When the mysterious British street artist Banksy left an image of a young boy holding a paint can next to the words “I remember when all this was trees” on the abandoned Packard Plant in Detroit last year, some fans interpreted it as an environmentally minded statement.

But if the medium is the message, spray paint (i.e. toxic chemicals in an aerosol can) hardly qualifies as eco-friendly. Not to mention that many graffiti writers simply toss their empty cans, judging from the rusty cans strewn around most popular graff walls.

Enter Los Angeles-based spray paint recycling program Canlove, which collects old cans and turns them into art. The brainchild of graffiti artist DJ Neff, the program's motto is: No can left behind.

“I just wanted to see what could be done with these cans because there is always going to be discarded spray paint and no one knows what to do with it,” Neff said. “They can be recycled but you have to pop them because they are pressurized, but no one pops them — it's scary.”

Based out of Chalk Gallery in Venice, where some of the artwork is on display, Canlove currently has collection receptacles at the graffiti gallery 5Pointz in Long Island City in New York and at the Venice Art Walls here in Los Angeles. Since it was founded in January, the program has collected more than 10,000 cans.

“The buzzword is upcycling,” said Canlove co-founder Paul Ramirez. “The can is collected and processed and in the processing we are creating different pieces of art, so when you pop the can, the residual paint gets dripped onto canvases and we can get really cool abstract pieces with that. And then once the paint dries, you cut the top and bottom off and those components can be used to make other pieces.”

A spray bouquet; Credit: Lea Lion

A spray bouquet; Credit: Lea Lion

The resulting artwork includes quilt-like assemblages featuring the color-saturated flattened bodies of spray paint cans, and what the duo dubbed “Spray Bouquets” — orchid-like flower arrangements where can tops stand-in for flower blossoms. Canlove reuses every part of the can including the top, the bottom and even the marbles that create that signature clink when you shake a spray paint can.

“Canlove is a fledgling recycling program, but the idea is to really make this something a lot more global and obviously use the momentum behind where street art is now,” Ramirez added. “We are collecting the waste of this industry and trying to turn it inside out, if you will.”

Kinda makes you wonder what Banksy does with all of his spent cans now doesn't it?

For more info contact Chalk Gallery, 12513 Venice Blvd., Venice. (424) 228-2289, www.canlove.org

LA Weekly