January 17, 2005

Artsy Debris in Our New Bathroom

Filed under: Art and About Recycling — admin @ 9:19 pm

I have two avocational passions – anything to do with art and reuse/recycling. Although once in a while the two become intertwined, I admit that don’t go dumpster diving specifically to create an art piece. And I generally get more satisfaction giving or donating an item to be reused or recycled by someone who has a vision rather than forcing an unwanted item to stay in my home to be reused or recycled by me. I participate in the circle of life by bringing other people’s unwanted stuff into my home.

Since the twain rarely meet, I don’t go looking for intersections of art and recycling. But a reuse/recycle lightening bolt recently struck our home and I’m now seriously energized about taking reuse and recycling to the artistic level.

In our home was a seriously dated 1950s bathroom with a rotting subfloor. My husband and I considered many options on how to deal with the space to make the necessary repairs, please our aesthetic sensibilities, and not completely sell our souls to consumer culture by throwing out all of the old just so we could have something new. But Lucifer came a-knockin’ and we did decided to gut the space and start over. Our guilt and anguish quickly gave way to excitement and anticipation, even though I’m sure in some celestial courtroom someday I’ll have to answer to my great-great grandchildren about why I chose to destroy the Earth.

To us, this wasn’t just a bathroom remodel. We were designing Art. And we wanted it to be Art that stood the test of time, in style, taste, materials and individuality. The one thing I admired about our pink 1950s bathroom is that is made a statement in 1958 and it made a statement in 2004. We just disagreed with what it was stating.

As we started to search for materials, I ran across a tile company in San Jose that made tiles from recycled materials. The Fireclay Tile Debris Series is a handmade terra cotta tile containing 50% post-consumer and post-industrial recycled materials designed specifically to reduce landfill. Included in the body of the tile is granite dust from sandblasted electronic parts, recycled brown and green glass bottles and windowpanes.

This is very cool on an intellectual level, but true art has to speak to the heart, and the Debris Series is fluent. The result of the recycled products mixing with the traditional terra cotta recipe is that the finished tile has the richest red-brown hue, and a slightly rough and rustic texture for those of us who prefer our design shabby-chic. When glazed, the Debris Series tiles have a luscious depth of color. Instead of being completely opaque, you can just barely see the recycled tile product underneath the glaze. The tile would not be what it is without the uniquely recycled foundation.

I admit, when I thought of recycled art before now, I thought of sculptures made from junkyard finds, or old plates and tiles broken to become mosaic elements. The original purpose of the recycled element is evident and often obvious, even in its newly artistic rebirth. What gives me those artistic goosebumps with the Fireclay Tile is that their artisans have transcended an intellectual exercise on recycling and reached me emotionally.

The new bathroom is only a few weeks old and I actually think about this stuff every time I go in there. We didn’t select the tile expecting it to inspire internal dialogues on art and ecology during a routine bathroom visit. Still, I’ve always advocated that you should have art in every part of your life.

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