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Painters’ Waste Transformed into Art

Friday, January 2, 2015

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A former decorative painter in California has given her used brushes a new life—as both symbol and storyteller.

Using a small carving knife, San Francisco artist Rebecca Szeto whittles the ends of her old ratty paintbrushes into ladies who evoke the history of painting.

She paints their features using oil-based paints, while the worn brush fibers below act as the colorful, if stiff-looking, gowns.

Paintbrush Portraits
Rebecca Szeto

“The World is Your Oyster” evokes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665).

The ongoing series, titled “Paintbrush Portraits,” refers to the history of painting through the medium of paint, using its own tool, according to the artist’s statement posted on her website.

Project Inspiration

“These works play with notions of reforming beauty and value,” Szeto adds. “I use humble, end-of-life, mass-produced materials inspired by my experience as a faux finisher.”

For several years, Szeto collected used brushes and sandpapers from her faux finishing jobs, with no particular end project in mind, she told

Rebecca Szeto
Rebecca Szeto

The sculptures are inspired by Rebecca Szeto's experience as a faux finisher.  “Menina IV” (left) is based on Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” (1656). “Daughter of Fortune (Ode to Allende Redux)” is shown on the right.

“Eventually, I had to decide to use them or toss them for lack of storage.”

Inspiration struck when she saw a ratty brush that had a small speck of red paint on it, she told The Guardian. “It reminded me of Velázquez’s 'Infanta Margarita de Austria' (1654),” she said.

“Needless to say, I never saw a material I couldn’t find hidden potential in,” said Szeto.


Tagged categories: Artists; Decorative Finishes; Decorative painting; Faux finishes; North America; Paint application; Paint application equipment; Tools

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