Artist John Sabraw paints with toxic sludge

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

toxic earth
Look closely. Is this Earth? Nah, it’s just toxic sludge watered and pumped into paint.

Toxic sludge. Even the word sounds icky and gruesome. Now, what if we told you artist John Sabraw has found a way to make toxic sludge beautiful? It’s hard to believe, right? Well, Sabraw has surprised everyone by turning toxic runoff found in the Ohio River region into beautiful works of art!

So, we told you that these paintings were made of toxic sludge. That sounds weird and crazy dangerous, but Sabraw outlined the process. “We pump the toxic, acidic water coming from the mines into a large, portable container and bring it to the lab,” Sabrow explained. “Then, our engineers pour it into tanks with bubblers set to aerate it at a certain rate. As the metals oxidize they fall to the bottom and become a wet sludge of mostly iron oxide.”

Pretty much, the iron oxide is collected and blended with acrylic polymers and resins – materials found in paint that give it its hard texture when dried – that result in a variety of different colors. Sabraw uses this to demonstrate how unusual pigments can be used to make sustainable (that means it won’t harm the environment!) works of art. Sabraw wants to introduce students and residents of his Ohio town to a process that produces beauty, while ultimately cleaning up the muck surrounding the Ohio River.

Sabraw is a man devoted to being 100% green. Instead of painting on canvas, he uses two thin sheets of an aluminum composite panel that is sandwiched around a plastic core. The material is used because it is very durable, flexible, and sustainable. The frames for these canvases are made from organically grown bamboo that has been sustainably harvested, and layered with a water-based clear coat. Okay, sheesh, we get it! Sustainable, sustainable, sustainable.

But looking at his art and its impact, I gotta say.. wow! Sabraw has done an amazing job, and hopefully his artwork can influence locals everywhere to care for their town a little more.

Images courtesy of John Sabraw.