Ron Shelton: A World Wrapped in Plastic
Our impact on the world around is questioned in Akron Soul Train’s current exhibition, Woven: The Human x Nature Relationship, on view from September 8th through October 23rd, 2021. The exhibition features Ron Shelton and Nicole Condon-Shih. Both artists completed a residency program through the gallery with their use of plastic, tying the two bodies of work together.
For Shelton’s residency, he expanded on his international High Art Friday’s (HAF) project involving an international community of artists that sheds light on humanity’s growing problem with plastics. Plastic is everywhere and permeates into every aspect of our lives. The benefit and the problem with plastic is that it does not biodegrade. Some plastics create products that are meant for extended use and have even saved lives. However, most of single-use plastics end up polluting the environment and endangering both communities and wildlife. “An estimated 150 million tons of plastic disappears from the waste stream each year.” Shelton explains. “Plastic waste in the world’s oceans has been recognized by the United Nations as a major environmental problem.”
Shelton uses discarded plastics to create beautiful objects that illustrate the pervasiveness of the material in our everyday lives. Most of the materials utilized by Shelton would be pitched in the trash, such as plastic bags, pill bottles, and even Tidy Cat litter containers, “I have been working with plastic for over 3 years now, as a means to bring awareness to the global plastic crisis. I am always finding new methods to explore the medium. For the past year I have been weaving strips of plastic onto a hand-made loom. Somehow the title of this show Woven aligned perfectly with this body of work.”
Inspired by HAF member Taeyoun Kim from South Korea, Shelton started using plastic grocery bags to create geometric abstract shapes and patterns on a handmade loom in his Woven Series. “She is the plastic bag weaving master,” Shelton says. “I have collaborated with Taeyoun Kim and many other artists from Ghana, Serbia, El Salvador, the U.K and the U. S.” As plastic bags have been the subject of bans in states and cities nationwide, Shelton’s weavings remind us that they are still prevalent in our lives. Rather than dispose of them, however, he shows they can be reused to create new works of art. “I have been teaching school-age children in the community the technique of plastic bag weaving,” he explains. This outreach connects the younger generation to environmental awareness.
Shelton’s use of yellow throughout his weavings and other works like, Yellow Mosaic, act as a warning signal. The color has long been associated with caution signs, and Shelton’s message of caution is at the forefront of his work, “The recent full-length documentary, The Story of Plastics is a complete reference resource. It is amazing how this medium has been around for over a 100 years, and it has devasted our environment during this time.” In Yellow Mosaic, Shelton pieces together cut squares of cat litter containers and handles to create a large minimalist construction that is almost quilt-like. The effect creates a rigid blanket, that conceptually, isn’t defined by its edges. The composition could extend out in all directions infinitely to cover the Earth, much like the problem with plastics at hand.
“My work is in connection to a global community of artists who are using plastic as their medium to bring awareness of the plastic epidemic, especially with single use items,” explains Shelton. This concern even translated into his hat making. “I have been a hat maker for over 20 years,” he says. “The hat keeps finding a place in my narrative. HAF launched a major campaign, The Sustainable Art of Plastic, an international project where I shipped 23-inch wire forms around the globe and the artists embellished with plastic in their community.” One of the hats Shelton created in the exhibition, Plastic Fire (Art Hat), is composed of melted and stretched pill bottles making a dual statement not only on the waste produced by pharmaceutical companies, but also the over-prescription of medications and the negative impact both have on our health.
Each year, about 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced. A study published by Science Advances found that the U.S. produces an average of 231 pounds of plastic waste per person per year. These alarming numbers drive Ron Shelton’s creative force to challenge viewers’ perspectives on plastics and how we can reduce and reuse items that are commonly seen as disposable. Shelton’s work in Woven: The Human x Nature Connection is a stark reminder that these materials were heading to a landfill, or worse, accumulating in our lakes and oceans.
More information on HAF’s mission and projects, visit: https://www.highartfridays.com/
Woven: The Human x Nature Relationship
September 8 – October 23, 2021
Wed-Sat 11AM – 4PM
Akron Soul Train
191 King James Way
Akron, OH 44308