Artist turns old bags into something beautiful

July 9, 2010 (CHICAGO)

This is one of those stories where we don't have to warn you not to try this at home. You can try it, but the likelihood of success is slim. Not just anyone can turn discarded plastic bags into paintings, sculptures and fine jewelry.

"I was walking down the street one day and I saw plastic bags in the trees, all over and all over my yard. I just picked it up and said what can I do with this?" said Cydney Lewis.

It was an organic beginning to what has blossomed into a career.

"I just layer, layer, layer the plastic bags until it molds itself. And then I'm able to manipulate the figures… so it looks like a human figure," Lewis said.

Lewis uses plastic bags and other throwaway items to make life-like sculptures. And while these wall hangings might look like paintings, they, too, are fashioned from plastic bags.

"The wall paintings, I use a melting technique where I use an iron and iron them together so they melt and mold together," said Lewis.

One was inspired by a newspaper clipping. "I saw a New York Times article about a little girl in Haiti who was standing in a pile of a landfill and she was looking for food. And I don't know. I just cut it out and it just stuck with me. And so I did a piece called 'The Girl in Green,' and it's a metaphor for standing in what we're now calling the green technology," said Lewis.

The South Side artist also makes an array of jewelry, which she calls "adornments." The architect turned art-director by training says she started making the pieces on a whim.

"I had an opening at an art show and I wanted to promote my work. So I thought, you know, let me make a piece of jewelry see how it goes. And when I was there someone actually wanted to purchase my jewelry," Lewis said.

Lewis says she is grateful for the response she gets to her work, but she hopes people also grasp the message behind it.

"What I'm really trying to do is transform how we look at things as well as the materials that we use everyday," she said.

Cydney Lewis's jewelry is sold at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Her sculptures and wall hangings will be on display at the Elephant Room Gallery in September.

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