Profiles Visual Arts

The Art of Recycling for the Planet

“Becoming,” installation with 4Heads on Governors Island, 2022
(photo credit: Argenis Apolinario)

Have you honored your New Year’s resolution thus far? A commitment to sustainability—the resolution that ultimately benefits us all—was high on many end-of-year intention checklists. But a very special group of artists plans to keep this important resolution year-round, and for many years to come: those who actively, energetically seek alternatives to the solvents and other chemicals raising clouds of ecotoxicity; those who repurpose others’ “trash” to make powerful statements about how creativity impacts our home planet, for better and for worse.

At the vanguard of this green and growing movement is the Brooklyn-based Christina Massey, an artist and independent curator for whom sustainability is an authentic way of creative life. Not only has she perfected a practice of elegantly repurposing surprising materials, notably aluminum cans; she’s also dedicated herself to sustaining her fellow women artists with the excellent WoArtBlog. “I will always push the definition of what is a painting,” Massey says.

As the earth and seas are big, so artwork aiming to help save them tends to be large-scale and deep. Exhibit M: Massey’s “mattress-size” (her phrase) sculptural paintings, currently on view through December 2023 in the lobby of 750 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, curated by Brooklyn’s Court Tree Collective (visitors welcome during business hours, Monday-Friday, 9-5).

Creative Collaboration 1 (courtesy of the artist)
Creative Collaboration 1 (courtesy of the artist)

Whereas the mattresses we sleep on are environmental menaces (some 18 million of them end up in landfills annually), Massey’s painterly, queen-size wall sculptures celebrate responsible recycling, imbuing it with multiple dreamy layers of meaning. Contemplating a Massey mattress on the wall “feels comforting, it’s something we all know, a safe space—but there are other aspects to it too: that space can also be a violent space, or a frustrating space, if you have insomnia.” For history buffs, it might conjure a bed of nails or similar torture device. “It’s a very complex, really individualized space that is unique and personal to everyone.” Massey makes complex, individualized work to match, down to the decorative details so many of us lavish on mattresses with, say, patterned bedding (yet another significant culprit of landfill waste, with 1.4 billion pounds of textiles tossed in New York alone).

“There’s so much pattern, texture, color… a lot going on in my work, all emblematic of that complexity.”
Their branding and barcodes proudly intact, the metal cans Massey works with, offer far more than a cheap-shot critique of consumerism: they are poetry

Massey’s painterly, queen-size wall
sculptures celebrate responsible
recycling, imbuing it with multiple
dreamy layers of meaning.

with repurpose. Her aluminum assemblages achieve an imaginative alchemy, offering wide-open, queen-size picture windows on a future where everyone cares about what becomes of the items we consume. “So much of our consumer choices are the influence behind my work,” Massey says. “When we choose to be conscious consumers, that stimulates the market and it’s better for the environment.”

Creative Collusion 4 (courtesy of the artist)

As a consumer of artist’s materials, Massey is admirably conscious about sourcing aluminum cans to create with: “I try to get mostly local cans,” she says.
“Sometimes, the breweries in Brooklyn let me go pick up cans after a special event; and whenever I’m doing a show, I try to get cans that are local to that place. So when I was part of a show on Governor’s Island, I would get cans from there. I usually stay away from major brands, as I like the idea of supporting small business.”

Thinking global while recycling local has many benefits, for planet and artist. The Wisconsin beverage brand Green Canvas ( discovered Massey’s work online, and approached her about a collaboration; Massey created beautiful can artwork, with a gorgeous green palette, for the first flavor in their new range of beverages, Lemonade Tea. With surrealist panache, the can features the Green Canvas logo framed within a white rectangle reminiscent of… a queen-size mattress. Green Canvas is also commissioning new Massey works for each forthcoming flavor. “As the flavors are released, I’m excited to include the Green Canvas cans in future work,” Massey concludes. Reduce, reuse, recycle, reciprocate: the new four-point formula for successful sustainability. G&S

IG: @cmasseyart IG: @WoArtBlog

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