Auburn artist embraces recyclables as her medium of choice

When Bella Kim was a little girl, she watched the women in her family sewing and mending, so it was only natural she’d master a sewing machine herself.

In time, the device became an extension of Kim and her budding artistic instincts. But as sewing supplies were scarce at that time, she used recyclables.

“I found that the neck of worn socks was good stuff for Barbie dolls’ skirts, my first recyclable artwork,” Kim said.

Recyclables became her artistic medium.

Today, 50 years on, a selection of Kim’s recycled oddments is on display at Auburn’s Art on Main window-front gallery through Jan. 2, 2023.

The world, Kim explained, is faced with the need to save the planet from human-caused global warming, and as an artist, she wants to be part of that movement and reduce the consumption of energy and resources while doing her creative activities.

“In my surroundings,” Kim said, “it is easy to find leftovers and packages of food or merchandise that are going to be thrown away. As I see their colors and textures as unique, special, and still gorgeous, I collect these plastics every day and prepare them for transformation, then I cut, wash, and dry them. Those pieces are in various sizes and colors. I regroup them based on colors and textures, then sew and patch them to create the whole artwork.”

Kim said she draws inspiration from traditional Korean art and from Western abstract art, allowing nature and the world about her to spark her imagination. She expresses most of her art via the composition of lines and planes.

What moves Kim like nothing else is witnessing the seamless blending of small, insignificant patches as it gives birth to unexpected patterns, transparencies, textures, shadows and even 3-dimensional structures.

“This transformation of useless materials into meaningful results gives me endless joy,” said Kim, “and I hope that people would also appreciate how ordinary materials can be used for art.”