Reusing is better than Recycling – the work of Abby Rieser

Abby Rieser is one of the artists whose work was selected by an independent juror to be included in the 2012 Chelsea International Fine Art Competition Exhibition at Agora Gallery. Here, she shares the method behind her intriguing creations – and demonstrates how valuable working at a landfill can be to an artist!

You work almost entirely from found materials. Where do you find these objects?

I gather most of my materials from the landfill where I’ve worked as a gatekeeper for over 9 years. Five percent or so I pick up at antique shops and flea markets. Another five percent I acquired in my childhood, and I have treasured for many years. There are also friends and family who have contributed to my library of finds.


How do you know which objects to combine for a piece? Do you start with an idea and search for objects to fit it, or do you see an object or a combination of objects and think ‘I have to do something with these’?

I usually take an object or combination of objects and start by working with them. Inevitably, I end up shifting around the materials and developing ideas, generally culminating in 2-4 separate assemblages which I construct simultaneously.

What came first, the landfill or the art?

My artwork came first. I have surrounded myself with handmade one-of-a-kind “things” as long as I can remember, acquiring them from dumps, street trash, thrift shops, etc. At a very young age I wanted a pet bunny so badly and I remember building a rabbit hutch out of reclaimed lumber so as to convince my parents to let me have one. At age twelve I took a pottery class and a friend of my oldest brother (who was building harpsichords at the time) built me a beautifully constructed potters’ wheel which I still have, 45 years later. I would sell my pottery at the end of our driveway to all our generous neighbors, much like a lemonade stand.

At a young age my mother taught me how to sew and knit my own clothes. We would go to the house of a woman who sold beautiful hand printed silks and fabrics from all over the world out of her small home in Vermont. That was the start of my fascination with and longing for beautiful textiles.

My education in metalwork came later, as a teenager at The Putney School. I had a wonderful teacher who really opened up the world of jewelry making to me. Simultaneously, I was printing repeat patterns on cotton yardage using dyes, under the direction of the 2D design art teacher at the school.

Working at the landfill grew out of being an active member on a reuse committee for our town. The recycling coordinator/supervisor was on the committee as well and she ended up hiring me as one of the “gate-keepers” for the landfill.

Your studio is pretty unusual as well. Can you tell us about it? Do you think its unusual nature contributes to your art?

My studio was constructed about 9 years ago by a dear friend who was a contractor. He poured his heart and soul into the structure using mostly reclaimed lumber, windows and doors. The structure itself is not very big, 16′ X 12′, but it was the first time I had ever had a real studio space that I could call my own.  This is where I started constructing assemblages. I furnished it with tools, tables, cupboards, shelving, rugs, etc. all acquired from the landfill. I have a corner for metal-working tools, including an old metal table for soldering, and my table saw came from the landfill, while my drill press was given to me by a woodworker friend who was upgrading.

This was finally my opportunity to combine the many diverse materials I so enjoyed working with.

Your work utilizes a wide range of different materials, textures and shapes, yet harmony also seems important to the resulting pieces. How do you manage to achieve that balance?

At age 16 I bought an old 1949 Ford truck for $45.00. I learned all about how the truck ran and was able to work on it myself. I had always been intrigued by the Mouse Trap Game, a favorite game from my childhood, which was 3 dimensional and constructed out of plastic. It was similar to the marble games of today, where one thing hits something else which triggers the next thing… Simple machines, I think you would call them. My truck which is still running today is very similar to the Mouse Trap Game and it made such sense to me. I find myself incorporating the mechanisms of simple machines into my artwork.

The balance I achieve comes from the undoing of so many preliminary constructions. I spend much of the creative time in taking away parts of my pieces and questioning whether I really need that component to make this work, or am I incorporating it into the piece because it’s pretty or because I don’t yet have a direction for the piece itself. I am striving for a sensibility to the many parts, something that shows what they were used for in their lifetime originally and how they can be utilized so as not to lose their integrity.

You’ve had a lot of training in working with different materials – metalworking, knife making, jewelry making, silk screen printing. What was most fun, and what was most influential?

I was 21 years old and attending the “Penland School of Crafts,” in metal/jewelry making. One of my teachers there was a knife maker who taught a few of us about knife making. Perhaps knife making was the most influential. It was the first time I was able to incorporate several mediums into a finished piece of art. I was using hard steels, soft metals, (brass, silver, bronze, copper) and finally fine woods for the handles, using different tools and techniques depending on the materials I was using. Constructing folding knives involved the design of a spring to enable the user to lock open the knife blade. Again, I had a simple machine design problem to solve, and it pushed me to think and reflect as nothing else does.


If you’re intrigued and can’t wait to see Abby Rieser‘s creations in person, don’t forget that her work will be on display at Agora Gallery from August 24, 2012 until September 12, 2012. The opening reception will take place on the evening of Thursday, August 30, 2012.


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