At every turn, sustainability continues to be at the centre of political, economic, and social debates. It is also at the core of visual artist Elaine Mulder’s canvasses.
Mulder’s personal mission to keep garbage out of landfills allows her to create inspirational and original works of art. By upcycling materials no longer in use, she encourages viewers to question the ecological impact of their actions and adopt sustainability.
The avid environmentalist was last spotted at St. Albert’s Art Walk on Thursday, Aug. 4, painting in front of The Bookstore on Perron. It was windy, but her passion for the outdoors, regardless of nature’s mercurial temperament, simply added a fresh element to the beautiful and ephemeral paintings.
Inside the book store in a back viewing room, Mulder showcased about 10 paintings where waste product formed the skeleton of each canvas. Once the skeleton is complete, she paints her artistic renderings over top.
She takes “what we throw away” and upcycles waste products into all of her three-dimensional paintings. One stunning landscape of a field bordered by trees was made of fabric rolled and soaked in glue. Sand and rice were mixed in to add texture. Quinoa and jute string formed a field covered in tall yellow grass and leaves were formed from a cat food bag.
“Everything I do has something to do with environmental awareness. Where I can find used things and what garbage I have determines what I do,” said Mulder. She has even torn up egg cartons and mixed in a bit of sawdust to form look-alike mulch for paintings.
Now living in Gibbons, Mulder first revealed her penchant for artistic creation at the age of three when she painted a black cat entirely in pink and green. She laughs recalling her shocked parents.
“Even at that young age, I showed a talent for art. Later in junior high I took summer courses from the Edmonton Art Gallery. Later I studied interior design. But I realized there was no future in art and interior design, and I went to NAIT to take architectural technology,” Mulder said.
Having a bit of background in interior design and construction helped her understand materials, their properties, chemical makeup, and how different glues work. More importantly, Mulder’s background broadened her understanding of the difference between ecologically friendly products and their more toxic cousins.
“Doing what I do is also a process of the brain going outside what it usually does and investigating and experimenting.”
While building a career as a consultant to developers and architects, Mulder allowed her artistic ambitions to lapse. But 10 years ago, she picked up a brush and started experimenting.
“I see the damage that is done in construction — how much discarded material there is. It all goes to the dump. It’s absurd the amount we throw away."
If you count her earliest cat paint-a-thon, Mulder has painted for more than 50 years, only now her focus is understanding nature and how we interact with it.
“Change can happen if it comes from us and we become inventive. If I see garbage around, I don’t just throw it away. I think, ‘Hey, I can make a statement with that.’”