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Junk Jewelry Heals the Planet

Daniel Lanzilotta holds up a striking necklace made out of what looks like exquisite beads, delicately twisted wire, and unusual gemstones. In truth, nearly everything that makes up this divine bauble is plastic junk that was washed up on a beach, discarded on a city street, or left on the side of the highway. It’s junk jewelry all right – and you’ve never seen anything like it.

Lanzilotta points to tiny fluted and honey-colored discs. “I made these out of a Prestone anti-freeze bottle,” he says. “I was very excited when I saw it buried in the sand. Gold-colored plastic is very hard to find.”

From colorful shreds of plastic wrap, netting and shopping bags, Lanzilotta cuts fanciful, whimsical shapes. These he combines with plastic ties and fasteners, construction debris, Tupperware, and coffee cup lids – any scrap of plastic trash he finds. He breaks up his materials into workable parts. Sometimes he warms them with a small torch and patiently manipulates them to create delicate, almost ethereal sculptures, necklaces and chokers that make bold fashion statements

“I didn’t start out to make an environmental statement,” he says. “I started picking up interesting-looking trash on the beach with my son when he was about two, and making little sculptures for him. The longer I did it, the more plastic I saw, and the more upset I became about the waste and the attitude of people who threw this stuff away.”

Lanzilotta learned more about the effect of plastic on our environment: that nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today; that a plastic milk bottle takes a million years to decompose (a plastic cup takes 80 years); that plastic kills a million sea creatures every year. There are enormous swirling “islands” of garbage in our seas, almost invisible to the naked eye. These are toxic stretches of microscopic broken-down plastic molecules that threaten our oceans, our food chain – and us.

His art morphed into a commitment, and then a philosophy. “It’s gestalt, that Berlin school of psychology, our minds trying to create meaning in a chaotic world,” Lanzilotta says. “For me, it’s trash when I pick it up. But when I create something out of that trash, your perception of it changes. We should extend that to each other. How do we perceive each other? We are something different from the sum of our parts. Those parts create something unexpected, if we just look for it.”

“Parts” can be something as unexpected as the cylinders that those plastic bags in the supermarket produce section are wrapped around. “Trader Joe’s saves them for me now,” says Lanzilotta.

Even the green plastic stoppers from Starbuck’s – the ones you stick in the coffee cup lid to prevent spills – take on whimsical new form in this artist’s hands. Lanzilotta knows and cares about such things, and for that reason, he creates something beautiful with them. Better they should exist in a brash sculpture than collect near the storm drain in a parking lot.

A New Yorker born and raised in the Bronx, Lanzilotta, 58, followed his gypsy heart to California and then to France where he built a house. He now splits his time between Biarritz and Connecticut, where he walks the beaches with his eyes on the sand, looking for the makings of his next work.

Lanzilotta’s last exhibition was in Biarritz, in January. Currently, his work can be seen at his gallery in the Read’s Building in Bridgeport. By appointment only: (203) 451-5286.

You can also find Daniel Lanzilotta on Facebook.

Image Credits: Yolanda Petrocelli

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