Recycle Repurpose Re-create

For our first annual focus on visual arts, we

Category: Arts + Events Articles


For our first annual focus on visual arts, we’re showcasing a slew of Seattle artists making what’s old new again—transforming materials discarded or intended for an entirely different purpose into things of beauty. Like crows drawn to shiny objects, these artists see potential in the ordinary bits and pieces most of us pass by, whether plastic forks, paper bags, street detritus or a set of photos abandoned at Costco. The story (and mystery) inherent to such commonly disregarded items gives added heft to the artistic work into which they’re incorporated. Whether as an environmental statement, economical approach or just for the joy of the challenge, these resourceful artists are turning one man’s trash into treasures.


Brown paper portraits
Though he prefers reusable cloth totes for his groceries, Capitol Hill–based painter Chris Crites ( chooses paper bags as the canvas for his bold, bright portraits. “Originally I began using paper bag since it was inexpensive and available, and I was really taken by the effect,” he says. “It really has evolved into both an ecological as well as an aesthetic idea for me.” The result is striking—especially given his frequent subject matter: historical mug shots he finds in books, on the Internet and recently, the Washington State Archives. “I tied the recycling of imagery from the past to the recycling substrate as well,” explains 36-year-old Crites. He reproduces the mug shots in vivid color, which brings both the characters and their crimes to life. The reason for the arrest, noted in the corner (such as “bar brawl,” “carnal knowledge,” “stole a truck,” “stole shoes,” “polygamy”), offers an intriguing glimpse of back story. Staring out from humble brown paper, the faces of Washington’s criminal past embody a naked vulnerability—a moment of getting caught immortalized in art. Watch for Crites’ work at the Seattle Art Museum Gallery in March and Belltown’s Roq La Rue in June. “Investigation of Kidnapping – Released,” acrylic on paper bag, 2008