Someone once told me that the three "R"s of environmentalism are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I've throught of a fourth - Redistribute [perhaps a form of reuse, but a new reuse - a reuse in a different form]. Here follows a tale of Redistribution - the redistribution of an artwork from a corporate boardroom to the albums of Artist Trading Card (ATC) collectors.

In the summer of 2005, I came upon some friends and heard of the impending demise of a painting no longer as highly desired as it once was. Somehow it no longer fit the sensibilities, the decor, the style or the concerns perhaps of its corporate owners. After a failed attempt to resell it through a dealer, they didn't want it back, "They won't pay the shipping charges." So it was destined for the bin. Knowing my interest in ATCs it was suggested that I turn the painting into ATCs to save it from total oblivion. I've applied the fourth "R" that way before so I said that I would.
I had some qualms about destroying the work of an artist I didn't even know, but the thought that I was in fact the only means it might have for some form of continued existence helped. We decided to approach the first phase with humour and the childish delight of destruction. A drink or two before starting bolstered our courage for the dread task ahead and we took the painting out to the parking lot. The artwork is "Untitled" in acrylic on canvas by Keith Seright, circa 1985. Here I am - testing the strength of the canvas and frame. You can now guess at the magnitude of the job. For the record the date is Friday, August 19th, 2005.
To soften up the victim we had to apply serious tactics. True urban Alberta red-neck style insisted that we apply the destructive force by SUV. Considerable flattening of the stretcher and crushing of an internal plaster-like layer resulted.
This made the removal of the frame an absurdly easy task. We stood back to survey the result.
Yup. I think we've flattened it. The stretcher fragments - wire and all went into the bin. And like a Rembrant thief, I rolled it up very carefully and stowed it away in the back of my hatchback car. Unlike the thief I was leaking plaster fragments like crazy.
A week later, on Friday, August 26, 2005, I prepared a suitable site for the delicate surgery to follow - my driveway. First task was a survey of the patient. It was almost noon.
Hmm, many areas seem to have sustained 3rd-degree damage.
Very interesting. It now seems to have antique air - a flavour of the ancient - rather like an old decaying fresco by Giotto or the crumbling shell of an abandonned villa.
And this is the workplace soon after the job has started. The painting is in sections and piles of rubbish and ATCs have built up. And no, that's just orange juice. Alcohol and surgery with sharp tools just don't mix. It goes fine with blunt instruments [see above].
Here at my feet are the tools of the trade. The ATC-size plexiglass rectangle was a recent gift from Chuck Stake, famed ATC maker, mail artist and all-around great guy. Without this amazing tool the job would be impossible.
Even with sharp tools there's been a lot of substance loss. Plaster has leaked all over. The subcutaneous tissue of the painting is brittle and air-hole filled in many places. Things tremble and fall apart at the first gentle touch of the scissors. But the going is tough and sometimes I really have to lean on the scissors to get them to close. There's nothing like industrial strength hardened steel.
This is the technique. Put the plastic template in place and cut along its edge. Note the safety glove. This is a WHMIS site.
And see here. It's a little pile of ATCs. The work is going well. Thin parts of the canvas cut easily.
More tools, because, of course, precision's the thing.
An interesting area of the canvas. But, it's thick and cracking apart. My fingers are getting numb in spots and the scissors don't seem to be as sharp as they were when I started. Soldier on...
It's always important to have a tidy worksite. You can see that I've been sweeping. The job is half done and only three of the six original sections of the canvas are left. The number of ATCs is already substantial and boxes are needed to hold them.
And now, while I labour, here are some glimpses at the last pieces of the canvas extant. The late afternoon sun casts a warm light and plaster dust coats the surfaces. This will very soon be no more. Say goodbye.
Coils of pinky-purple rippling near the swirling red with an intermix of golden yellow. The patina of age and decay.
Purple and gold. Impressive!
The sun has gone behind the trees and the light is subdued, but I'm working on the last scraps of the canvas. I'll try to get some of these golden pools. The plaster underneath is tinged with pink. I wonder why that is.
There is is. All done. Three boxes of ATCs and a pile of canvas and plaster scraps. It's dark enough that the camera felt that a flash was necessary. It's taken almost nine hours of solid work.
The detritus!
The ATCs! If you'd like to trade for one come to one of the monthly trading sessions at The New Gallery in Calgary. Visit for more details. Fees for product placement ads in this photo have not yet been negotiated.
- Paul Brown