Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Blogger: Alyson D'Amato

My name is Aly D'Amato and I am a junior at the University of Rhode Island studying English, Writing and Music Performance with the oboe. For one of my writing courses we were required to do a group project creating documents based on art. My group chose "Reduce Reuse Re-Invent" as the theme for our project, looking at art products that are less harmful, pieces with environmental themes and some artists who use them. During my research online I stumbled upon where I found Nancy's web page and blog. I thought that her work was inspiring so I contacted her to see if she would be willing to participate in an interview so I could create an artist profile for my project. She was happy to oblige and I'm thrilled that I had the opportunity. I had been interested in recycled art but now I am more aware of what goes into these projects and I hope to bring this consciousness to other aspects of my life as well.

Nancy Martini: An Interview with an Eco Artist

-Aly D’Amato

Artists using environmentally safe materials and recycled materials are thriving. I had the opportunity to interview artist Nancy Martini of Miami, Florida through e-mail. Not only does she work with "upcycled" and natural art products but she creates pieces with themes that speak to environmentalists and citizens that care about the nature around them. In her work, Martini’s personal beliefs and love of nature come through.

Martini exhibits the emotions and motivations of an artist who is actively conscious about the negative effects of items thrown away as trash. Through this awareness, she knows she is one person in a collection of people who are making change. Not only does her artwork explore using "upcycled" materials, but Martini has also delved into the realm of "encaustic works" that feature working with beeswax and damar crystals. Using these and other recycled materials, Martini has been working on pieces with environmental themes.

Martini's focus in many of her "upcycled" pieces (including "Hope: An Ocean of Peace") is to use materials that would have otherwise been thrown away in an effort to eliminate trash while being aware of the health hazards that some materials will continue to create. Through experimentation, she created canvas out of plastic bags fused together. She was able to paint on her upcycled canvas and paired it with wire weavings.

Aly D: "Your website features a page on your "Upcylced Art." Could you explain "upcycled" and talk about some of the materials you used in these pieces?"

Nancy M: "Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or products of better quality or higher environmental value. After being very frustrated by the amount of trash that Americans create, I realized that many of the materials in my recycle bin could be upcycled. I collected everyday food containers (soda bottles, plastic bags, plastic bottles, foil pie trays, etc.) and sorted them into jars of like objects. I didn't know what to do with them at first. I just stared at the huge piles collecting in my kitchen and thought a lot."

AD: "Another page on your website also briefly describes your exploration in working with beeswax and damar crystals. What got you interested in trying out "encaustic" works? What were the benefits of working with beeswax and damar crystals? Did they pose any issues?"

NM: "Fusing plastic bags and melting plastic is very hazardous, even with an approved respirator. In my search for natural mediums to create art, I found encaustics. Encaustics is a beautiful medium, but it is not without health hazards. When the wax is heated it can settle in your warm lungs. I work outside when I use encaustics and use a fan to blow the vapors away from me. The finished product is incredibly beautiful. The pigment is bright and the finish resembles pored resin only it smells wonderful!"

AD: Aside from the recycled objects you use, are your other art materials (sketch paper, paints, markers, etc) environmentally friendly?

NM: "It depends on the project. Most markers, paints, etc. are not environmentally friendly unless they are made for children. I use sketchbooks that have recycled paper. Mostly I try to upcycle cardboard from cereal boxes and food containers to use for projects and conceptual brainstorming."

AD: Why do you think it is important to use recycled/ upcylced materials in art?

NM: "In American we represent 5% of the world's population, however, we create 30% of the world's trash. If we were to fill a football stadium from the bottom to the top that is how much trash Americans create every day. I keep the image of 365 football stadiums in my mind all the time. I think upcycling is one of the ways that we can reduce our trash. Recycling should be considered as a last option before the trash bin. Recycling allows us to buy whatever we want and as much as we want because we can recycle it. Art is only one way to upcycle materials. All businesses could help the environment by rethinking the items in their recycle bin and seek opportunities to upcycle."

AD: "How do you think professional artists, students and the general public could be better informed about the potential harms of some manufactured art materials that contain chemicals?"

NM: "Artists have to be very proactive about their health by reading everything they can about the materials they use. Health Hazard Manual for Artists by Michael McCann is a good place to start. I would like to see more workshops to help artists realize the hazards as well."

AD: Are you active in encouraging other artists and students to be more conscious of the materials they use? How so?

NM: "Yes! That is what my body of work is all about... My collection is a vehicle to inspire upcycling in all businesses. Even though my collection is not finished, I am asked over and over to show what I have and speak at business venues... [including] talking about upcycling to the Miami Chapter of the USGBC (United States Green Business Council) at the University of Miami"

AD: What other kinds of projects do you hope to explore in the future?

NM: "I am very interested in art in public places. Today I am going to the unveiling of the Manatee Fest. In downtown south Miami, local artists will be matched with sponsors to paint five foot manatees that will be displayed much like the 1999 Chicago Cow Parade. Last year I participated in the Coconut Grove Peacock Tour where I painted a peacock for my sponsor The Fresh Market. I used upcycled pie trays to embellish the peacock and then painted it to look like a woman shopping in an outdoor European market. Art in public places gives me the opportunity to talk about upcycling to a different audience. Most people see my work and have no idea they are looking at trash. When they look again they are delighted and then want to learn more."

Her website features a sketchbook on the Gulf Oil Spill and her blog documents this work, explaining the thoughts and nightmares that she had during this time period. Like her other works, the sketchbook "The Real Price of Oil" is a piece that is simple and profoundly touching on many levels. "Day 72: Fire Set without Searching for Turtles" is just one of the sketches that portrays the devastation of the situation. Her sketchbook will visit California, New York, Maine, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Washington DC in 2011.

Overall, Martini hopes that her work inspires others to consider upcycling and avoid products with an excess of packaging. She believes that art, in general, is moving in the direction of focusing on being environmentally friendly/conscious and is setting this example herself every day.


  1. Thanks Aly! I think you did a fabulous job interviewing me. I hope that you interest in environmental issues continues to grow and I hope you share your ideas through your writing.

  2. Nancy,
    When I have looked up the material data safety sheets on encaustic paints, the safety risk is low.

    I work with the encaustics with an open window and fan. Is the safety factor higher when making pigmented encaustics from scratch?


  3. Hi Angeline-Marie: I don't think there would be a difference because it is the same materials, pigment, beeswax and damar crystals and the hazard is only when the medium is heated. After working with extremely toxic materials like plastic, I am very cautious about any materials that I use.