Artist Duke Riley Turns Plastic Into Objects of Beauty

While accumulating trash on the seaside, Riley came across a broken deck brush that looked like a piece of bone. Conventional scrimshaw consisted of ink drawings etched into whale bone by sailors, ornate performs frequently designed aboard whaling ships. By the 20th century, whale oil and whale bone objects ended up changed by fossil fuels and petroleum-primarily based plastics.

“I started off wondering about how a ton of the persons who profited from the whale oil market ended up heading into the fossil gas marketplace,” Riley stated. “The ones who acquired immortalized in scrimshaw collections have been normally ship captains or ship entrepreneurs, or notable culture men and women who profited from the market.”

The resulting art objects are repurposed detergent and spray bottles, as well as plastic containers of each and every description, blanched to resemble bone, and etched with portraits of CEOs and lobbyists who combat to continue to keep us buried in solitary-use plastic. The types, composed of in-depth black traces, are both equally beautiful and sinister (that Riley is also an avid tattoo artist is no surprise).

Sailor’s valentines, an additional classic folk craft, have been ornamental mosaics of shells contained in hinged display boxes. By layering bread bag tags, dental floss picks, straws, shells, and hypodermic needles, Riley has produced his individual ornate valentines, which reflect the collapsing contemporary ocean. 

The Magnificence of Disposable Razors

Riley remarked on how people today are typically shocked by the aesthetic appeal of his creations: “Wow, it’s stunning how did you make that out of trash?”

But the goods that he has repurposed in visually satisfying strategies had been at first designed to be alluring. From mechanical pencils to disposable razors, “these are conclusions any person designed wherever they were being attempting to make anything as attractive as possible,” Riley explained. “They resolved what the most lovely shade for a tampon applicator was. So the thought that I’m turning it back again into some thing individuals obtain captivating is not significantly-fetched.”

Riley showed a shut-up picture of a person of his valentines, centered on an array of pearlescent tampon applicators in shades of lilac, mauve, and fuschia. The applicators by themselves resemble shells—exceptionally rather razor neck clams—with an iridescent plastic finish. Arranged in a admirer, the applicators are surrounded by a 50 {5b4d37f3b561c14bd186647c61229400cd4722d6fb37730c64ddff077a6b66c6}-moon of tiny pink spoon heads, topped with a bivalve and a bottle cap.

“In buy to get that quite a few unique shades,” explained Riley, “my assistants and I go as a result of about 10,000 lbs of trash, and sort it so you can have sufficient variation of colour to have a palette to get the job done with. We also locate a whole lot of pregnancy assessments. They are always adverse. I consider people preserve the favourable types.”

A Loving Tribute to Birds

An viewers favourite was the flock of pigeons that Riley nevertheless retains, the subjects and performers of some of his most beloved functions, like 2016’s light-weight exhibit, Fly By Night time. In 2013’s Trading With the Enemy, Riley properly trained a flock to fly Cuban Cohiba cigars from Havana to Key West, defying the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and participating principles of prohibition and smuggling. 

Riley has designed loving tributes to his birds, immortalizing them in individual painted or embroidered portraits, exhibiting their coops, along with pictures and video clips of their flights. He prizes these creatures normally considered of as marginal, yet another occasion of this artist checking out the missed.

Getting been frequently informed that his operate was transgressive, Riley claimed he at the time seemed up the definition: “I was psyched to locate out that there are two definitions, and the 2nd one is a reference to drinking water transgressing more than the land.”

Any area where by two matters meet and interact—water and land, land and sky, trash and treasure, previous and present, irony and sincerity, character and industry—is a web page of transgression. These areas of trade, overlap, and instability are where Riley finds the germ of his significant imagination.

Emily Johnson is a college student in the MFA Fiction Software at the School of the Arts, and will graduate in 2023.

Kenneth Proto

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