Unconventional Canvases: Part 3 – 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 conventional use of paper, panel or canvas and suggest that just maybe the traditional media as we know it, is passé when it comes to creating art. Today, artists are using just about anything they can get their hands on to display their work. This segment will show yarn covered objects, artists deceiving the eye with paint, footsteps in the snow that create beautiful mandalas, and painted gourds.


Magda Sayeg is a textile artist who lives and works in Austin, Texas. She transforms urban landscapes into her own playground by covering everyday objects with colorful knits and crochet works. She started with small objects such as, stop sign poles and fire hydrants in her hometown.

Magda covers with knits buses, a pole in a market, a telephone booth, trees in a park and more. “We all live in this fast-paced, digital world, but we still crave and desire for something we can relate to” said Magda.

In 2014, Magda visited Malmö, Sweden as a participating artist of Artscape 2014. She covered with knitted yarn the art work of the Swedish the artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd famous for his “Non-Violence” sculpture; the results still reverberate around the world.

Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd created this over-sized revolver with a knotted barrel and the muzzle pointing upwards as a response to the shooting of his friend, John Lennon.

Other examples of Magda’s work are a phone booth in London and a Vespa in Thailand. Magda decorates and interrupts the urban environment by wrapping street signs, trees, statues and fences in multicolored patches of knitted yarn.

One of her most ambitious installations of Magda, she knitted an entire staircase in Sydney.

Magda’s nick name is “The Queen of Guerilla Knitting” it is also the name of a movement that emerged in the last few years introducing a new ways of thinking about public art. Her work is echoing on a small scale the art work of prolific 20th century French artists known as Christo and Jean-Claude.


Portraits painted directly onto the human body.

Alexa Meade is an American installation artist, and she is best known for her portraits painted directly onto the human body and inanimate objects. This way her models appear two-dimensional when photographed. What remains is “a photo of a painting of a person, and the real person hidden somewhere underneath.”

Alexa takes the classical concept of trompe-l’œil – the art of making a two-dimensional representational painting look like a real three-dimensional space. Alexa does the opposite, making real life appears to be a painting. Trompe-l’œil – in French – ‘deceive the eye’ is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects are in three dimensions.

Alexa takes an innovative approach to art. She is celebrated for developing a style of painting on the human body and three-dimensional spaces, creating the illusion that our reality is a two-dimensional work of art.


Artist uses his feet to create massive mandalas or murals in the snow.

Simon Beck is a British outdoor enthusiast and cartographer. He has literally carved his own path in the art world. For over a decade, he has been a snow artist who walks on soccer sized fields and creates striking geometrical designs in the untouched snow powder.

The mandala-like circles unfold slowly with each step. It is Simon’s version of a brushstroke on a white canvas. The entire design is only revealed when viewed from far above with the sun casting a shadow on all of the meticulous moves he’s just made.

Simon’s short-lived snow art is an exercise of the body and mind. It begins with careful planning. Simon maps out his design on paper using one millimeter as the scale for one step on the ground. Once the design is finalized, Simon grabs his snowshoes, a ski pole, and other tools to get to the long task of walking his sketch.

The whole creation can be seen in this clip:

A day’s work can be 12 hours of trudging through the snow, but the results of his efforts are awe-inspiring. Simon travels around the world creating his land art locally ranging from desolate mountain scopes to sports stadiums in snowy cities.


Gourd art.

Mike Shular from Peoria Illinois turns dried gourds into one of a kind pieces of art. He has been creating gourd art for over 40 years. His home is packed with his lifelong artworks: marble sculptures, maze drawings, wooden carvings, and beautiful gourd art.

The gourds play a unique role as canvas, they retain their shape, they can be carved on, drawn with a wood burning tool, and they can be painted. Mike Shular discovered gourd art in 2010 while on vacation in Kentucky. He stopped at the Kentucky Artisan Center and saw a demonstration by a gourd artist showing his craft. Shular was intrigued. When he got home he purchased a book and some tools, and started the hunt for gourds.

Mike Shular is focusing on his gourd art for both sale and exhibition. His work is displayed at a Gallery in Peoria Heights. He takes custom requests for particular gourd sizes and designs. Mike Shular participated annually at the Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair, and during the year he is busy building up inventory for this event which draws thousands to Peoria’s riverfront each year.

Shular says he relishes the satisfaction of seeing his imagination take shape, his labors of love evolving into finished works of art. Though he sometimes feels moments of exhaustion or burnout, he has no intentions of slowing down any time soon. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” he explains. “I’ve been an artist all my life.


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