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  • Nina Hendy

The Bigger Picture

Meet the new breed of Australian creatives using their art to advocate for a more sustainable world. By Nina Hendy

Elise Judd in her South Gippsland studio, which was constructed using repurposed and recycled windows, doors and corrugated iron. Photography courtesy of Elise Judd.

Moves to phase out single-use plastics have been slow in Australia despite us tossing an estimated 1.8 billion disposable coffee cups into landfill each year. The pandemic also resulted in thousands of tonnes of extra medical waste ending up in landfill around the world. 

Fed-up artists have been finding inventive ways to incorporate sustainability into their work, repurposing paper materials destined for landfill or sourcing offcuts from local hardware stores to craft their art. 

Online art gallery Bluethumb says many artists are also adopting eco-conscious practices when packaging their artwork for shipping, opting to reuse cardboard boxes and exploring alternatives to bubble wrap to minimise their environmental footprint. 

Prices for sustainable artwork can vary significantly, ranging from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on factors such as the artist’s profile and the distinctive nature of their creative process, says Bluethumb CEO and co-founder Edward Hartley.

“Artists who have gained prominence in sustainable art and have developed a unique and sought-after creative practice tend to command higher prices for their work,” Hartley says. “Ultimately, authenticity and creativity are key. Let your passion for sustainability shine through your art, and your work will naturally appeal to the masses.”  

Judd’s “From Frankston to Mt Martha”. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.

Finding value in vintage: 

Elise Judd

From her South Gippsland studio built from repurposed and recycled materials, Elise Judd embraces recycled and reclaimed items not just as a design choice but as a lifestyle commitment. 

In a world of discarded objects, Judd sees the potential to breathe new life into forgotten items. “I only have to walk into my local op shop to see it overflowing with unwanted items,” she says. “If they aren’t sold there, they end up in landfill.

“My goal is to take some of these items and incorporate them into my artwork as seamlessly as possible,” Judd continues. “Showcasing their beauty by reimagining and repurposing what others might see as waste into something new.” 

The approach feels like a small contribution in a world she views as being obsessed with disposable fashion and overconsumption. This led to the “Bathing Girl” series, which came about from her love of portraiture and vintage items. “I want people to be taken back or reminded of a simpler time in life,” says the artist.

The series incorporates elements of nostalgia, femininity and environmental consciousness, intertwining antique maps and collaged elements carefully chosen for their unique character and historical significance. For a current project, Judd is collecting discarded pots and vases and old fabrics, using them in her art and saving them from landfill.  

For Judd, using existing material reduces waste and gives these items a new lease on life, she says. “The antique maps, in particular, carry a distinct visual allure and historical narrative.” 

The sculpture “Anti-Warhol (The Soups Gone Bad)” by Sam Patterson-Smith, which uses more than 200 recycled toys. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.

Anti-waste warrior:

Sam Patterson-Smith 

Struck by the total lack of thought about the excessive amount of plastic materials we consume, Sydney-based Sam Patterson-Smith created “Beautiful Trash”, a series of sculptural works created from discarded waste, including plastic supermarket collectibles and Covid-19 test kits. 

He laments the sheer volume of waste. “I’m talking about the little collectables you get when you spend a certain amount at the shops, the toy in the kids’ meal and the masses of now redundant and expired antigen tests people were provided without any apparent plan for recollection,” he says. 

The items used in his artworks aren’t purchased but usually found or donated by friends and followers. But Patterson-Smith stops short of calling himself an activist against waste. While he’s indeed trying to be less wasteful, he hopes his art encourages others to take manageable steps to do the same, without piling on the guilt. 

“I won’t blame or guilt any individual or group for the amount of waste that’s produced,” he says. “We are all responsible in some way, and we all produce it, including myself. But maybe we can be more mindful in our daily lives.”

Patterson-Smith isn’t opposed to copycats also producing art from recycled items. “In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any materials for me to make these artworks with, and in a weird way, that’s the end goal, so everyone should have a go,” he says. “Steal the idea, I honestly don’t mind.” 

“Our Addiction to Convenience” by Deirdre Boeyen-Carmichael. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.

Plastic repurposer:

Deirdre Boeyen-Carmichael 

Single-use plastics accumulating in landfill infuriates Deirdre Boeyen-Carmichael, an artist based in Bells Beach, Victoria. In the hope of instigating social change, she creates striking still life compositions from coffee cups, bread tags, soy-sauce fish, plastic bags and other plastic items.

Saddened by the trash produced in the world, she makes a stand through her art in the hope that single-use plastics are banned for good. Her dismay at the scale of plastic pollution resulted in a self-portrait (pictured) in which she is engulfed by single-use plastics.

While some can feel defensive when confronted by placards or demonstrations, art can present new ideas around sustainability in an engaging way, she says. “I hope that my paintings will raise awareness and start conversations around the unsustainability of unrecyclable plastics. It’s crazy that we continue to manufacture products that can’t be recycled and single-use plastics are produced in their billions.” 

After recently learning that more than 300,000 disposable nappies are incinerated or sent to landfill every minute, Boeyen-Carmichael has made nappies her new focus. “I did the maths — that’s 18 million nappies every hour and 432 million nappies every day just thrown out,” she says. “I suspect I’ll do a still life painting of [unused] nappies soon. So much more needs to be done.”

Logan Moody’s “Crush #3 — Melbourne Bitter”, from the series “Crushed”. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.

Street scavenger:

Logan Moody  

Trawling the streets of Melbourne salvaging waste to use in his artworks has given Logan Moody a new sense of purpose.

“I became a little obsessed with the hunt, to be honest, always looking for something new, even if I was travelling overseas,” he says. “But I soon realised it was too much. I’d collect up what I found and photograph them or use them in my work if there was something compelling in their appearance, and then drop it into my recycling bin.” 

Moody admits that contemplating consumerism fills him with feelings of nostalgia and even hopelessness at times. “I enjoy finding beauty in discarded objects and I hope that it makes people think differently about their place in the cycle of consumption,” he says. 

Taking personal responsibility for our waste is important. If replicated by large numbers of people, even small changes at home can have a significant impact, Moody says. “How waste is reduced or reused and looking at how to build a more sustainable world is something every person should be contemplating,” he says. “I’m always looking to develop as an artist and push my personal stylistic limits with new ideas or changes in how I can produce my work, but the idea of using waste to start a conversation will always appeal to me.” 

Cat Leonard’s self-portrait “1000 Ideas”. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.

Adopting sustainable processes:

Cat Leonard

From the small studio her father built in the back garden when she was young, Cat Leonard could envision a bright future as an artist. She went on to build a small business in the garage. “Back then, selling paintings was the dream,” she says. 

Leonard has spent a lot of time researching the impact that plastics, general waste and pollution have on the natural world, which led her to consider how she can lessen her own negative impact on the environment.

It wasn’t long before she began to adopt more thoughtful practices, such as scraping the dried paint off her pallet and disposing of it correctly rather than washing it down the sink. She also started to salvaging boards from hardware store offcuts, restoring and reusing old frames and even downsizing her paintings so that she uses less paint. 

Leonard uses recycled packaging to post her artworks to buyers and buys local where possible, which contributed to her being named a Rising Star To Watch in 2024 by Bluethumb. Now, as a painting teacher in Adelaide, she brings her work to class in the hope that her sustainable bent might rub off on others. 

“More people are becoming aware of the need to change how we do things, so I think people feel good about buying an affordable painting they fall in love with that’s not painted on the cheaper-priced canvas range available in shops,” she says. “Sure, [the stores] keep the price reasonable, but at what cost?

“Art is innovation, so I think an artist’s practice is part of what art is, and sustainability is a necessary part of a beautiful future,” she adds. 

Jessica Guthrie’s “Plants Taste Better”, winner of the Bluethumb Art Prize 2023 Still Life Award. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.


Jessica Guthrie  

Jessica Guthrie has found that living in Sydney among myriad restaurants and shops makes it easy to get caught up in the latest food and fashion trends without considering the environmental or sustainable impacts that our purchases might have.

“Unintentionally through my art practice, I’m drawn to posing questions to myself around themes of sustainability and nature, particularly through the lens of a city dweller,” she says. “The more I delve into my own art and practice, the more I’m encouraged to think about long-term issues around Australian flora and fauna, plant-based food and our collective health and wellbeing.” 

Guthrie’s paintings act as a catalyst for her to consider the impact of her habits and what changes she can make to be more sustainable in her life. “I hope my paintings act as a subtle prompt for others, who might take time to notice aspects of nature and consider how it can be preserved,” she says. 

Guthrie’s still life painting “Plants Taste Better” aims to subtly challenge the viewer. She wants them to ponder their own role in the current environmental crisis and their global impact. 

Guthrie plans to continue making art around this subject, highlighting beauty and consideration for the environment — juxtaposed with style, trends and lifestyle. 

Sherry McCourt’s “Surf Life”, which repurposes an old road map. Photography courtesy of Bluethumb/The artists.

Embracing ephemera:

Sherry McCourt

People collect a lot of ephemera over the years that ultimately gathers dust in shoeboxes. Sherry McCourt, an artist based on the New South Wales Central Coast, hopes to let those special items shine and tell a story in her compositions. 

In one piece of work, she took 35-year-old wedding photos and wedding thank-you notes that had been sitting in a box to create a striking collage. “I’ve also taken people’s collection of postcards and reworked the written sides to let the script and stamps still be visible under the portrait. Things don’t need to be chucked out or hidden away if they hold memories,” she argues. 

McCourt is also repurposing vintage maps that date as far back as 1929, along with dozens of 50-year-old road maps. In fact, people know her as the “Map Lady”, and occasionally send maps to her in the post. “It’s not always easy to find a workable composition, but I love the challenge,” she says.

“Yes, the paper is recyclable, but that loses the opportunity to tell a story of people and places,” McCourt adds. “Those old maps show how our cities are evolving, and by using them as background to my composition, I’m hoping to end the life of that map by letting it tell a new story, wrinkles and all.” 

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 122 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “The Bigger Picture”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  


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