Originally a painter, I currently explore and work in many media: printmaking, ceramics, photography, encaustic, site specific environmental installations/sculpture, mixed media, and found object assemblage. I look at everything as a potential art medium: a material to be used and transformed. From traditional art making materials: paint, pencil, printmaking ink, paper, wax and clay, to the debris we generate in the course of our daily lives and then throw out, it all excites me.
For a number of years I’ve been focusing on the ‘family debris series’. The ongoing series re-purposes materials and objects that have been used by our family of five and are heading for the trash or recycling bin. The concept for the ‘family debris series’ began to form in my mind, as I cleaned out, and purged boxes and bags of my children’s old toys and clothes. The toys/clothes were either too worn, incomplete or in some cases fraught with memories to be passed on. I couldn’t bear the thought of these personal bits heading for a long slow death buried in a land fill. I wanted to capture the moment and give a second life to this old stuff.
The transformation began with discarded Duplo blocks and has moved on to yard debris, drawer/under the bed junk, caps and tops, consumer packaging, paper ephemera and single use plastic; items purchased and used by our household, all part of our family’s post-consumer waste stream. Many of the obsolete or used objects are plastic and metal, destined to take years, decades or more to degrade….what better art medium, archival to a fault. After using our more durable nondegradable junk, I took a second look at the content, texture and shape of the mostly 2d ephemera as another potential art material not to be wasted. Items such as price tags, packaging and bar codes, all tell a family's history of consumption.
My work conveys my perspective on motherhood, childhood, feminism, consumerism and life through the selected materials and how they’re used. Everyday objects and cast offs provide direction: selected for their visual properties and personal significance. Excessive and aggregated permanent and ephemeral materials that have been acquired, abandoned, reused and preserved, all tell the story of our family of five through the choices we’ve made. The abstract visual narrative is fueled by part imagination, part anguish, part humor and much guilt. Did we buy into the contemporary folklore that we need all this stuff to be ever young, happy, fulfilled, a good parent, American? In essence creating my work is pleasurable penance for a family using and discarding too much. Much of it ‘stuff’ we wanted, but did not need, did we enjoy it? In the end, waste not, want not.
Lisa Barthelson 2019