Cabin Fever

      Wow, that bicycle chair is awesome. It's amazing what some people can accomplish.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I think it's amazing too-- there is so much wonderful upcycled art around, and happily a lot of it is accessible on the internet.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      What an interesting Hub! And you've come up with some splendid examples. We have seen examples of upcycled clothes, but not art.

      Thanks for a well researched hub. You are such a good example for new hubbers.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hellos 2 Patricias. Always nice to see you and glad you liked this one. I write more sporadically on Hubpages these days, but every time I come back I encounter wonderful new hubbers. Still love the site and love to see old friends like you too. Thanks for coming around:-)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      A very good trend indeed! I have also used found or used objects in some of my mixed media pieces. Kudos to all the artists and craftsmen out there who utilize things that would otherwise be discarded. Interesting hub especially with all of the examples and websites included. Thanks!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Glad you liked the hub Peggy and thanks for stopping by. I took a look at your profile and found the link to your work. Very nice:-)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Love it, love it!! So much creativity that the "greenness" is a bonus, in my opinion. The pussycat pillows remind me of art that my aunt used to do (she actually made me a cat pillow when I was young). The photos of some of the other pieces are very impressive too! One man's trash can be your treasure.... just goes to show...

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi Steph-- yup it is amazing-- even jewelry made from dismembered Barbie dolls is inventive and beautiful not to mention a heavy duty social comment. Glad you like the pussycat pillows-- I do too:-)

    • RosWebbART profile image

      Ros Webb 7 years ago from Ireland

      All artists should try to use recyclable goods ; I've painted on cupboard doors and packaging card. Great hub.

    • Lady-of-the-Lake profile image

      Lady-of-the-Lake 7 years ago from Ohio

      I was driving on the turnpike yesterday and I was struck by all the discarded items on the side of the road. I bet I could of made a whole theatre's worth of chairs from stuff on the road alone. Guess it is a little dangerous to stop and pick it up though, ugh?

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi RosWEbbARt-- I agree and I think repurposed art is especially wonderful on several levels.

      Lady-of-the-Lake-- glad you didn't stop on the turnpike, but yes, there is so much discarded stuff that can be re-purposed out there once you start noticing.

      Thanks to you both for reading and for the great comments

    • RYPcontent profile image

      RYPcontent 7 years ago from Chatham, IL

      This is a great idea!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      glad you like it RYP:-)

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Wonderful topic, wonderful writing, as always.

      I was happy to follow the link to the upcycled kitty pillow...seems I know the artist. :)

      You've inspired me to delve into my family history a bit to learn more about my aunt Rena, an artist who painted found objects in a distinctive style. As a child, I loved visiting her to see what she had changed from trash to treasure and to smell the linseed oil, turpentine, and oil paint that characterized the aroma of her home.

      I can do nicely without re-purposed Barbie adornments, but I'd love some of that bicycle furniture.

      Thumbs up in every way!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi ST-- good to see you as always-- and yes indeed you do know the maker of the pussycat pillows-- I forgot about that. Glad you liked the hub-- my first in a long long time:-)

    • profile image

      itza Chic Thing 7 years ago

      Love the bicycle seat and the repurposed Barbie parts! Very creative...inspiring.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Glad you like the Barbies-- so do I :-) But some people find them a bit creepy-- not me. I think they are wonderful.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      robie, this is such a cool hub. We used to call this junk art or found object art. I love the stuff made of architectural salvage.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      It is the artist who will lead the green revolution - they have this ability to see value in everything. So interesting all the photos. How great to repurpose what is already in the world - especially since some of the old fabrics and materials are far superior to the new. I'm appalled that we still don't see the value of art as part of the school curriculum here in NYC.

      Such an interesting hub. Thanks so much!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Dolores--yup nothing new under the sun-- just a new name LOL and BKCreative-- love your perspective and thanks to you both for stopping by, reading and commenting

    • Leenie Pooh profile image

      Leenie Pooh 7 years ago

      Love the surge of artists using items that might otherwise have ended up in a landfill to create new pieces. Thank you so much for highlighting artists that are already doing this. I'm always looking for new ideas and new artists to connect with. For any artists that are viewing this Hub check out www.artlinkgallery.com. The artist that posts there loves to showcase other "green" artists.

      If you're looking for ideas about how to use recyclables for art check out www.kco1.net/blog - its a blog about how to turn "trash into treasures".

      Anyway, that's enough of me plugging other green artists. Enjoy!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Leenie Pooh for stopping by and commenting. I am definitely going to check out your links and I too am delighted by the surge of artists getting into upcyckling and repurposing.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile image

      Rose Kolowinski 6 years ago

      What unique art. I really like the wall hanging by Martini. The hair is so beautiful! Makes you stop and think before you throw anything away. Thanks for a great hub.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi Rose-- I love what Nancy Martini is doing. Her work is just amazing. Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you liked this one:-)

    • remaniki profile image

      Rema T V 6 years ago from Chennai, India

      Hi robie2

      Great hub and fantastic video. Everything about this hub is very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

      Regards

      Rema

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks for stopping by, remaniki, I am glad you liked this-- I think repurposed, recycled art is just fascinating and I think I'll do more hubs about it.

    • profile image

      Jalus 6 years ago

      great message thanks for the hub.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      glad you liked it Jalus-- thanks for reading and commenting

    • danielleantosz profile image

      danielleantosz 5 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for sharing! I love upcycling, and hadn't heard of a few of these artists.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I love it too danielle and I'm glad you took time to read and comment. Thanks for stopping by

    • Dave Powell profile image

      Dave Powell 5 years ago from Winchester, MA

      That bike furniture really set my eyes spinning!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      It's pretty cool,isn't it?

    • profile image

      Valerie 5 years ago

      What great subject to read and my creative juices are flowing. My Mom Sister and I will be opening a store called Upcycle Furniture Boutique. It will be consignment so if anyone has some pieces they want to sell let me know. We are located in St. Augustine, FL. My email address is v.857@hotmail.com

      Hope to hear from all with any comments or ideas. Thanks

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I'm a big consignment fan so best of luck Valerie and if I ever get to St. Augustine I'll be sure to stop in. Thanks for commenting and reading

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 5 years ago

      I found your hub intriguing! I like the bicycle chair among all the other upcycled items. I learned something new today! Voted up!

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      thanks auraleigh. I like the bicycle furniture too-- the Barbie jewelry is fun but a little creepy somehow but I love all this re-using and repuposing of industrial stuff. Thanks for stopping by.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      oops sorry audraleigh-- I just noticed I misspelled your name-- butterfingers. Anyway I also wanted to say thanks for the follow and the fanmail. We are already friends on Facebook and in a couple of groups there I think. I'm in Lambertville and I see you are in Fairport, NY-- lovely area. I know it well. My mother in law lived in Rochester and I lived in Brooklyn for 27 years. I've been in L'ville since 1998

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      There ideas you present here are simply great. Bicycle chair is awesome.

      I also enjoyed the video.

      Regards

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Vinaya-- I like the bicycle chair too-- there is some great recycled art out there. Stay tuned for another hub on my latest finds.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Great fun hub. Especially liked the bike furniture since we are cyclists.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Isn't the bike furniture fun? The repurposed Barbies are a little creepy though:-)

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