A Better Cup of Tea

To create my art, I often use undisguised everyday objects that have non-artistic functions. I have been collecting used tea bags, their wrappers and labels for years.
Since 2011, I have been working on an ongoing art project, A Better Cup Of Tea, with the common thread being used tea bags and their components. I transform volumes of these everyday items into stunning installations. The work has evolved into various series of pieces based on different elements of the tea bags. These pieces were not planned, but rather have been a spontaneous response to the materials I collected. In doing so, I was able to explore variations in composition, repeating patterns, and recurring elements in a deeper way, and from a greater variety of perspectives. The repeated use of the structural elements of the tea bag (wrapper, label, tab, string, bag with tea and emptied) reveal hidden complexities of distinction and variation.

Different pieces of the project on display at the Carney Galery, Regis College, Weston, MA

Different pieces of the project on display at the Carney Gallery, Regis College, Weston, MA

As a group the pieces are unified, cohesive and coherent, but individually they are all unique. My forms are handmade and irregular rather than manufactured and hard-edged. My rigorous commitment to my chosen material creates a tension between perceptions of the individual elements and the whole. Small safety pins, rough wire forms, tiny strings, and tea bags with added found objects transcend their materiality and become something completely new. In some of the pieces I use the entire tea bag with the tea still inside, whereas in others I use only the paper of the emptied tea bag, or just its wrapper or label. I also sometimes transform the tea bags by altering them, sewing them, rolling them, gluing them, adding found objects to them, or printing on them. The elements blend, almost threatening each other, creating a prototype that is rich, edgy and commanding all at once. The resulting images portrays a characteristic and contemporary style that invites individual response and interpretation.

T-Duck and Melt Series - Photo credit: Will Howcroft

T-Duck and Melt Series – Photo credit: Will Howcroft

Reality, representation, and illusion are blended in Crane. My delights in the happy chance of the found object. A salvaged Singer sewing machine part, an old coat hanger or a broken tea cup are containers and props for her teabags. Crane is made from a saved piece of rusted wire that hung horizontal on the artist’s wall for a long time. Reoriented and with cavities filled with rolled and tied tea bags, a reclaimed wire becomes a statuesque crane. I redeem the beauty and history of damaged everyday objects according to strict principles of composition.

Crane, Metal found object, rolled tea-bags

Crane, Metal found object, rolled tea-bags

I use the simple geometry of the teabag to create a system in the work titled 88 . I filled the teabags with red plastic bottle caps and tiny fragments of strings and paper. Each bag was ironed, melting the bottle caps and sealing the tiny fragments inside. Arranged in a grid pattern, six across and six down, the bright red circles are repeating incremental units that can go from the finite to the seemingly infinite. The teabag creating the bottom right square holds the number 88.

Crane, Metal found object, rolled tea-bags

88, Part of the Melt Series – Photo credit: Pip Shepley

Kaleidoscope  is composed of approximately 138 square wooden panels of varying size and depth. The repetition of identical units continues with the pattern created by teabag labels glued onto the squares, but here the principle is loosened. The color of the labels vary dramatically and they are placed irregularly across a space as wide as 24 feet. The overall shape of Kaleidoscope varies with each installation. Teabag strings add to the variations. The strings overlap the panels, connecting each panel to the one below.

Kaleidoscope, Labels on board - Photo credit: Will Howcroft

Kaleidoscope, Labels on board – Photo credit: Will Howcroft

The three-dimensional Red Ticket brings together many aspects of my art. Strips of ten teabags are hung from a thin wire circle suspended from the ceiling by three chains made with safety pins. The artist also uses safety pins to link the tea bags together. Each strip of teabags carries a repeating color and shape. Some are tiny rectangles repurposed from a print, others hold bits of thin paper in circles. One teabag holds a red ticket.

Red Ticket, Tea-bags, found objects, safety pins, 27" x 16"

Red Ticket, Tea-bags, found objects, safety pins, 27″ x 16″

Creating astonishing visual experiences, my work invites closer looking and bigger thinking about the simple materials that surround us. My combinations of found and handmade objects are extraordinary mixtures of printmaking, sculpture and installation. With both muted and vibrant color, I give weight to the unexpected, making drama and poetry of everyday life.

Going Green, Tea-Wrappers

Going Green #1, relief print on tea wrappers, 72″ x 48″

 

A Better Cup Of Tea, detail. Vintage object, rolled tea-bags.

A Better Cup Of Tea, detail. Vintage object, rolled tea-bags.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of re-using everyday objects in my art. Living in a society of consumption, I would like to share with viewers the many fascinating aspects of what one could do with simple everyday objects such as used tea bags.

Photo gallery of the project