By Elizah Leigh on March 16, 2011

Artist Josh Blackwell mixes creativity and reuse together in the name of sparing landfills.

Very few men earn their worldly fame due to unexpectedly wicked powers of embroidery (nor do they actually live to tell the tale), but fortunately, Josh Blackwell is a rare exception.

Sewing heavy-gauge thread onto cotton canvas isn’t what one might consider an artistic revelation, but stitching rainbow-infused patterns upon an ever-changing lineup of reclaimed plastic shopping bags? Well, that certainly compels one to sit up and take notice.

But plastic bags? Let’s just say that they’re not exactly winning any popularity contests these days. Once seen as rather handy and certainly dandy, one-time-use polyethylene bags, which burst onto the shopping scene in the early ’80s, are now widely regarded as among of the worst environmental plagues that man has ever created.

Such a shame, really, because in the span of just a few decades, what began as a seemingly indispensable invention on par with tissues and cotton swabs has unfortunately morphed into tree branch-tangling, landfill-stuffing, ocean-clogging, wildlife-threatening nuisance. And let’s not get started on the billions of gallons of oil consumed in the manufacturing process.

In true artistic fashion, however, Blackwell has made the best of a bad situation. Since we’re swimming in unwanted plastic bags, why not transform them into upcycled canvases? The artist’s unusual quest began back in 2004 when, upon recognizing the ubiquitous and particularly harmful qualities of one-time-use shopping sacks, he began amassing as many as he could with the simple intention of sewing them shut.

His efforts, he hoped, would negate their harmful qualities — not only by denying plastic bags their innate function, but also by “revealing their essential necessity.” As Blackwell identified a correlation between society’s capitalistic tendencies and our deeply imprinted instinct to buy more, his sewn bags naturally morphed into an entirely different animal altogether.

The resulting collection of thread-studded shopping bags — emblazoned with a flurry of varied textures and patterns — are as attractive as they are jarring, since each work is technically emblematic of our perpetually disposable mentality. Still, the artist has managed to create beauty out of that which has become a pox on our natural landscape while spreading the subtle message that something’s got to give.

Not surprisingly, his unique artistic venture has garnered countless global exhibits and the buzz of multiple newspapers and online venues, resulting in a hot-off-the-presses text, “Plastic Bag As Humble Present.” Interestingly, he even successfully crowd sourced the funds necessary to print his book!

About the author

Elizah Leigh is an eco-inspired wordsmith capable of captivating readers in just the right manner to facilitate subliminal greenlightenment. If it hasn’t yet happened to you, dear reader, don’t worry... it soon will. She believes that walking on the green side of life isn’t so much about random actions like recycling household materials and eschewing bottled water as it really should be about committing to long-term lifestyle changes that naturally become effortless the more frequently they are practiced — and believe it or not, if you’re looking at the world through green-colored glasses, it’s never a chore.

Working as an eco-journalist for a number of online venues, including Ecorazzi, WebEcoist, WebUrbanist and Causecast, this self-confessed eager greenie and knowledge hound has become deeply entrenched in the world of green living and makes a conscious effort at all times to practice exactly what she preaches. Elizah feels that no one is an "expert" in this field as long as they continue to keep an open mind by acquiring new eco-feathers in their cap — something that she aspires to do with each new article that she authors.

Extremely passionate about greening perspectives as well as lifestyles one carefully selected word at a time, this eco-writer feels privileged to add the 1-800-RECYCLING audience to her increasingly expanding network of green-minded readers. When she’s not tweeting her ever-lovin’ greenie heart out or adding new eco-themed articles to her portfolio, she can be found frolicking outside or shooting the breeze with her menagerie of impossibly needy geriatric felines.

As for what Elizah hopes to bring to 1-800-RECYCLING? Believe it or not, she is convinced that we are all capable of carving out individual and collective legacies in which caring enough about what we do while we walk this earth ensures that future generations enjoy the same basic privileges that we currently do. Can collections of carefully crafted environmentally themed words help facilitate this lofty plan for eco-friendly ah-ha! inspiration? Stranger things have been done to honor Mother Nature. For now, that’s her eager greenie goal, and she’s definitely sticking to it.


Learn more about Elizah Leigh

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