Alex Bako is participating not only in his first ArtOMatic, but also in the first time showing his work in a full exhibit. You will find his exhibit on the 11th floor, directly across from the women’s restroom. He says he is getting great feedback, and has already sold one piece with another pending, so he has plans for future ArtOMatics. His exhibit is made up of 24 pieces of 2D upcycled art titled “wastes are my medium”. He uses materials that have been diverted from industrial and commercial waste streams. His frames are constructed of wood pallets, crates and other items collected from trash bins at local warehouses. The used coffee and rice bags in his pieces come from all over the world. He collects these from local coffee houses and retaurants saving them from their former fate of trash bins. Alex says of his exhibit: “While my work is intended for everyone, I have found that it strikes a special chord with people
who practice and pursue a lifestyle that supports environmental responsibility and sustainability. Ultimately, I hope my work makes people think about what they throw away in their trash. I hope it inspires lifestyle choices to recycle, repair, and repurpose items that have outlived their initial use.” Initially Alex started about 5 years ago making art just for himself, his friends and his family. “At first, I did it in my spare time, and there wasn’t much of that with a full-time job that kept me busy for about 60 hours a week. My work evolved to a point a couple of years ago where I started getting more confident. I began peddling it to local coffee houses and restaurants. Then about a year ago I decided to take time off from working and pursue my art career for a while. We will see what happens. It sure helps to have a fully supportive wife who loves me and my work!” Although his techniques vary from piece to piece, Alex’s general creative process involves burlap (sisel/jute) and wood frames. As noted above, he gathers wood from construction debris or warehouse waste bins (crates/pallets). He says that people are happy to let him have it since they otherwise have to pay to have it hauled off to landfills or trash-to-energy facilities. Restaurants and coffee roasters donate their burlap sacks for the same reasons. He notes that he never uses rotted wood or anything that has been treated with chemicals. First Alex cleans and dismantles the wood, then reconstructs the frame to fit a burlap sack which come in a wide variety of sizes. He then paints and decorates the frame to compliment the sack designs, many of which are quite beautiful and represent the country of origin. He doesn’t screen or paint the burlap.
Working with the sack, he takes out remaining coffee beans or “they will spill everywhere when you cut.” He steam irons, measures, cuts, irons pleats, measures, irons more pleats, measures again (“you get the idea”), then stretches and fastens the sacks to the frame, prepares a separate (usually blank) panel for the reverse of the piece and adds the finishing touches and mounting hardware. Since he doesn’t buy his raw materials in stores, he has to hunt them down and “find” them. When he hits a slump he stops making his pieces and goes on hunting trips. “I usually have 4 or 5 pieces in progress at any time, so if I start losing interest in something I am working on, I will just put it down and pick up another project.” It is no surprise that Alex was ready to tackle the hard questions about art in general and his art specifically. Where do you feel art is going? I think art is going in almost every possible forward direction right now. I am most interested in the ‘sustainable environment’ movement, so I pay a lot of attention to what people are doing with respect to recylcing, upcycling and the use of truly eco-friendly products in their work. I’m not just talking about trash-to-art ideas. There are a lot of other things going on that in some direct or indirect way support environmental health and protection. What is the role of the artist in society? Art should say what needs to be said. You know the story about a meeting room full of people and a 500 pound gorilla is standing in the corner and no one wants to acknowledge it? My old boss used to say “There’s a turd on this table and we are going to talk about it.” People are somtimes afraid or reluctant to admit things that they know are true. Art is a way to help them realize these things in life. What is the place of your work in society?I often don’t believe that Americans practice what they preach. They talk the talk without doing the walk. They’re running around claiming to be the “greenest” citizens on the planet while many of them go home and fail to reuse, recycle or even repair items. Instead these items go straight into the trash and off to a landfill or incinerator. My work shows how discarded items can be upcycled into attractive art. I hope to get people thinking about incorporating some level of environmental responsibility into their daily lifestyles. Alex has future plans for his business, “upcycleDC”. “Right now I am planning to work on a short series, “upcycled VINTAGE” using very old burlap sacks and 100+ year old window frames and sashes that I salvaged from waste deconstruction debris at historic home renovation sites. Later this year, I plan to embark on the first pieces of my third series, “upcycled 3D”. This series will contain tables, 3- and 4-panel free-standing room dividers using larger burlap panels and wooden wire/cable spools. I recently salvaged a set of 20 (1 ft square) exotic wood floor samples and need to come up with an idea for them.” He is open to any suggestions!
While he hasn’t had a chance to visit all the floors at ArtOmatic yet, Alex says he likes Howard Etwaroo‘s “Violence is Youthful” exhibit on the 11th floor where he is. “Etwaroo’s work is all great, and a few pieces are unbelievable!” He also is impressed by the larger wood sculptures he has seen on other fllors. You can find Alex’s work at his website, www.upcycleDC.com. You can also purchase his work on that site. He explains that he is currently overhauling the site to include pieces created just before his ArtOMatic installation but expects everything to be working shortly (if not by the time this interview is posted). Alex also offers contact points on his Facebook (Alex Bako) or via gmail: firstname.lastname@example.org. “I always welcome and respond to questions and comments.” To read more interviews and see more photographs from ArtOMatic 2012 and earlier ArtOMatics, go here.