The Secret (Second) Life of My Art

In case you hadn’t noticed, my surname is MacDonald and I am a pure (make sure you roll that “r”) Scot.  I love me some prudent frugality.

When I was 15 I talked my mom into giving me a clothing allowance so that I could buy clothes on my own.  I figured out pretty darn quick that I could buy more (and more interesting) articles of clothing from the Sally Ann than at the trendy shops.  Since then I’ve bought most of my clothing from second hand or consignment stores.

Likewise, whenever possible, I’ve always sourced and used recycled materials for my artwork.

Sometimes the material inspires the piece…

Once upon forever, when I was in second year at Emily Carr (then College, now University), I came across a massive ream of heavy duty, clear drop sheet plastic.  It was filthy with clay, but all I saw was the gorgeous expanse of useable material.

There was NO WAY I was letting it get tossed in the trash.  Not on my Mac-watch.

I spent the better part of a day with a sponge and several buckets of water cleaning off the mud.  When my labour was done I had a good-as-new, full roll of 5 foot wide, transparent material.  At the time my work was conceptually based on fairy tale stereotypes and I’d been working with the narrative of Cinderella.  I knew early on that I was going to make a “glass” ballgown with the fabric.

Logically I understood that I could have saved myself a bunch of time and effort by going and buying a new roll of plastic drop sheet to create the dress.  Honestly, though, I don’t know if I would have even conceived of making the dress if I hadn’t come upon the material and had to slavishly clean it.  And if I had thought of it, a piece made out of new material wouldn’t have worked for me conceptually.

The material needed to have that history of coming from the dust bin and then being transformed to reveal its beauty…beauty out of humble beginnings.

Wedding performance

Left: Wedding Dress (front), 1994. Right: My Wedding Is Going To Be The Best Day Of My Life (performance), 1994.

The yards of reclaimed plastic evolved into an elaborate, machine-sewn wedding dress, which I wore during a spoken word performance that alluded to the happy ending of the Cinderella story with a dark, poignant twist.

In my current practice I still strive to reuse materials…

Reductum Ad Absurdum (detail)

Reductum ad Absurdum (detail). The ginger hair on the top of the golden calves came from the fun fur collar of a vintage coat.

Pieces of thrift store clothing and old leather jackets – some of it personally worn by me for years – old curtains, and polyester fiberfill stuffing from pillow cushions in like-new condition; all of these items and more have found their way into my sculptures.  Almost every figure I make contains an element or two that has been reclaimed.


Bats in progress. Some heads, arms, and hands were made from recycled cotton curtains.  The stuffing came from two brand new custom-made couch cushions that were in a church thrift store because the client never came to claim them from the store.

Alongside the act of recycling resources, I like the fact that I am connected to my artwork in an ultra personal way.  My sculptures not only possess my face, they are imbued with remnants of my style and historical biography.  The materials I use have lived with me: they have protected me from the elements, provided me with privacy, and captured my dreams and nightmares.

Pillow Stuffing2

My latest cache of stuffing: one of the pillows I slept on for the past year (thoroughly washed, of course).

It might just be the Scot in me talking, but I think the reclaiming process makes the work more meaningful.

How do you use re-purposed materials in your work and life?  Please share in the comments!

2 Responses to “The Secret (Second) Life of My Art”

  1. Marleen Vermeulen says:

    Love your work! That wedding dress is AMAZING! So beautiful! Love it! Had no idea you did that as well…. Beautiful! Hope all is well in NY! <3