With the “green movement” and the groundswell of environmentally conscious organizations, political-action committees and eco-friendly businesses, there is also an emerging leadership from environmentally focused artists in the Connecticut area. These artists have very different styles and callings, but have been drawn to employ found, recycled and/or repurposed materials when building their creations. They are seeking to reflect their internal inspiration or draw a sharper focus on the current ecological challenges facing the planet. We are calling them “Connecticut Eco Artists,” and this month we spoke to three of them about their work.
Litchfield County-based Lori Barker grew up and went to school in Connecticut; she began using fabric scraps to create quiltwork, fabric collages and embroidery starting in 1972. This work evolved in the late 1980s to encompass the use of “junk” and found objects to create assemblages, wall hangings and sculptures.
“I really got into the recycled materials because I love junk,” Barker laughs. “And you’ve got to have an excuse to use junk after collecting a lot of it. I’ve used anything from paperclips to fabric to telephone wire.”
Years later, she began participating in the Art @ The Dump event held at the Transfer Station in Cornwall on or around Earth Day each year. This gathering, which kicked off in 2000, features the creations of regional artists, all of whom fashion their work from recycled materials. “I usually work all winter long to prepare for this show,” Barker confides.
Over time, Barker has also developed a spiritually based style of creation (Above is a sample of Barker’s original artwork). Much of her latest work features angels or buddhas; she currently creates personal shrines that incorporate recycled elements like piano hammers, wooden conveyor belts and small building archways, along with angelic imagery. The best place to see this work is on Barker’s website at SpiritCollage.com.
Where does she find her inspiration? “The materials, first of all, because they speak to me,” she explains. “If they don’t speak to me, I put them in a back corner until they do. Sometimes it comes to me in a dream, or in that dreamlike state just as you’re waking up. I feel as though it comes through me in a guided way.” Barker’s work can be found at many healing centers and spiritual boutiques in the area, such as Sharing the Light Holistic Center in Avon, and can be viewed by appointment at her private gallery in Goshen.
Milford attorney Loren Costantini became a public artist in 2008 when he began building 16-foot flower sculptures crafted from mostly recycled materials. Some of these pieces even move with the wind in a mechanical nature. They have been displayed in North Carolina, Colorado, off the Highline in Chelsea, New York, and in a corporate park in Old Saybrook.
But Costantini had an “a-ha moment” in 2013 that drove him to shift gears and launch something called the Loren Flower Collection. At that time, he was creating a large flower installation for a solo exhibit, and during clean-up something hit him. “I was cleaning up my shop when I realized all these little pieces I was cleaning up could make other flowers,” he says. “And it spoke to me because my heart is about connecting people on an intimate level. Up to that point my work wasn’t making a connection to people. I mean it was affecting people and was eye-catching, but Loren Flower became this introspective journey to find my purpose and a deeper connection with others.”
What emerged is the Loren Flower, an 18-inch flower sculpture made of recycled materials that is meant to be a type of personalized gift. It comes in a traditional flower box; the recipient will find that there is a message hidden in its single leaf. After extracting the message and reading it, the actual message can be planted in the ground as it is printed on wildflower paper that contains active seeds. This, in turn, will grow into an organic flower, which gives new meaning to the term, “sustainable gift.”
Every Loren Flower is unique, simple and handmade. “Each has its own character and speaks its own message through the wildflower seed paper,” says Costantini. “I believe a true gift is the experience itself.”
Costantini also uses his work outside Loren Flower to drive a more serious message. “My art is about connecting people and kindness … spreading the seed of good spirit,” he says. “I believe that sustainability, mindfulness and consciousness are really the same thing as accountability.”
He has recently taken this idea one step further by creating a special sculpture and a posting on his website at LorenFlower.com. The posting, titled “711 Children Held Hostage,” is in reference to the recent news story that 711 children of illegal immigrants were detained and separated from their parents at the border of New Mexico at the end of July. To date, these children have reportedly still not been reunited with their parents.
“I believe if everyone were accountable for their actions, we would be living in a much better society,” he says. “I find it despicable that we have 711 children that are unaccounted for, that are nameless, and that are literally being tortured in America. This is a humanitarian crisis. This isn’t even a political statement. This is speaking to the people and using your heart, voting from your heart. I think this speaks volumes about where we are in society, and the failure of people to be accountable for their actions. I think all of us need to view things from a heart-centered approach, and we need to start speaking out about this.”
Look for new installations and exhibits of Costantini’s to be featured in the Fairfield County area in coming weeks. Past and latest works can be viewed at LorenCostantini.com and LorenFlower.com. Costantini is a member of Sustainne, Connecticut’s leading membership organization for businesses and individuals serious about cultivating more sustainable habits and lifestyles. Some of his work will also be on display at the organization’s Sustainable Living Expo on October 13 at Stepping Stones Museum for Children.
Daniel Lanzilotta has been creating artwork from beach debris since 1997. Originally from the Bronx, New York, Lanzilotta relocated to Westport and began beachcombing with his son to find inspiration and material for his creations for fun.
“I started innocently enough watching my son play on the beach when he was only three years old,” Lanzilotta says. “I had rules, like I could only use stuff I found right there on the beach, and I could only use my Swiss Army knife to construct something.”
What started as a passive diversion turned more serious as time went by. “Very interestingly enough, things that had nothing to do with each other that I found on the beach, in the course of time, kind of fit together,” Lanzilotta explains. These found combinations turned into masks or wall hangings. As Lanzilotta became more intentional about these new creations, he started going to the beach by himself to seek out more materials specifically for this new work.
Lanzilotta’s thoughts about these projects became even more serious when he noticed the immense upsurge in plastic trash that was washing up on beaches in the U.S. as well as France, where he also has a home. “From 1997 to 2014, the increase in trash was quite significant. It increased exponentially,” he says. “That’s when I became more of an environmentalist.”
The new work he was doing was now raising awareness of the increase in plastic garbage around the world. A 2015 opening he had in Biarritz, France, was so successful it gained him more attention back home in the U.S., where he was invited to become a Bronx 200 artist.
As a result of these new connections, Lanzilotta was asked to go on a humanitarian mission to Haiti in 2016 to observe the overwhelming amount of plastic garbage in that country and to hopefully offer some solutions.
“It was the worst conditions I’ve ever seen of trash in waterways,” he says. “It’s in canals, rivers… beyond your imagination. The trash is several feet deep… so thick you can walk across it, and it’s all going out into the ocean. You can’t even see the water below it.”
The momentum fueling Lanzilotta’s humanitarian work and artwork continues to grow as he has joined ranks with Sustainne, an organization whose mission is to unite, nurture and grow a community dedicated to sustainable living.
Sustainne is sponsoring Lanzilotta’s work for a solo exhibition at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport in September. He confides that this is a big step forward for himself, his work and his drive for environmental awareness. The opening will take place on September 14 at 6pm and will be accompanied by a screening of the film, A Plastic Ocean, a 2016 documentary that aims to change the world’s attitude to plastic in a single generation by showing the overwhelming extent that plastic garbage has spread around the world.
Lanzilotta will also have a special installation called Black Planet at Blends Gallery in Bridgeport in October. This piece will include a healing ceremony, spoken word presentation, and music and dance performance dedicated to black men and their sons, according to Lanzilotta.
“This will be quite significant. This will be a gigantic move forward for me,” he says. “It’s been overwhelming and incredible.”
Lanzilotta’s artwork and activities can be viewed online at DanielLanzilotta.com. His work will also be on display at the Sustainable Living Expo on October 13 at Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk.