The Impact of E-Waste: NCEA Painting

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

This article features Michaela Barker’s outstanding NCEA Level 3 Painting folio, completed in her final year of high school at Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2012. Michaela was awarded Excellence for this project and her work was chosen to tour throughout New Zealand with the Top Art Exhibition. Michaela was also awarded Scholarship for NCEA Level 3 Design and Dux of her school.

Scholarship NCEA Level 3 Painting folio
Michaela’s NCEA Level 3 Painting folio

Through her portfolio exploration, Michaela has investigated advances in technology as well as raising awareness of some of the issues surrounding these advances. The idea of addressing contemporary issues such as electronic waste (also known as e-waste) in her work came from a suggestion by her Painting teacher. Through art, various issues can be addressed. Michaela has addressed the current issue of e-waste as well as the Art History concept of appropriation.

NCEA painting board 1
The first A1 panel in Michaela’s NCEA Painting submission

At the beginning of her project, Michaela focused on using a range of easily identifiable electronic items such as floppy disks, cell phones, iPhones, computer monitors and the earphones and wires associated with these devices. The image of the overlapping floppy disks (top right-hand corner of panel one) is reminiscent of the work by New Zealand artist Alexander Bartleet, who creates artworks out of waste products.

Mixed media: drawing on paper towels
This experimental artwork completed on a paper towel combines elements of portraiture, mapping and technology in style that echoes some of the overlapping of contours in artworks by Francis Picabia.
Textured NCEA Scholarship Painting
This painting is an example of adding texture into a painting. An old dry paintbrush has been used to apply gesso onto the painting surface. This under layer creates a rough surface to add more texture into the painting. This technique was used in the background of many of the artworks.

Throughout her portfolio investigation, as well as using electronic devices, Michaela has used various images that are symbolic of technology from advertising and contemporary art. The ‘Apple’ brand, while used widely as a symbol to represent technology itself, has also aided in the development of the artworks. Pixelation is also a concept that is associated with technology and digital imagery. The concept of pixelation links with the structure of the grid that many of the paintings use, including the grid that is formed by the use of square floppy disks.

Board 2, NCEA Painting Level 3
Panel 2 of Michaela’s NCEA Painting submission

The second panel of the portfolio shows Michaela’s intention to introduce more colour into her paintings. Colour is introduced through the pixels which are composed in the style of a floating grid, and later the DNA helix. The colourful images link with the Andy Warhol inspired image on panel three, through to the two final paintings. Colour and pixels are both developed into final paintings on the third board. The middle painting on the top row is an appropriation of Rene Magritte’s The Son of Man. Here Michaela has replaced the apple with the logo of the Apple brand.

Experimentation: NCEA Scholarship painting
This painting is another good example of experimentation with media and processes as well as an individual image that demonstrates clear ideas development. As part of the process, Michaela would sketch out the detailed compositions in pencil onto paper before painting.

Appropriation in art has been used throughout history. Digital technology allows images to be viewed and copied easily, and makes appropriation an important issue in contemporary art. With the aim of producing thought-provoking works, Michaela has appropriated images and iconography from a number of well-known artists and sources. The detail from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam has been appropriated to create a powerful painting. The tension of this image is echoed in later works that look specifically at the contrast between wealth and poverty.

Appropriation in Art: NCEA Painting ideas
Above is a detail of the candidate’s contemporary interpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. The point of tension between the two hands has been widely appropriated in art since it was first painted in the 1500s.

A striking aspect of this portfolio investigation is how the artist has looked at the relationship between poverty alongside the advances in technology. The contrast between these two worlds is significant.

Although the majority of the paintings were completed with acrylic paint on paper, this portfolio is a clear example of experimentation with a variety of materials. Paper towels were used as a way of creating an interesting surface to work on, as can be seen in some of the initial sketches on panel one. Banksy has been an important influence, both in terms of ideas and technique. Evidence of the use of stencils and spray painting can be seen in a number of artworks. As an artist who is an active voice in getting people to discuss controversial issues, Banksy is an appropriate artist to investigate for this body of work.

Other experimentation with materials includes ink pen and acrylic paint used on tracing paper. The tracing paper has then been placed on a recycled computer instruction manual to create layers.

As floppy disks are a redundant technological item, the use of e-waste items as a painting surface is an appropriate and innovative medium. Nick Gentry has been used here as an artist model. The fact that the floppy disks have been used as subject matter and then later as a painting surface in final images is an example of the different ways that development can be shown through artworks and through ideas, as well as imagery and development of materials.

The Impact of E-Waste: a great high school Art project
Portraiture has been used thorough-out the investigation, becoming even more important on the third panel. The top three artworks allude to the work of Chuck Close. The portrait of Steve Jobs is instantly recognisable. His face is associated with the Apple brand that he founded and he is widely associated with the wealth created by the technology industry.

The systematic development of the body of work in a portfolio is important in creating a successful NCEA Painting submission in New Zealand. Throughout the year, Michaela photographed her paintings once they were created. She then used Photoshop to create a ‘virtual folio’. This meant that she could visualise how her work was progressing and test how she wanted the paintings to be laid out on the folio boards.

Planning was also completed using Photoshop. Initial sketches for a composition were sometimes drawn on paper and then later digitally manipulated in Photoshop to add in more details. Using the digital medium to manipulate compositions meant changes could be made with ease before the paintings were created on paper. The types of changes that were able to be made using Photoshop were things like trialling different colours and resizing parts of the proposed painting.

Painting on floppy disks: a great high school Art project
As can be seen in the enlarged detail above, this final painting is one of three paintings painted onto floppy disks. Michaela discovered that the floppy disks were a challenging surface to paint on. To get the finished surface that she wanted, several layers of paint needed to be applied. In order to get the paint to adhere to the disks, a thin primer layer of gesso was required. Without the gesso the acrylic paint would wipe off. Another challenge Michaela faced was that in order to apply the floppy disk artworks to the portfolio board, considerable amounts of double-sided tape had to be used to keep the artworks in place.

This article was written using information provided by Michaela Barker. If you enjoyed this art project, you may wish to view our other featured painting and drawing projects from high school students around the world!


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