Out of the eight million metric tons of plastic that end up in our oceans annually, 20 percent comes from marine sources. Fishing ropes and buoys adorned the shores of New York’s Bay Ridge shores like a choker necklace, and Venezuelan artist Manaure Peñalver, on his morning run, decided to do something about it.
The polystyrene cores of buoys can quickly become hazardous to wildlife if their hard-plastic shell becomes brittle, both underwater and on land. Peñalver had soon accumulated a solid stack of buoys, cleaned up and ready to recycle, not quite feeling inspired with the possibility of art. It was his wife Laili Lau who, eventually, suggested he used them as canvases. Now, instead of resting on the Rockaway shore, battered and bruised, they proudly decorate the walls of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Gallery, a hub for emerging talents with over 20 years of history and contributions to the New York art scene.
Peñalver’s journey with ‘garbage’ art began in his university days, when financial struggles called for creativity and innovation. ‘Recycling my used skateboard decks was a nice way to find canvases for free.
Fast forward 14 years and I still make art with things that would [otherwise] be polluting. For each piece, I like to pick a phrase, then find an image that fits, and make a little joke of it. That might come from my days as an advertising copywriter,’ he explains.
‘People laugh at the messages and find them odd but, most importantly, they don't stop and think that they appreciate sea trash as an art piece. That itself is very satisfying to me – taking something out of the sea that might harm it and looks ugly and making it into something that someone would want to look at every day,’ Peñalver says. So far, his personal favourite is the ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ buoy – ‘I love the Bee Gees, and being able to pay a little homage to them is something I enjoy very much,’ he explains.
Bringing humour into this project is all about creating something that people will treasure or, at the very least, something that will make them smile. The ultimate goal for Peñalver, however, is planting the seed of repurposing into the public’s minds, helping the environment in his own miniscule way.
After all, buoys have an average lifespan of four years at sea, but could easily outlive that in a private collection or gallery, and can be recycled once they’ve served their aesthetic purpose.
In the future, Peñalver hopes to incorporate more shore debris into repurposed art. ‘I'm still trying to come up with something involving fishing nets. Those are big polluters and it would be nice to find a way to get them out of the sea and landfills,’ he explains. Art has always been a means of expression, of awareness, and of statement, and Peñalver has demonstrated the potential impact of one person’s initiative.