Unconventional Canvases: Part 1 – Rachel Levin, Art Lecturer

Rachel Levin, a popular art lecturer who often lectures at the Bernard Betel Centre for our weekly Tuesday Lifelong Learning Lectures, has provided a thoughtful and creative write-up for the Bernard Betel Centre community on unconventional canvases. Enjoy!

The unconventional canvases shown in this article challenge the usage of paper, panel or canvas. Artists suggest that just maybe the traditional media as we know it, is passé when it comes to creating art. Contemporary artists are using just about anything they can get their hands on to display their work. Used teabags, recycled Denim fabric and a wooden floor become materials turned to masterpieces.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) – Memory of Oceania (1952-53)

Henri Matisse was one of the first artists of the 20th century to depart from the classic method of applying paint onto canvas. While he is known for his “traditional” paintings, towards the end of his life he broke away from paint and canvas and pulled out his scissors. The actual reason for this change was that in 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and underwent surgery that left him wheelchair and bed bound. Painting and sculpture had become a physical challenge, so he turned to a new type of medium.

With the help of his assistants, Matisse began creating collages made of cut paper. He would cut sheets of paper, pre-painted them with gouache and cut them into shapes of varying colours and sizes. He would then arranged them to form various compositions.

Memory of Oceania (1952-53) is a good example of Matisse’s work during this era. This work is part of The Museum of Modern Art collection in New York.

Ruby Silvious (b. 1955) – Miniature watercolor painted on used Tea bags

Visual artist and graphic designer Ruby Silvious is internationally recognized artist. She creates her art by repurposing her used tea bags, which she uses as canvas.

What has resulted is an extensive body of work, including several series documenting her travels and daily life. Ruby has created miniature paintings on tea bags for over last 5 years. Ruby started this project as a way to expand her artistic practice and challenge traditional views around what is considered art.

Her tea bags paintings, inspired by her travels around the world, have been featured in numerous publications including CNN Travel, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Good Morning America/ABC News, and the internationally syndicated TV show ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’.

Ruby was educated in the U.S. and Asia, and she currently lives and works in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her art is exhibited internationally, and is featured in public and private collections.

Deniz Sağdıç (b.1982) – Artist uses scraps of Denim fabric to create Realistic Portraits

Most artists use conventional media such as graphite or paint to create realistic portraits, others find ways to use more unconventional materials. Turkish multimedia artist Deniz Sağdıç has developed a diverse body of work by upcycling fabrics. She uses scraps of denim to create highly realistic detailed portraits.

To do this, Deniz collects countless denim materials in a variety of blue hues. She then cuts the fabric into squares, rectangles, or long strips and applies them to a canvas or board.

The way in which she arranges each individual piece is similar to traditional painting, in which the paler shades of fabric are used for more illuminated areas of the face, and the darker pieces are used for the shadows. This combination of modeling and texture give these portraits a three-dimensional striking quality.

Deniz does not waste any part of the material. Some pieces are just flat swatches, some are the waistband, the belt loops, and the sections with copper rivets.

Selva Aparicio (b. 1984) – A Hand-Carves ornate patterned “Rug” on a wooden floor

Spanish artist Selva Aparicio creates thought-provoking installations that bring different issues environmental, political, and social to light. This hand carved floor rug was Selva’s MFA (Master of Fine Arts) thesis installation at Yale University entitled Childhood Memories.

Through this visually stunning piece, Selva exposed personal memories with a decorative object for the home. The size of the ‘carpet’ is (3m x 4.6m).

While carpets are usually used to cover the floor, Selva immortalizes her experiences by hand carving a tapestry directly into wooden flooring. From a distance, the carpet resembles a real tapestry. It is only when the viewer gets closer that one can see the countless details Selva carved into the piece to emulate a 3D object.

Tassels are strewn about in different directions, the corner is flipped, and the design resembles a traditional Persian carpet design. Selva carefully chiseled away at the oak floor to create a white and brown contrast in the floral pattern.

The artist has installations on display the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago until May 2, 2021.

3 thoughts on “Unconventional Canvases: Part 1 – Rachel Levin, Art Lecturer”

  1. Thank you, Rachel. I’m in awe of the creativity of these artists. Not in a million years would I have thought of painting teabags, new or discarded. They’re really quite beautiful. Ditto the blue jean portraits. They are all quite extraordinary.


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