I made it to the Fitchburg Art Museum on the very last day of Plastic Imagination (curated by museum director Nick Capasso). The work of two of the artists made me think about the role of layers in art. Artists work with layers all the time. There are layers of paint, layers of color, layers of distance, layers of focus, layers of meaning – transparent, opaque, physical and mental.

Lisa Barthelson had several works in the show. Her beautiful colorful mandala (mandala, all consuming, 46″ diameter) is meticulously organized and constructed. On a closer look you see it was created entirely of cast off, used up plastic objects from her life. Layers of color, meaning, and reality.

What do you do with your old toothbrushes?

Buttons, bar codes, bottlecaps and beads

Tom Deininger created a gorgeous sculptural painting of Mt. Rainier. When you get closer you realize it’s made of cast-off plastic objects, usually toys and figures which had been altered (a bit like Woody Allen’s the body of a crab and the head of a social worker). The layers of meaning, non-meaning, and visual anarchy are overwhelming, but  step back and once again it’s Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier by Tom Deininger

Is that Einstein’s head amid the rubble?

The green field is really green plastic.

These artists both used common household stuff, the kind we send to the landfill, to create work with all the layers mentioned above, as well as additional layers– incongruity, surprise and humor.

I drove home contemplating the layers I use in my own work, deliberately and unconsciously, intrigued by the possibilities that these pieces conjured. The exhibition caused me to begin thinking about my work in terms of layers, each with a specific role and purpose. Even the layer of distance to and from a painting can be used as another component of the creative process. Perhaps nothing will actually change in my work (except I may add more “trash” into it), but I will be thinking about it differently.