The function of the visual in consumer culture is to overwhelm and imprint, rendering us passive vessels for received wisdom. Vast databases of disconnected facts, driven by arcane mathematical formulae rather than by a creative or logical progression of thought, do more to confuse and disconnect us from the information we need to control our world than they do to facilitate it. My work is an attempt to counter this trend toward disembodied “intelligence.” I firmly believe in the power of the visual, and my work is my voice: a social critique and a visual challenge to all the cultural detritus we are force-fed every day. My art is about looking at things in a slightly different way, and is intended to undermine the status quo with wit and humor. I work both large and small, from installations to artist books, and use a variety of media, from traditional painting to photography to xerox and assemblage. The critique largely determines the presentation.
I am working with plastic trash, first grocery bags and now plastic bottle caps and lids, both of which are rarely recycled, turning waste into art. I am making installations of "Endless Columns" made from the caps and lids, strung from ceiling to floor, through which viewers are invited to walk. I am also making large scale images from the impressionist-like blend of primary colors made by nesting plastic caps in one another.
I have a large storefront studio, and since 2003 have used the large window as a gallery. Art on Armitage shows local as well as international artists with exhibits changing monthly. The artists are required to put a statement in the window to explain their work to the public. The neighborhood has been very responsive to the artwork, and there is a lot of dialogue which occurs around it. I have made many friends in the neighborhood because of my window!
A lifelong Chicagoan, Mary Ellen Croteau received a BFA from University of Illinois at Chicago in 1990 and an MFA from Rutgers University in 1998. She has lectured and exhibited internationally, and her art has won numerous awards and has been reviewed and reproduced extensively. Most recently, her huge self-portrait made of plastic bottle caps has gone viral on the internet and has been reproduced in publications as varied as Avianca Airlines magazine and a French children’s science magazine to Canada’s Discovery Channel. Since 2003, Croteau has run a window gallery in Chicago called Art On Armitage, bringing fine art into the Chicago streetscape where passers-by can see work by contemporary artists of many disciplines, from many countries. See it at: www.artonarmitage.com