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First Recycled Art Materials

There is a lot of interest in the art world about sustainable art practice. I know this from the search engine terms that find my blog. On search engine terms that found my blog was “who was the first artist to use recycled” (materials)?

The question is not an easy one. It does need to be refined a little because due to the nature of art materials, some like bronze or gold are bound to be recycled. Architects have recycled building materials since ancient times. Supports for paintings are also frequently recycled with new paintings painted over the old one; I have even seen a Murillo painted on the face of a South American obsidian carved mirror. In this last example the South American carving was preserved as Murillo used the smooth mirror face as a support for his oil painting, recycling it by repainting. I will presume that the question implies that the use of recycled materials is apparent in the finished art.

Perhaps Medieval reliques with recycled Roman seals cut from semi precious stones would be the answer to the question except these are work of anonymous craftsmen. I will probably ignore a lot anonymous or obscure people who used recycled materials in art or crafts. And I have ignored non-Western artists.

So for the dead white male art history answer: I am tempted to say Duchamp, Picasso or Braque between 1912-14. Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel 1913 but I don’t know that the materials were recycled; in later readymades Duchamp purchased the objects from hardware shops. Nor do I know if any of Picasso or Braque’s materials used in their early Cubist collages of 1912-14 were definitely recycled. But it is very likely that one of these artists was the first. By 1917 the Dadaists had made collage and montage part of their artistic practice and by 1920 recycled materials in art were part of the media of art, or at least, anti-art.

There is no photo finish to consult to answer this type of questions. As Epicurus used to say: “Here are some answers, choose one.”

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

3 responses to “First Recycled Art Materials

  • Kay Sather

    Thanks so much for tackling this question. I wonder if it would be accurate to say that more artists than ever are using recycled materials?

    Send me any further enlightened research!

  • Yvonne

    Hi,
    I saw a piece of artwork made of recycled materials in a gallery today. The gallery only gave me a name “Smith”. I am searching for that artist and found this blog. Artists can really turn garbage to art.

  • deborah redwood

    Where can I buy recycled materials for creating artwork in Melbourne. In Sydney we have reverse garbage which is bric-abrac, industrial waste and so on.

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