Artist Mbongeni Buthelezi creates portraits from plastic waste

Jan 29, 2014
Artist Mbongeni Buthelezi creates portraits from plastic waste

At first glance, these stunning portraits from South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi may look like drawings or oil paintings, but they’re actually made from discarded plastic.

Buthelezi was inspired by plastic as a medium early in his career, when he could not afford oil paint after moving to Johannesburg to pursue his art.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the resourceful artist has evolved his technique of “painting” with plastic waste and is able to achieve effects that make his pieces look similar to oil paintings, pencil drawings and wood sculptures.


After carefully selecting the right pieces of plastic debris from local recycling yards in Johannesburg, Buthelezi returns to his workshop to transform them into works of art.

Using heat lamps, he melts the plastic to bring it to a state in which it can be manipulated. To complete his portraits, he attaches hot pieces of plastic waste to each other and the canvas — creating the illusion of brush strokes or carvings.

Sometimes, the artist uses as many as 5,000 pieces of plastic to complete a single piece.


“I consider color. I consider the text sometimes that I get from these materials, because in a sense it brings a very interesting design element into my work,” Buthelezi told VOA News. “I play around with it to come up with whatever message that I want to bring forward.”

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