|"Waste artist" Alex Bako with some of his work/|
Bako is one of hundreds of DC-area artists with exhibitions at this year's Artomatic in Crystal City, a 5-week free event that celebrates the tremendous diversity and creative talents of local artists and performers.
We caught up with Bako tonight as he was taking some photos of his show, which he labels Wastes Are My Medium: Upcycled Artwork Using Recycled Materials.
While the idea of exhibiting art is relatively new to Bako (this is his 1st major showing and he has only been serious about his art for a short time), working for a better environment has long been central to his being. There was an environmental science degree from Yale. There were the years spent as an environmental engineer in the Air Force. Then, 3 more years working around the world with environmental concerns for the World Bank. Finally, there was time spent as an environmental consultant, a job managing environmental programs for the city of Washington. But, despite all his efforts, Bako felt his message was still not being received.
"We make claims to be green, but we live in a disposable society for convenience," Bako says. "We don't repair things, we replace them. As a result, we fill our landfills and incinerators."
After much deliberation, Bako, who says he's always enjoyed creating and repairing things with his hands, decided he could promote a much stronger environmental message as a full-time artist than he could as a government paper pusher.
But first, of course, he would have to get permission from his wife, Larissa. It's expensive to live in DC. And going from a two to a one-income family would definitely mean a change in lifestyle. "I am really lucky. My wife is so supportive. She said 'it's not a paycheck, it's your passion. Go for it,'" Bako said, noting that his wife had just brought him the Heineken he was sipping as we talked.
|More Bako bag work|
But Larissa said she wouldn't consider returning to the couple's previous lifestyle. "This is a new chapter of our lives," Larissa said. "I think it's a tragedy when you have a talent and you can't express it."
In fact, Larissa said she is growing to love the life of an artistic couple. She enjoys the things that she and Alex can do jointly in this new endeavor. "He's the artist, but there are things we can do together," she said, pointing to some decorative items she had sewn into one of the works. "That home ec class sure did pay off."
But how do you describe the work itself? Like all strong artwork, it first catches the eye; then engages the mind. The central focus of all the work in this Artomatic exhibition is burlap bags decorated in colorful company logos, sayings, and artwork that once held large amounts of coffee. Bako frames the opened, stretched bags with wood pallets and decorates them with other discarded items he collects from trash bins, businesses, and warehouses around DC.
Larissa, who holds a degree in communications from Howard University, said she really enjoys watching each piece of work, which can take as long as 40 or more hours to produce, emerge from its embryonic state to a finished creation. "It's like watching someone write a beautiful essay. A piece may go through 4 or 5 drafts before Alex is finally satisfied with it," she said.
Even though a relative newcomer to the world of environmental art, Bako has been encouraged by the initial reception to his work. "At the coffee shop where I got the first bags, the owner said to let him see a project when it was finished. He looked at it and said on the spot he wanted to buy it. He asked me how much I wanted for it. I really had no idea what it was worth so I said $500. He said 'wait here, I'll write you out a check right now."
So what's next? Bako is not sure. He knows it will involve art. And it will involve the environment. "I feel I'm in an explosive, evolutionary period," he says. "I want to take this environmental theme as far as I can take it."
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