Fine art

Capricious debris

Arte de Descartes recycled materials exhibit celebrates 17 years


For 17 years, Arte de Descartes has issued an annual challenge to artists: Create a work of art from materials that are at least 90 percent found, recycled or repurposed.

The 2017 Arte de Descartes opens with a reception Saturday (Aug. 26) from 4-7 p.m. at the Stables Gallery of the Taos Center for the Arts, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

Artist Melissa Larson orchestrates the months-long process of organizing the show from her studio, Wholly Rags, on Gusdorf Road. Wholly Rags is a festive Aladdin’s cave of textiles of every imaginable color and pattern, as well as paintings, sculptures, sewing supplies, and strange and beautiful objects that defy description. Larson teaches classes there for children and adults.

The found objects used in the artwork are not only repurposed but often transformed so creatively that they are almost unrecognizable. A partial list of this year’s materials reads like steampunk poetry: Boat rope and fishing net washed up on a Hawaiian beach; rings of glass from the necks of used kombucha jars; wheelbarrows, barbed wire, lawnmower blades; horse blinders, door locks, bedsprings and bottle caps; shoes and boots and vintage clothing, and the limbs and faces of a startling variety of dolls.

These treasures have been up-cycled into forms as varied as landscapes, lampshades and hilarious papier-maché statuettes of the entire United States Cabinet. The contributors are a mix of new and returning exhibitors, including popular Taos artists Larry Herrera, Katie Woodall, Mieshiel Murray, Paseo Arts Festival impresario J. Matt Thomas and Larson herself.

Woodall told us about her piece, titled “Seeds, Bees, Cosmos, Us.” She said, “I had an old turtle-fetish necklace I was going to restring. I took it to Pam Parker at Gems and Minerals and she said, ‘I’m sure you can do something with these.’ I looked in my collection of discarded ‘potential jewels’ (i.e., found stuff) and there was a recycled toilet seat, there were seed pods — with the broken necklace of turtles, and paint referencing bees, I thought the pods could make a cross, and the piece would talk about us humans, the planet, the plants and animals, our crossroads. It’s an altar of a sort, an acknowledgement of where we are in space and time.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of this year’s Arte De Descartes show,” Thomas said. “The creativity of our town comes out for this event, where any material can be an inspiration to become something aesthetic. I love the perspective this show gives of an arts community that is conscious of the environment and the freedom it can bring in the creative process.”

Erin Currier has been working with recycled materials for decades. Patrons of Taos’ late-lamented coffeehouse, The Bean, remember when her intricate coffee-cup deities began appearing on its walls.

“I am profoundly honored to participate in Arte de Descartes,” she said. “I have not missed one year since its inception. Words cannot fully express how much I admire and appreciate Melissa Larson’s hard work and efforts in continuing to bring the greater Taos community together for an uplifting event that is at once environmental, cultural and, more than anything else, pure heart! Taos has a huge place in my own art. It is the place where my work took root and flourished — thanks to Stephen Parks, Joni Tickel and the support of so many friends and Taoseños.”

One of the pieces Currier will be showing, “Borneo Schoolgirls,” depicts three Dayak girls in the jungles of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. “The piece addresses ecological issues that greatly impact Borneo’s indigenous in terms of sustaining long-standing cultural and spiritual traditions that are inexorably linked with the natural world from which they arose. It is a way of life that is quickly vanishing in the face of encroaching urbanization with its insatiable demands — as the wild is leveled to make room for the tame, and as tribal communities abandon their longhouses in search of work in urban centers. The use of ‘Schoolgirl’ in the title refers to the education that the natural world — in this case, the jungle — traditionally provides.”

Larson spoke of the deeper meaning she finds in the event. “The essence of it is that it’s people using old stuff to make new creative stuff. You don’t need new materials to make something creative. You don’t have to be rich or famous, you can just come up with something interesting. The idea is to see how creative you can get with what you find all around you. To think about waste differently, so we don’t carelessly throw away without thinking. To look at it and think, ‘What can I do with this?’ And hopefully get that recycling idea into our minds. Even stuff that looks like pure garbage can become something of beauty. In some countries in Europe there’s a reuse center at every dump. It would be nice if materials could stay in use.”

The show will be on view through Sept. 9. For more information, call (575) 758-2052.