Recasting Abbey Road in Aluminium

Aluminium cans are an infinitely recyclable form of packaging—and a highly versatile one.
6 December, 2016
Artists the world over enjoy turning humble aluminium beverage cans into timeless art pieces.
American Jeff Ivanhoe is an unusual pioneer when it comes to recycling aluminium, which he started doing 35 years ago. That is because Ivanhoe, trained as a graphic artist, turns those empty beverage cans into beautiful mosaics that are just as likely to be found in museums as they are in the ordinary home.

Ivanhoe uses an Exacto knife and straight edge to cut colorful bits of aluminium away from their source. He then creates flat mosaic tiles and arranges the bits to reveal famous portraits – like those of Marilyn Monroe or Abraham Lincoln – in dimensions both large and small. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, his work emphasizes the American Southwest with aluminium art pieces that feature Native Americans, horses, and rugged, arid landscapes. Yet he also re-creates iconic pop culture images, like the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover, and art that connects to sports enthusiasts, vintage cars, pet lovers, and more.
Image: Art Blog
"I grew up listening to the music these boys created," Ivanhoe says in a video clip, describing how his work with recycled aluminium brought the Beatles back to life. "It was an honor to be given a commission to create Abbey Road my way." The project took approximately 10,000 aluminium tiles and an entire month to complete, he says, and spans the length of a wall at nearly natural human height.
The works are best described as a modern take on pointillism, perhaps the essence of the mosaic form, and the pieces that Ivanhoe dubbed "Alumosaics" are more art than novelty. Ivanhoe studied at the University of Arizona and continued a career in art, advertising and promotional work. Many of his pieces are commissioned, yet the art remains accessible, even whimsical, with mosaics that celebrate ice cream cones, butterflies, a favorite football team, or urban stoplights and streetscapes.
What inspired his love for mosaics? The answer might be stained glass windows. Although he is trained in other art forms, Ivanhoe tells a story of a contest – held when he was in primary school – to design a stained glass window to be used as a set backdrop during a school play. He designed the winning entry in crayon, paying close attention to each tiny piece and unique shape, and grew to love the vehicle for expression.
Image: Inhabitat
That is not really what started his mosaic making, though. Ivanhoe's entire enterprise literally began on a shoestring, because he patented a new kind of shoelace with aluminium tips on them. He never made any money on the 1980s-era stretchy shoelaces, but the project left him with a ton of tiny aluminium scraps all over the house. His wife Barbara, a designer and art director who provides his inspiration, saw the colorful side of the scraps where he had simply focused on the shiny, silvery metallic side for his laces.

The rest was history. By 2014, Ivanhoe had created 240 murals across his career. He also credits an art professor, Carl Heldt, who created pieces in wood with a similar vision, for advancing his own skills.

Ivanhoe is also a music enthusiast, and the artist listens to classic rock while working in hours-long stretches on the mosaics. They often portray performers, sports heroes, or even comic book superheroes like Superman. That commissioned piece Ivanhoe completed in aluminium bits to create Abbey Road is an example of not just an emphasis on the natural world, but the cultural influences in a shared ecosystem – all reflected in a recycled aluminium material that finds a new role in the hands of the mosaic artist.
Banner image: Chica and Jo