Artist Hyland Mather translates plastic waste to meaningful art in Midtown

Hyland Mather in front of “Nice Time” at Colony Square. Photograph by Isadora Pennington.

A new 3-D art piece has recently cropped up on the side of Colony Square. The piece intends to confront perceptions around the prevalence of plastics in our society and our role as consumers. “Nice Time,” a public art piece constructed of recycled plastic, was recently completed by artist Hyland Mather.

Mather, who was born in Oregon and grew up in Alaska, now splits his time between Amsterdam where he is the Gallery Director of the Straat Museum, and the Holdout, a farm he owns with his partner Mando on the Silver Coast of Portugal. Working under the pseudonym The Lost Object since 2013, he is best known for his large-scale wall-hanging wooden assemblage works. 

The new piece “Nice Time” is a project coordinated by Plastics Reimagined and the ALPLA plastic fabrication company in Blacksville, Georgia. 

“The nature of our society is going to be a consumer culture,” explained Mather as we sat together in front of the blank wall that would soon bear his artwork.

“We are going to want these things; cleaners for our houses, soft drinks, things like that. And if you want to participate in that part of the culture you need vessels. Plastics are part of that delivery to the consumer.” 

I first met up with Mather last Monday, just after he had finished his materials sourcing mission that led him all around Atlanta. At the time he was still fabricating the panels and sorting through all of the discarded plastic pieces that he had collected.

We spoke for a while under the shade of the trees in The Grove, a small pocket park at Colony Square. Mather absentmindedly ran his hands across the textured surface of the metal table while he shared his story and we spoke about consumerism, sustainability, and his artistic process. 

Mather shared that he has not always been focused on assemblage artwork, and originally made works that he described as “cute little illustrations and funny things like that,” but that those other mediums were not able to hold his attention. He became inspired by artists such as Ed Ruscha, whose graphic artworks incorporated slogans and words into his pieces.

Today, you can see that influence in some of Mather’s mural pieces that incorporate words or phrases into the finished works.

Today, Mather splits his time between his personal artwork, his curatorial role at Straat, the world’s largest street art museum, and operating a farm that produces both ciders and an abundance of original artwork created through an artist residency program. 

He explained that while many people consider all of his pursuits to be related, he actually feels as though he is living in multiple worlds at the same time. “A lot of people think that those hats are really similar, but they really are quite different. You have to be fully engaged in the work of others as a curator, and you have to let that all slide away when you’re making your own work. I am very happy to have both of these components in my life; I don’t know if I’d be able to choose.”

And so, he splits his time. Sometimes he’s on the farm with his partner Mando Marie, who is also a talented artist in her own right, sometimes he’s working in the museum in Amsterdam, and other times he’s jet-setting around the world creating unique wall art for corporations, hotels, and public art projects. 

Hyland Mather installing “Nice Time” at Colony Square. Photo by Aaron Schorch.

I wondered how he got linked up with this particular project, and he shared that he was recruited for the piece. “There aren’t that many of us… these old junk hunters trying to turn things into something else. Especially not on a mural scale.” He explained that his assemblage pieces necessarily carry a sense of connection to place as he sources the materials from near the installation site. 

Though he admits that wood is still his favorite medium, Mather was excited to face the challenge of working with plastics for “Nice Time.” He was offered an opportunity to tour a massive ALPLA plastics factory here in Georgia that lent him a greater understanding of plastic production and the company’s push towards sustainability. 

Mather shared that during the tour one of the ALPLA executives said “it’s not like plastic grows legs and walks into the ocean,” and that phrase resonated with him. He began reflecting on the cycle of plastics from producer to consumer to landfill and the gaps in the system that allow plastics to become lost and ultimately damage the environment. 

He was moved by the company’s efforts to reduce plastic waste while still providing essential plastic products to the public. “They are very forward-thinking about new plastic mixture technologies that will be less invasive climate-wise,” recalled Mather. “Their factory was incredibly efficient and they make hardly any waste there. It was eye-opening.” 

When conceptualizing his piece for the wall in Colony Square, Mather chose “Nice Time” as the slogan featured in the piece. The ambiguous phrase is both a reflection of the period in which we are living with all of the convenience of modern society, while also appreciating the hard work of all the humans that work together to make our lives as easy-going as they are. This doesn’t take away from the horrors that surround us, of course, but it brings us back to a common understanding and appreciation for the work of others in society. 

In addition to touring ALPLA’s factory, Mather also visited the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) and said he was impressed by the facility. “I do think that all of these things are double-edged swords,” said Mather, referring to consumers’ reliance on single-use plastics.

“As long as we are going to use plastic there needs to be education and ease of recycling.”

Mather mentioned that seeing engineers on ALPLA’s technical staff working hard to develop better plastic was reassuring. While much of the conversation around plastic waste centers on the end user, there is significant responsibility on factories and manufacturers to implement better policies and practices that are more sustainable. This is the work that ALPLA is already doing, and “Nice Time” invites passers-by to consider their own carbon footprint and engagement with sustainability practices in their daily lives. 

“This is a challenge for me,” said Mather of working with plastics for this project. “I have a general process which I’m very comfortable in; collecting items and making something out of it, but this is a material I am unfamiliar with. It’s a new challenge to use something I wouldn’t normally gravitate towards in my work.” 

On the day that I visited Mather’s studio at Colony Square, he showed me some of the items he had been collecting and explained how different it is to see plastic waste here versus back in rural Portugal where he lives. 

“Where I live, plastic is yellow, glass is green, and paper is blue,” he told me. Despite the remote location of his farm, he says that there are recycling outlets spread throughout the region which offers convenience for sustainable living. It’s something that he would like to see in more cities such as ours. 

“I really like it here, I like the people quite a bit,” said Mather about this trip, which happened to be his first ever visit to Atlanta and the Deep South. He noted the Southern hospitality that he encountered at every turn, and cited the ease of working with Plastics Reimagined, ALPLA, and Colony Square for this project. 

In his heart of hearts, Mather is still rooted in his love for street art. When he first began making public artworks, murals had not yet become part of mainstream culture and therefore all graffiti and street art was unpermitted and inherently subversive. 

“There’s a degree of rascality in graffiti that is now missing from syndicated street art,” Mather continued, describing the rush he felt when making public art under the cover of night without getting caught. “Street art is the most important art movement of the age,” he insisted with passion. “It’s a global culture.”

For Mather, whose works bridge the gap between irreverent art constructed out of materials that most consider to be refuse and the world of fine art, he hopes to see a continuation of street art worldwide. He truly believes in street art and he also enjoys seeing how public art changes over time due to weather and interactions with the public.

“I love what time does to objects and what exposure does to objects. I also like what it does to humans, as people get older,” said Mather, referring to signs of aging on skin like wrinkles. He calls his street art process “accidental collaboration,” with the idea that time and weather and other street artists might all get involved in a finished product without being fully aware of their participation in the overall piece.

And now, a piece of Mather will live on here in Atlanta.

“Nice Time” catching the sun in The Grove at Colony Square. Photograph by Isadora Pennington.

The colorful wall assemblage reminds us all to be mindful of our consumerism, and to appreciate both the hard work of others to afford us our luxuries as well as our ability to make the world a better place through recycling and making better and more sustainable choices.

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