One artist’s trash is another’s treasure

In 2007, Carmelo Midili was a student at the Art Students League of New York, working a night maintenance job at school as part of his work-study program. One day, in the garbage cans of the school in Midtown Manhattan, he stumbles upon a treasure: anonymous paintings, apparently destined for the landfill.

He began to bring these scraps back to his studio, where he repurposed them into sculptures. He randomly cut pieces of the canvas panels, screwed these fragments onto wooden structures which he assembled and glued additional cutouts to make the works multi-dimensional. When Midili’s work-study ended, other school cleaners, aware of his project, set aside trashed paintings for Midili to retrieve. Midili quickly amassed hundreds of abandoned canvases.

Today, 16 of these sculptures make up the “Carmelo Midili: Beyond Form” exhibition, on view in the lobby space of the Boston Sculptors Gallery through May 1.

“It made me think about failure because sometimes people think failure is something really bad for you. They’re ashamed of that,” Midili, who lives in Stoneham, said of the job. with abandoned paints. “In my experience, failure is really important – it’s a process of improvement.”

“Carmelo Midili: Beyond the Shape” is exhibited in the LaunchPad space of the Boston Sculptors Gallery. All 16 pieces are repurposed from discarded paintings. Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

Midili, who is originally from Sicily and studied civil engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin, began by painting on canvas to create monochrome sculptures. But he said he felt he was “losing the soul of the painting” by obscuring the original work, and wanted to preserve the feeling of “frustration” he felt. Now he leaves the paintings as he finds them.

“It’s as if the painting spoke to me – there is [a] story, there is feeling,” he said, “and if I cover it up, I just spoil it.

Thus, Midili keeps several elements of the artistic process visible in the final products. The sculptures are a mix of colors, styles and patterns – a swirl of orange here, a female portrait piece there. Some of the sculptures include excerpts from the canvas supports; you can see the red swoop of the Fredrix brand logo – a fabric maker – coming out of “The Space Beyond”, the largest piece in the exhibit. To fortify the sculptures, Midili coats each piece with a mixture of pumice sand and glue, making them rough to the touch.

Once Midili has finished gluing the canvases to the wooden structures, he adds masking tape to help bind all the pieces together as the glue dries. He used to peel off the tape afterwards, but now he leaves it, punctuating the colorful paintings with black streaks.

“It’s part of the process, so I keep it,” he said.

Midili does not sketch the wooden structure in advance, letting the design come to him spontaneously. Some of the sculptures have gentle curves (for these, Midili removes layers from the canvas supports to make them more flexible), and others are more geometric, with sharp corners and edges. “I like to make it dynamic,” he said.

“I want to give importance to failure,” said Carmelo Midili, whose exhibition “Carmelo Midili: Beyond the Shape” is on display in Boston Sculptors Gallery’s LaunchPad space through May 1. Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

Midili’s work can be found in Boston Sculptors Gallery’s LaunchPad space—open to work by artists who are not members of the cooperative gallery—directly to the left of the entrance and visible from the sidewalk. LaunchPad committee leader Julia Shepley said she thinks Midili’s civil engineering background is evident in her work.

“He’s thinking about something that exists in space,” Shepley said. “He wanted there to be more than one dimension. He wanted you to be able to see more than one view at a time.

All of the exhibits are for sale, with prices ranging from $325 to $6,200 for “The Space Beyond.” Midili said these works were his attempt to “give abandoned paintings a second chance”.

“I want to give importance to failure,” said Midili. “[If] you’re afraid of failing or you’re afraid of making a mistake, you’re not going anywhere.


Dana Gerber can be contacted at [email protected]

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