One-on-One with Sustainable Artist Anita Balkun

Attic Avalanche
Attic Avalanche by Anita Balkun

Recycled art is a pretty big deal in Hartford. A few months ago, we featured recyclable clothing designed by Trashion Fashion at ARTini, and back in December the Hartford Public Library held an exhibition featuring the works of local artist, Anita Gangi Balkun. I had the opportunity to talk with Anita about her visual process and specifically her commitment to sustainability. Read on for more and be sure to check out Anita’s portfolio for inspiration.

Let’s talk about your upcycled work. What was your inspiration, and how did you get into it?
I have been reusing objects in artwork for a few years, especially things from my grandma’s house after my family sold it. There was so much emotion attached to things from the house that artwork naturally came out of the event. Then I was invited to do an installation for Envisionfest 2012 in a moving POD, and that set me on the course of using packing materials – cheap, plentiful and fun – so I still find I like manipulating that media (packing peanuts, cardboard, bubble wrap, etc.).
What is your favorite piece and why?
In my recent show at the Hartford Public Library’s Artwalk Gallery, I made “Attic Avalanche” especially for that space – with the beautiful natural light and high ceilings. I had seen an artwork by Sheila Hicks over the summer and when I got that carload of packing peanuts off of Freecycle – I had a vision to try for a large installation for Artwalk. It was a challenge because I couldn’t see it completed until I was at the gallery piecing it together, so I’m proud of the accomplishment. Also, it’s just fun to touch and look at!
What materials do you use?
I’m usually drawn to textural things in large quantities because they offer the greatest possibilities for sculpture. Somehow ‘stuff’ just comes my way – people know I’m interested in upcycled art and drop things off, or call me when they have something interesting. I’ve gotten materials from Freecycle, school, second-hand stores, etc. Another artwork “Songs in my Head” uses guitar strings from my sons guitar shop (Balkun Guitars). Steve is a luthier and lots of guitar strings end up in the trash when he repairs the instruments. They were great fun to transform into a hanging sculpture.
How do you want people to feel after seeing your work?
By using ‘everyday’ materials, people immediately connect to the work because it’s recognizable within their own daily lives. I like to maintain elements of surprise, wonder and even humor. Playfulness and ‘touch-ability’ makes them accessible to everyone, even kids, so they offer a unique experience when presented in a gallery. The artwork also offers commentary on the quantity of ‘stuff’ we throw out or toss after just one use. Reusing materials (instead of buying more) has such value for our earth and generations to come.
What would you recommend to other artists who are interested in creating eco-friendly art?
If you’re interested in eco-art, look at what other people are doing with recycled materials – there is so much creative energy out there! Use what is available and interests you – be open to playing!

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