Old Objects = New Art


Regional artists are rediscovering the environmental and cost benefits of creating works from other people’s discarded materials. Our writer, who works in the medium himself, calls the form “Art-Eco.”

Since I’ve been dabbling in it for years, I’m a tad giddy to report that what I call Art-Eco is cool once again. This found-objects medium can include painting, sculpting, collage- and furniture-making, even music composition. (Some call that last one “sampling”; others call it “stealing.”)

In this form, artists recycle or “re-purpose” discarded materials to create new visual uses for them.
Credit for Art-Eco’s second coming probably belongs equally to two familiar “e” words: ecology, for the obvious reason that by using the used, you’re not thinning rain forests to turn pulp into drawing paper; and economy, because it’s a lot cheaper for artists to use existing boards, the reverse side of canvases and even thrown-out paint than it is to purchase them new.

I recently spoke with five local artists who’ve been experimenting with this form for some time. They were recommended to me by D. Oldham Neath, owner of Archival Framing and Gallery in East Sacramento, where I’ve sometimes shown my work, and Michelle Alexander, executive director of the Arts & Business Council, whose volunteer board is presided over by someone who looks just like me.

STEVE HAMM: Robbing Paul to Pay . . . Paul

If you’re a fan of cable’s DIY (Do It Yourself) Network or you frequent Lounge ON20 in midtown, you’ve probably enjoyed some of Steve Hamm’s work. For the former, Hamm and business partner Don Roth appeared on the show “Turf War,” for which they designed and built an outdoor kitchen in one-and-a-half days. For the eatery, Hamm designed the fire pit, tables and banquettes with wood from a golf course deck.

He’s also made an eclectic wall hanging “out of 100 percent trash.” The beauty part is that much of that trash—old wood molding, leftover concrete “from a pour-gone-bad” that he fashioned into a tabletop—comes from serious projects he works on as co-owner of Urban Design, a design/build and remodeling firm.

“The majority of what I do to pay the mortgage is still pretty standard industrial work,” Hamm says. “But even in my residential work, I always like to add something of my own: an art chair, a coffee table, some cool shelves.”

Hamm’s commitment to Art-Eco might have begun in childhood. His late father, Peter, “was basically an old hippie,” he says, “always making furniture for our house. Well, I remember one day he said to my little brother and me, ‘Let’s make a geodesic dome out of old newspapers!’ And we did. Chad and I rolled up the newspapers, my dad did the stapling and shaping, and pretty soon we had the best fort in the neighborhood—in our living room.”

EDDIE STEIN: Steel and All

Some of us just aren’t that good at promoting ourselves,” Eddie Stein says as he sits down for an interview on the apron between his Oak Park home and garage studio. “In fact, it’s only recently that I can handle people calling me an artist.”

He is, though. You might have even sat on some of Stein’s creations (such as the metal benches in Old Sacramento) or dined beneath some (such as the hanging wall sconces at Three Sisters restaurant in East Sacramento).

Stein insists that his transition from working as a fabricator for sports equipment giant Hillerich and Bradsby to creating graceful sculptures “happened by accident. People just started asking me more about the stuff I was doing as a hobby and, much to my surprise, some even wanted to buy it.”

Born and raised in Sacramento, Stein took four years of metal shop at El Camino high school, then studied architec-ture but always returned to making art. His work has been shown at the California Auto Museum (a free-standing sculpture of old skateboards), the wonderfully named Tangent Gallery in South Sacramento and midtown’s Axis Gallery. He expects to have a piece in Archival Gallery’s group show, Don’t Drink and Draw, this month.

Asked if creativity is in his DNA, he smiles. “Well, my dad hand-hammered aluminum plates that were quite beautiful,” he says. “And I remember my mom making drawings of our house. She never did anything with them. It’s too bad.” Fortunately, the son continues to rise.

ANDREW TAGGART: The Right Side of the Tracks

Andrew Taggart lives and works in a converted Victorian, using the bedroom he rents as his studio and sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the closet. “It’s not always a great arrangement,” he says, “since if I’m working on a piece that’s haunting me, I see it every time I open my eyes.”

He says he finds all of the materials for his paintings “on the railroad tracks” within yards of his work/live space. “People ditch wood there all the time,” he says, “and sometimes entire picture frames, which I reuse.”
Taggart’s work is bold, expressionistic and vibrant—the latter a remarkable achievement, considering he’s color-blind. “I got sunburned yesterday and didn’t realize it till someone looked at my skin and told me,” he says with a shrug. He says his condition has allowed him a certain freedom in his work because “I don’t do anything realistic, so it’s not as though someone’s going to blame me for using the wrong color.”

In 2008, Taggart had a solo show at Archival Framing, then located on Del Paso Boulevard. The show’s mischievous title: Don’t Come To This Show. “It worked!” he says, then smiles and says people actually did show up. He is showing at Archival again, in the group show in August. Sometimes, Taggart even recycles his own paintings. When he runs out of storage space in his bedroom, “I put what I can’t sell on little hooks all around town. People take the stuff and get to enjoy it, and I get to go back to work.”

STEVE TILLER: If There’s a Wood, There’s a Way

My whole focus is on functional artwork,” Steve Tiller says as he shows one of his creations: a console for a good-size flat-screen television that, when its slide-to-the-side doors are closed, looks like a good-size canvas (on which Micah Crandall-Bear, with whom Tiller shares studio space, did a fine painting).

“I bought the TV with my significant other”—Stephanie Birch, who handles the financial side of Tiller’s enterprise, Reclamation Art + Furniture—“and when we put it on the wall, I realized I hated looking at the thing when I wasn’t actually watching it,” Tiller says.

He trained as a carpenter with his older brother, Harold (who owns Tiller Design and Construction in Grass Valley, where Steve and he grew up). When the economy began its swan dive, taking construction jobs along for the plummet, Tiller became increasingly interested in what had been a spare-time activity: making custom furniture from, as often as possible, used lumber and other materials.

Tiller’s studio is a blue hulk of a warehouse on the block bounded by 14th, 15th, B and C streets. The space eventually will feature a gallery and 400-square-foot workspaces for fellow artists. Tiller shows me a spectacular round table he’s been commissioned to create. In the center of the table is a sunken hand-hammered copper bowl. The table itself? It was created using reclaimed cedar from a dismantled Outback Steakhouse. As I’ve said, this is a rare medium.

CHERIE HACKER: The Light at the End of the Table

Born and mostly raised in Chicago, Cherie Hacker has been working for nine years on a series of paintings, photos and collages that she calls her Light & Endtable project.

First, Hacker found a reasonably hideous, fruit-engulfing 1950s table lamp that a 90-year-old cowboy had donated to an auction. “I got it for free because everyone else considered it too ugly to buy,” she says. She then found an end table of equal vintage and aesthetic wonderment—one of those split-level things that allows your magazines to have a roof over their headlines—and began to take photos of the arrangement in the foreground of some of North America’s most scenic landscapes: Donner Lake, Fern Canyon (near Humboldt), Alaska and British Columbia, to name a few. When she came back to her Sacramento studio, she either painted or sculpted from the photos, or sometimes used the photos themselves as the finished art.

Besides the lamp and table, in every one of the pieces in the series Hacker has a brown electrical cord, in roughly the same position. In my favorite painting, the cord ravels out from behind the canvas itself and, on the floor below, are what appear to be dead light bulbs, but which are actually little ceramic sculptures of same.

Hacker supports herself through her art and teaching. Among her students and venues are 90-year-old residents at Eskaton’s Jefferson Manor. “They like learning new things,” she says.