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Mine Muck Sustains Painter’s Palette

Friday, August 30, 2013

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The toxic sludge polluting streams from abandoned coal mines is going green—and yellow and red and orange.

The eco-conscious John Sabraw, an artist and professor at Ohio University, is using iron oxide from the coal mine muck to give the goo a new, more sustainable life in the form of paint pigments.

The environment-inspired paintings are part of Sabraw's series of bold colored circles called Chroma

The Chroma Collection

Each piece in the Chroma collection uses six to 24 layers of paint on two thin sheets of aluminum composite, instead of canvas, and framed in organically grown, sustainably harvested, formaldehyde-free bamboo, an Ohio University article explained.

Chroma iron oxide paintings
John Sabraw

The paintings in the Chroma collection have six to 24 layers of paint, some from toxic sludge runoff from abandoned coal mines. The artist says he is obsessed with sustainability.

Sabraw uses water-based paints, dry pigments and other dry media—sometimes adding coats over days or months—and then allows the layers to naturally interact with the temperature and other elements of his home studio.

Aided by Guy Riefler, an associate professor of civil engineering at Ohio University, Sabraw made an artist-grade acrylic and oil paint out of iron runoff from old coal mines in the Ohio River area. Heavy metals are washed out of the mines and into the waterways when it rains—a problem that makes local streams too acidic for wildlife to survive.

"The dream of a useful paint made from mine runoff remediation, whose sales can offset the cost of remediation, is one step closer to realization," Sabraw said.

"I was struck by the local streams that are largely orange, red and brown, as if a mud slide was happening further upstream," Sabraw told The Huffington Post.

"When I found out that these colors were mainly from iron oxide, the same raw materials used to make many paint colors, I wanted to use this toxic flow to make paintings rather than with imported iron oxide from China," Sabraw said.

John Sabraw Ohio University
Ohio University / Robb DeCamp

Sabraw uses layers of paint made from toxic sludge and other mixed media, often adding more over the course of days or months until he's satisfied with the piece.

To make the iron oxide sludge into paint, Riefler and Sabraw first pumped underground water into a sealed jug, then poured controlled amounts into aerators at a laboratory. The goop sinks to the bottom, allowing Sabraw to collect it and mix it with acrylic polymers and resins to give it color. He then air- or heat-dries it before grinding it into powdered pigments and mixing it with linseed oil, Sabraw explained to Gizmodo.

'Obsession with Sustainability'

Setting out to examine his own art practice, Sabraw founded the Green World Art Project, through which he shares his "obsession with sustainability" and ways he has learned to practice art more sustainably. 

"Sustainability has become this kind of negative obligation," Sabraw told Ohio University. "There's a perception, particularly here in the United States, that this is foisted upon you and you have to do something about it, but it's like paying taxes. There's a benefit somewhere, but we don't see it, and we suspect that some people are getting off scot-free."

The two professors are currently working to develop a standardized process for making their paint so that it can be marketed to domestic pigment manufacturers. The profits would then be spent on cleaning up polluted sources.

   

Tagged categories: Artists; Color; Iron oxide pigments; Pigments; Renewable raw materials; Sustainability; Toxicity; Trends

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/30/2013, 8:56 AM)

Hoover Color has been producing and selling this type of mine-waste iron oxide pigment for years under their EnvironOxide brand.


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