Using recycled materials in art is not a new concept, but steampunk sculptors seem to be discovering innovative means of harnessing the abundant source of raw materials provided by the current culture’s disposable lifestyle. As steampunk sculptor Aaron Ristau explains, “products are obsolete within an ever decreasing amount of time, putting an increasing strain on our ability to deal with man-made waste” (qtd. in Von Slatt, 2009). The range of art being created is a testament to the creativity of artists who make use of “stuff” that had had a life already—a life that is often far removed from art.
Russian sculptor Igor Verniy creates a variety of steampunk and cyberpunk works that feature legendary, unique, and imaginary creatures. He works with scrap metal, old bicycles, and common household objects to bring his ideas to fruition. Many of his pieces are fully articulated and can be posed, adding to the life-like quality of his menagerie.
In an interview with Dovas (2014) Verniy discusses his artistic process. What we see in the store—the final version—begins with studying the living counterparts. He strives to capture the unique style of movement for each animal and then add a unique twist.
Aaron Ristau is a steampunk sculptor dedicated to reclaiming materials through artwork. In an interview with Von Slatt (2009), Ristau explains:
Man’s recyclable and manufactured surplus as a sculptor’s medium lends itself to an infinite variety of possibilities, which creates a whole new genre for sculptors. By intricately integrating and redefining the purpose of reclaimed components, the completion of a sculpture is a triumph over obsolescence and the reward of creative vision.
For Ristau it seems that the appeal of using recycled materials begins with the inherent history of the item and makes the creation of the sculpture a more meaningful process.
Sue Beatrice is a steampunk sculptor that works in a variety of mediums—including clay, wax, metal, sand, and pumpkin. (She has carved several world record breaking pumpkins.) Many of her recycled material sculptures are created for freelance clients like Disney, The Danbury Mint, Dreamworks, Crayola, and the Jim Henson Corporation. She also offers a line of steampunk sculptured jewelry that anyone can purchase from her All Natural Arts website. Beatrice (2016) explains why she uses recycled/upcycled materials in her artwork:
Using non-working pocket watches (I never destroy a watch that works) and thinking about the lives of the people who once owned them helped me to evaluate my own goals in life. I marveled at the beauty of these creations and considered how much care was put into each one. I wanted to honor the watchmakers and create pieces that could become cherished heirlooms once again.
As these are sculptures, many would understand if they no longer function other than in an aesthetic way, but many still work as watches/clocks or lamps. This adds another dimension of the steampunk aesthetic to the sculptures—functional beauty.
All Natural Arts. (2016). The artwork of Sue Beatrice. Retrieved from https://allnaturalarts.squarespace.com/about/
Dovas. (2014). Russian Artist Creates Steampunk Animals From Old Car Parts, Watches And Electronics. Bored Panda. Retrieved from
Von Slatt, J. (2009). New art by Aaron Ristau. The Steampunk Workshop. Retrieved from http://steampunkworkshop.com/new-art-aaron-ristau/