December 1, 2017
Stamps alum Jack Lardis (BFA ‘54) has enjoyed at least two successful careers – his first in advertising, his second as an artist/activist, transforming oil drums into works that foreground our dependence on oil through a project entitled Oil Drum Art. This project promotes art that advocates reduced petroleum consumption for a more livable planet. It is an environmental and geopolitical art concept that empowers artists worldwide to define the impact of oil on modern human civilization and the planet by using a powerful symbol as a common medium – the 55-gallon oil drum.
In the summer of 2002, Jack approached fellow artists in New Haven Erector Square, a converted factory complex where over one-hundred artists have studios. He invited them to create an environmental or geopolitical artwork using 55-gallon oil drums as a point of departure. Fifteen artists agreed to construct a drum artwork for the upcoming New Haven Open Studios in October. With over 450 active artists, it is the second largest open studios next to San Francisco. During the exhibition of the drum artworks, seventy-six artists agreed to create art with free drums that Jack obtained from the neighboring Peter Paul Candy Company that shipped syrup in 55-gallon drums. This artistic response launched the grass roots for Oil Drum Art, as it became a non-profit promoting art that advocates reduced petroleum consumption for a more livable planet. Its mission is to empower artists worldwide to define the impact of oil on modern human civilization by using a powerful symbol as a common medium.
In the following years, 250-plus artworks were created by artists and exhibited in twenty-three venues including the Connecticut State Legislative Building, the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Hartford Union Station Great Hall, and Bradley International Airport. During the 2009 Earth Day Week, Oil Drum Art exhibited at Gallery 21 in Brooklyn, New York and CBS invited Jack to display environmental drum artworks during the Early Show where a busload of Minnesota students painted drums during the program. In September, the Oil Drum Art 9/11 Commemorative Exhibition in the Barnum Museum was on the New York City FOX-5 News.
Throughout its early grass roots, Jack found that students enjoyed painting drums with environmental and community themes. The painted educational, open-top drums were placed in parks, civic buildings and schools to collect litter and provide public art. More than 1,700 students in- and after-school programs created over 600 colorful trash drums. The oil drums also inspired cabinetmaker and Oil Drum Art Board Member, David Murphy, to create a catamaran using eight metal oil drums for pontoons by an after school boat-building program in Hartford. It won a major prize in the 2012 drum exhibition in the Hartford Union Station Great Hall. This was the first of three prototypes that have been built by high school students and U. S. Navy Sea Cadets. The design has morphed into a pre-fab kit for easy shipping to a small fishing village in Haiti where it would be assembled using local oil drums that are in abundance throughout the world. The plan is to raise funds for producing catamaran kits and shipping them to Third-World fishing villages. This would enable the fishermen to become more productive and self-reliant as they catch larger fish farther from shore.