In 2009 Erik Sanner, a new media artist, met with Peter Emerick, a photographer, to discuss an unlikely combination – traffic cones and fine arts. Both had been using traffic cones as their central motif/medium since the 1990s. Each was surprised to discover the other. They wondered, how many other cone-centric creatives are out there?
Quite a few, they discovered. Artists have been drawing on, carving into, photographing, and documenting traffic cones for years. Why focus on something so common? For starters, traffic cones are always available (and often easy to steal) and the smooth, durable surface lends itself to upcycling. But traffic cones also represent a sort of cultural motif – a constant in our built environment.
Sanner and Emrick’s meetings eventually gave birth to the Traffic Cone Occasional, a 2013 exhibition at Mobius gallery in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. The event featured over 15 artists, hailing from New York to Los Angeles and parts of Europe.
The following is TrafficCones.com’s digital exhibit of traffic cone art. Many of the following artists were also featured in the Occasional. If you make cone art or know someone who’s fanatic about creative reuse, please send them our way. We plan to grow this collection on an ongoing basis.
In 1992, Peter Emerick, co-curator of the Traffic Cone Occasional, was a graduate student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn when he shot his first cone. The longtime photographer was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and discovered the road cone below. Convinced the aerial viewpoint was cliché, Emerick kept walking. But something about the unique presentation of this everyday object captured his imagination. Emerick shot two color photos and brought them to class for critique. Fellow students seemed spellbound by the unidentifiable image.
For the next decade, Emerick built “Koans,” a body of work centering on aerial views of road cones. His pieces have shown throughout South Korea and the United States. A practicing Zen Buddhist, Emerick appreciates revisiting the same commonplace object in the built environment over and over again – he always discovers a new view. None of his outdoor shots are manipulated or digitally altered. Each cone is exactly as Emerick found it.
Koans come as singular images or laid out in grids and groups. According to Emerick, audiences rarely recognize the subject. A doctor might see a medical instrument, an artist might see ceramics, but most often the viewer sees fish eyes. More recently, Emerick created tile images that can be moved into different formations.
Lana Shuttleworth might be the most versatile and prolific traffic cone artists out there. Just look at these:
Shuttleworth has transformed the “ordinary cone” into: delicately detailed “Ethnomorphic” landscapes, composed of cone shreds; 7-foot tall urban scenes built from cone layers; Representations of human organs made from fused and sliced cones; and really big birds. Her work is regularly shown around throughout Los Angeles and overseas.
Erik Sanner, Emerick’s partner on the Occasional, is a new media artists whose interactive exhibits have shown throughout North America, Japan and Europe. His work frequently involves collaborating with groups of viewers. Live projects include altering cones with combined illustrations or overlaying a video game screen with illustrated cones. On his website, Sanner speaks of his work as:
promoting awareness of traffic cone aesthetics, and collaborating with artists and non-artists alike to realize projects no individual would have imagined or executed without sharing their visions and cooperating together.
This aerial map of traffic cones was inspired by Sanner’s documentation. Using Google street view, artist Amanda Buonocore– who’s ongoing work involves dissecting layers of paint and uncovering historical markings on older walls –tracked down cones within a 1500 foot radius of Mobius. Each number corresponds to a location listed at the bottom, each color represents the year Google took the shot, and the number of lines indicates the number of cones at that location. Buonocore’s map reveals 395 cones.
Frank Kwiatkowski, under the moniker Kwiatkowski Press, has been known to transform the street into a living exhibition, tacking prints with titles like “insulin uprising,” “underwear journalists,” and “art as activism” throughout the city. The Denver-based artist prints his underground graphics by etching “conecuts” into discarded traffic cones the same way a traditional print artist would use linoleum or wood. Notice how some of the conecuts pictured above are held in front of a light source, illustrating the relief.
This Greek artist began illustrating traffic cones while living in New York City where he attended The Art Students League in Manhattan. Captivated by the dense, active urban corridors, Yiannis Nomiko found himself constantly illustrating scenes in subways, on street corners and outside Pennsylvania Station. One day he brought home a traffic cone he’d found abandon. Slightly damaged, the cone reminded Nomiko of the classic Greek vases he’d been trained to paint. He began painting his sketches onto cones in a way that paid homage to the art of ancient Greece.
Nomiko paints his cones by placing them on a potter’s wheel. He uses black wood enamel paint and seals his work with protective wood varnish.
Shane Maxwell is an artist and fashion designer from Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. A combined love of science fiction and the great outdoors influences many of these otherworldly pieces. The gown pictured above – made from cuts of traffic cones — weighs over 15 lbs and was constructed with an under layer made completely from duct tape.
New York City’s Robert Pruitt is known for glittery panda paintings and celebrity sculptures including one of Paris Hilton and an 11-foot high monument depicting Andy Warhol. For 2013′s Frieze Art Fair in London, Pruitt molded and accessorized traffic cones, creating these “cone people.”
Make art from upcycled safety products? Know someone who does? We are seeking contributions for this page on an ongoing basis. Please leave your contact in the comments section or email firstname.lastname@example.org