Jeff Scofield is currently exhibiting at the Abu Dhabi Art Hub. The show completes his recent month-long Artist in Residence program at the Liwa Art Hub in order to create Sustainable Art. The exhibition started 26 September 2015 and runs through the last week of October. This is where Curiosity Middle East Magazine caught up with Jeff to discuss his artwork and its relevance to current aspects of life in the UAE.
The theme of sustainability was suggested by the Art Hub, does your work usually cover this topic?
Yes, I am a sustainable artist and have spent years developing creative artworks around this theme. My specialty is installation art featuring recycled furniture and other found objects which I use to create minimalist pieces. For instance, I recycle construction materials from building sites in the UAE, and transform them into abstract compositions with the colors of rust and concrete, which should give the viewer a sense of the energy of a construction site, the noise, the dust, etc. I strive to create beautiful artworks with sustainable means.
I present my work to the public as Sustainable Art, in order to make a statement about the direction our culture should take.
Is it the first time that you have taken up such an initiative?
I’ve participated in a number of art exhibitions dealing with sustainability, including a group show in Dubai titled Green Oasis in 2009, a solo show at Gallery 76 called Recycling into Abstraction in 2011, a group exhibition for the UAE Green Festival 2014 titled Recycling Art, as well as the group show Sustaining Identity at Tashkeel this year. I recently presented a paper on sustainability in art at the World Art Dubai Fair in April 2015, where I also exhibited my artwork. I am seeking similar outlets, including art galleries, museums and public art events, in order to develop new Sustainable Art initiatives.
Your exhibition has many stunning artworks, of which the glass jar installation is perhaps the most original. What was your inspiration behind this piece?
I am expressing various aspects of light and space through the use of glass, metal and organic materials. My primary intention is to capture the refractions of light passing through the glass jars, creating patterns of contrasting shadows and highlights that play upon the wall. The spices add a delicate touch of color and life to the composition. I like the quiet tone of this installation; despite the large scale of the work, it is calm and serene, almost Zen.
How long did it take you to put this together, and do you hope to exhibit it anywhere else after the Art Hub?
It took a month to assemble the installation, using glass jars that I accumulated over a year, and spices from the canteen at the Art Hub. I hope to sell the piece, although it’s a bit large for a private collector’s living room; at 3 meters by 4 meters in dimensions, it requires a big space in order to appreciate the piece fully. I hope a hotel would put it in their lobby or a corporation would place it in their offices, in order to demonstrate their support for sustainable issues to a wide public.
What inspired this thought of turning found objects into art? How did this programme come to life?
This evolved over time. A few years ago I found myself working with recycled paper in different ways, exploring 2D and 3D modes of expression. This eventually led to upcycling wood furniture into art objects, which I hung from the ceiling in order to emphasize their non-functionality. Simultaneously, I worked on commissioned pieces in which I upcycled sponsors’ materials into art. This in turn opened up a whole range of original and exciting creations which cross the barriers between painting, sculpture, public installations and conceptual art.
What beauty as an artist do you see in these casually disposed items, to bring art to life from the recycling bin?
I strive to express Sustainable themes through the use of natural materials. For instance, I transform recycled paper, salvaged wood, metal and glass with a view towards expressing their intrinsic nature – the feel, the smell, the sounds they emit. I also use organic materials such as seashells and cotton fabrics in order to express the cycles of life through art. Simply associating a few different materials together in unexpected ways brings out intriguing and expressive effects.
From where and how do you collect these raw, waste materials?
I find upcycled materials in 2 places; at home and at construction sites. I carefully select items I believe will make a great art piece. Sometimes the simple
act of finding an object will inspire me to create an artwork. Other times I might take some time to discover what I wish to create. But I only collect materials that have some intrinsic value I believe can be transformed into Sustainable Art.
Why do you choose upcycling as the elements of your projects?
This evolved over time. Starting with recycled paper, I moved on to upcycling wooden furniture, natural fabrics, and other materials as my artwork evolved. It is important to note that my objective has always been to create beautiful works of art. I’ve discovered that upcycling can be a very expressive way of creating fine art, and the public responds well to the Sustainable ideas. So I’ve continued to develop this as an original and provocative theme in my artwork.
Which found objects come into most use while creating this recycled beauty?
Recycled newspapers and natural fabrics are the most prevalent materials. In addition, I use metal wires, grilles, glass, salvaged wood, and other construction materials. With these minerals, I mix organic materials such as seashells, spices, cotton and jute fabrics. By blending them together, I obtain intriguing effects of color and light that evoke a broad range of emotional expressions.
How is it that you have accustomed yourself to move out of your comfort zone and transitioned to beautify found objects?
This is simply part of the creative process. I discovered intriguing and thought-provoking new expressions from upcycling various materials into fine art. But upcycling is only a part of the process. The main endeavor is to create beautiful paintings, sculpture and installations, and hopefully imbue them with sustainable themes that touch the viewers hearts and emotions.
Do you work alone or with other artists?
Three artists and I have been creating art together for many years at the Dubai International Art Centre, where we work as Art Instructors and Directors. Art is what brings us together – we are pursuing more or less abstract themes, each in our own way. The constructive criticism in our informal sessions is a key element that keeps us fresh and inquisitive as we pursue our individual artistic careers.
Does your team of four liaise with each other to produce a piece or do all of you create individually?
Both. We meet once a week at the Dubai International Art Centre to pursue our artwork as an informal group, where the friendly criticism and constructive dialogue is beneficial to our artistic growth. The remainder of the week we’re free to create our artwork individually, because it’s a very personal journey to pursue high-quality artistic expression.
What are the other out of the box events you have participated in?
- Selected for a group exhibition called “Self Festival” at the Palazzo Ca’Zanardi in Venice to coincide with the 56th Venice Biennale 2015
- Selected for a group exhibition called “Sustaining Identity” at Tashkeel Art Centre in Dubai in 2015
- Conducted Sustainable Art workshops at Sikka Art Fair as part of Art Dubai 2015
- Selected for The Big Picture group show at Pro Art gallery in Dubai in 2015
- Delivered a paper on Sustainability in Art at the World Art Dubai Fair 2015
- Participated in the UAE Green Festival in 2014 with various art shows and public appearances at Art Couture and the Dubai International Art Centre.
- Mounted a solo show at Gallery 76 called Recycling into Abstraction in 2011
- Participated in Art Oasis 2009; A Green Vision at Wafi Shopping Centre
What do you hope to achieve after these commendable endeavors?
I am currently seeking a professional art gallery to promote my Sustainable Art. I’m looking for additional outlets for exhibiting my artwork, such as public art, interactive art, and other artistic initiatives. In addition, I’m trying to find sponsors who can help finance art materials and mount high-visibility art events for the public to enjoy and learn about Sustainable Art.
What is your opinion about the general public’s view of sustainability in the UAE, what would be your advice to improve the situation?
There is a general understanding about sustainability but it is clearly not a priority for most people in the UAE. There’s more to sustainability than conserving water and reducing energy consumption. It’s also about economics, politics and culture, which must work together with ecological improvements, in order to ensure a better life for future generations. Solutions must be viewed with a long term perspective. The key is educating the public, and that will be an ongoing activity as we strive for a sustainable lifestyle.
I strive to express Sustainable themes through the use of natural materials
Jeff Scofield is an American artist who studied at the Ateliers des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris after earning his Master of Architecture degree at Columbia University in New York. He migrated to Dubai 10 years ago, and is now the Art Director for Gallery 76 at the Dubai International Art Center.
Jeff uses found materials to create original abstract art installations. Working in a minimalist style, his artworks are conceptual, and focus on exploring natural materials as expressions of sustainable art.
Jeff’s artwork has been exhibited in various art galleries, public institutions and hotels in New York, Paris, Rome and Dubai. His artwork has won numerous awards, and is frequently selected for juried exhibitions. His art can be found in private collections in the USA, Canada, France, the UK, Hong Kong, Australia and the UAE.
Jeff upcycles discarded construction materials from building sites to create original abstract artwork with myriad textures and surfaces. Through paintings, sculpture, and installation art, Jeff mixes together found materials such as metal, wood, sand, plaster, wires, steel cables, grills, fabrics, glass and light. Working at large and small scales, Jeff’s artwork evokes the complexities and contradictions of modern life through the expression of sustainable themes.
His artworks express symbiotic relationships between the natural environment and the modern city. The found objects, the newsprint, the layers of paint, the opposition of disparate elements create an unexpected balance. The upcycled glass jars, the organic sea shells, the play of light and shadow, the natural elements combine to express the wonders of life. With these media, Jeff expresses the delicate co-existence between the man-made world and the natural environment.