Many couples cherish flowers and candles, but Richard and Judith Selby Lang bonded over flotsam.
They don't see it as trash — it's the raw material of their art. The Langs clean the plastic objects they find at Kehoe Beach north of San Francisco, then sort, assemble and photograph them, and print the photos on large Tyvek panels.
They'll show 10 such panels at Smokebrush Gallery in October, in an exhibit called Not So Far From Home. Smokebrush also will exhibit two sculptures of recycled objects, made with public participation at the recent What If ... Festival and the Pikes Peak EcoFestival.
Somehow, the Langs' presentation allows combs, toys, disposable lighters and cheese spreaders to exude a beautiful freshness.
"We want to show in this exhibit the quantity of what washes up on one beach and bring that message home to Colorado Springs, encourage people to look around their own homes," Judith says.
Both fervently believe that their mission can educate the public. But they're not strident about their message.
"There is so much dire news, and people are hammered over the head with it and become numb," says Richard, who, at 62, is two years older than Judith. "We can present it with love."
Oh, about that love connection. When Judith, a mixed-media artist, met Richard, a sculptor, they started talking about Kehoe Beach and then went there on their first date. They soon discovered they're kindred spirits who love to turn found objects into art.
Although they estimate they've hauled home approximately two tons of plastic since 1999, they don't hate the ubiquitous substance. "We're not against plastic," Judith says. "It's enhanced our lives, such as the medical uses."
Both just want people to be more conscious about what they bring into their homes, and what happens to it afterward. They wouldn't dream of buying bottled water, and they grocery shop with canvas bags and reusable mesh bags for produce.
Holly Parker, Smokebrush's director and curator, stumbled across their work while researching possibilities for the gallery's year-long environmental theme.
"These large-scale prints are like pulling out a file drawer in a lab that has all these pieces organized in there, so it's kind of archaeological," Parker says. "That's the fun, the dichotomy that I enjoy — the product is really quite beautiful and wonderful, and really interesting to look at, but then the other side of it is that might be your lighter from 1978 in the upper right-hand corner of this composition."