In photos: Top, Kimonos made out of teabags, by Ruby Silvious; across bottom, “Dunkin’ Dancing Shoe” by Silvious, a photo of the artist in her Coxsackie studio, and an image of the Albany Institute of History & Art she painted on recycled teabags.
Ruby Silvious can make high fashion out of just about anything.
Give her a pair of scissors and some scraps of paper and she’ll come back with a shoe that looks like it’s right out of a Manolo Blahnik lookbook.
Give her a Dunkin’ wrapper and she’ll turn it into a cheeky kitten heel, reminiscent of a Jeremy Scott design. Or, as she calls it, the “Dunkin’ Dancing Shoe.”
Give her a Nathan’s Famous hot dog wrapper and she’ll fix it into a gold-and-green life-sized bra.
The Coxsackie-based artist has won international acclaim in the last few years for her teabag art and for her unusual fashion pieces. For the first time, her work is getting its due at the Albany Institute of History & Art with “Recycled & Refashioned: The Art of Ruby Silvious.”
The exhibition includes a look at her wide-ranging career and shows that Silvious can turn anything into a canvas, from empty tea bags to eggshells to a roll of old receipt tape.
The exhibition starts out where Silvious’ artistic fame began: used tea bags.
In 2015, while working full time at a marketing agency, Silvious decided to challenge herself to create one piece of artwork a day, using a dried and emptied tea bag as her canvas. She posted each creation on Instagram just about every day for a year as a way of keeping herself motivated and tracking her progress.
At first, her only followers were her family and people in the area. But by the end of the year, her following had grown exponentially and she’d captured the attention of international publications and tea companies. She also got a book deal and the following year released “365 Days of Tea.”
In the ensuing years, Silvious has gone beyond creating mini compositions with tea bags and made sweeping kimonos, as seen in the exhibition with “Boro Kimono.” The variegated kimono comes from a tradition of the boro, which is a Japanese term used during the Edo period that signified the clothing worn by peasant families, who repaired their garments with scraps.
Silvious’ interpretation is made up of more than 800 tea bags. Since she’s a printmaker, as well as a graphic designer, Silvious used indigo dyes with an intaglio printing press to populate the bags with designs. She did most of her printmaking work at Ragged Edge Print Studio in Cohoes.
Then there’s the oribrami series, which Silvious began as part of a fundraiser for breast cancer research. At first, she made them out of origami paper and later she used recycled wrappers from Starbucks, Subway and other well-known franchises.
According to Silvious, she gets her fashion sensibility from her maternal grandmother, who was an exceptional seamstress and would sew clothes for Silvious and her sisters when they were growing up in Tacloban City in the Philippines.
“In the Philippines growing up, we did not have ready to wear. . . So if you wanted something nice to wear, my grandmother made it for you,” Silvious said.
After Silvious moved to the United States in the late 1970s, she worked at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, where she often volunteered to dress models for runway shows.
Her fashion sense is on full display with her vast collection of paper shoes.
“I started this in January [of 2019]. The fourth shoe that I made, the ‘Gogo Dots,’ somehow was discovered by some editor from Vogue Italia,” Silvious said.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t made completely clear that the shoes weren’t wearable and Silvious received orders from people around the world, requesting that she make a pair in their size.
The “Gogo Dot” shoe is just the start of the series, as Silvious made 54, including “Sakura,” a bright yellow and floral patterned heel, with delicate straps. There’s also the cheekier “Don’t Mess With Me,” a kitten heel with what looks like green spikes dotted on the top of the shoe.
Just beyond the shoes, the exhibition gives attendees a look at Silvious’ international travels and her resourcefulness.
In one case, we see her works from an artist’s residency in Spain, in another we see her teabag compositions created in France, along with her eggshell compositions.
Scattered throughout the section are more non-traditional canvases, like rocks, leaves, acorns, pistachio shells, paint samples and receipt tape from a large cash register roll.
The latter is placed in its own case and is partly unspooled, revealing mini-compositions of keys, teapots, half-eaten breakfast items and other things one might see on their kitchen tables.
Silvious started working with the tape after a friend was going to throw it out.
“I decided it was another way to do my daily practice, sketching whatever’s on the kitchen table. I love coming up with different ways to do that. I have some good days, some bad days. The thing with this is you cannot take out the bad days. I just have to continue and say ‘Tomorrow will be better,’ ” Silvious said.
While Silvious’ works are accessible, often created on familiar canvases, they’re also incredibly clever.
Her crafting of color and use of space, as well as her sense of humor, shine through in every work. Take her “Museum Goers” series for example, which includes Silvious’ recreations of famous works of art, all on teabags.
In one, figures mill about looking at George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” which Silvious replicated on a tiny scale, with incredible detail.
It took her about five days to do, much longer than most of her other works.
“But the original took two years to do so I’m not complaining about the five days,” Silvious joked.
In another, she replicated Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” in equally stunning detail.
The series proves that she’s not only a talented graphic designer, but an artist in her own right, making a canvas out of the unexpected and the everyday.
‘Recycled and Refashioned: The Art of Ruby Silvious’
On exhibition at the Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washington Ave., Albany, through June 7. For more info visit albanyinstitute.org.
Silvious will give a Reclaimed Canvas workshop on Sun. March 15 from 12:30-2 p.m.
Open to ages 8-12. $25 for members and $30 for non-members. Registration is required.
There will also be a workshop for adults from 3-4:30 p.m. $25 for members and $30 for non-members.