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Art & Sustainability in 2024

As international art consultants, Artelier are industry leaders in sourcing sustainable art, collaborating with worldwide artists. With sustainability becoming a global movement, increasing numbers of clients are seeking eco-conscious artworks; we have curated sustainable art collections for luxury hospitality, residential, yacht and aviation projects. We dive into how sustainable art brings low-impact luxury to contemporary spaces.

Sustainable Art for Luxury Contexts

The Drive for Sustainability

The drive for sustainability has grown tremendously in the last few years, with individuals and businesses alike becoming committed to sustainable values. What once was more of a fashionable trend has rightly become a major cross-sector movement, and increasingly diverse industries are promoting eco-conscious practices. Most importantly, consumers are holding companies accountable for their claims, and want them to do more than swap out plastic straws or reuse cups. This has led to a push for innovative new concepts, uses of materials, and structural changes, so that the needs of projects are met in a significantly more sustainable way.

Within sectors such as luxury hospitality or residential development, a major question has arisen over how to deliver the exquisite interior design that a discerning clientele have come to expect, whilst also being sustainable. Naturally, the two do not need to be mutually exclusive – much of cutting-edge luxury design now favours natural materials and a stripped-back simplicity, which lends itself to sustainable products. A key way of sustainably creating adding luxury to these spaces are intelligently curated artworks. Sustainable artworks can bridge the gap between creating a stunning aesthetic experience and promoting environmentally responsible design.

As art consultants, Artelier have discovered first-hand how art can enhance and deepen a project’s focus on sustainability. Here, Artelier’s curators offer their insight into the dilemmas faced by luxury industries, and explore how inventive artists can create sustainable artworks by transforming humble materials into stunning installations.

Bespoke Textile Artwork Using Ancient Felting Techniques Commissioned for Private Client

The Dilemma of Decorating Sustainably

After architectural and engineering efforts, it is critical for the interior design to likewise be sustainable, whilst creating the right aesthetic impression. Few luxury items, however, can offer sustainability, since often they are made from materials like precious metals and rare marbles. Artworks are in themselves luxury items, and can meanwhile be produced with full sustainability in mind – artists can take basic and sustainable materials and through their craftsmanship make them luxury items. Rather than being a 'token' sustainable element, a newly commissioned artwork can reflect the owner’s own sustainable philosophy as each aspect of producing the artwork can be transparently low-impact.

The idea of bespoke items and artworks has long been at the height of luxury, and so many private clients have supported artists through commissioning artworks. In their pursuit of the bespoke and one-off, patrons have championed low-volume craftsmanship for their willingness to pay for artworks to be hand-made specially for them. In recent years, technology has advanced so much that a similar visual effect can be achieved – eye-catching surfaces can be cost-effectively created by companies with faux metals, resins and plastics. Whilst they meet the tastes of clients and can be seductively beautiful objects, the materials used to create these effects are not sustainable. When private clients instead choose to invest in commissioned artworks, they not only receive an ultra bespoke interior feature, but a significantly more sustainable option.

Sustainability for Private Residences & Yachts

Living in a sustainable home and decorating in an eco-friendly way is a personal concern for many private clients, who are now more conscious of the impact of individual lifestyles. The challenge with private contexts, however, is that clients still want to experience the finer things, and so industries have to create sustainable solutions that do not compromise luxury.

Sustainably Sourced Carved Wood Commissions for Chalet

Structurally, many changes can be made to luxury residences to minimise their environmental impact. If designing a new build bespoke residence, for example, architects can utilise sunlight and prevailing wind when orientating architectural features; this can naturally insulate the house in winter, and ventilate it in the summer, minimising energy consumption. In new and re-developed properties alike, the use of resources can be reduced with water-recycling fixtures, passive solar power, and low energy lighting.

Unlike private homes, where much can be done so that the residence utilises natural surroundings and resources, other luxury contexts like yachts are distinctly more challenging. These industries have an unavoidably higher impact on the environment, due to the engineering's need for complex materials and exceptionally vast amounts of fuel.

Superyachts are very much within the public eye, more so than residences, and so yacht owners are increasingly evaluating how their yachts can better reflect their own personal interests and values. A significant proportion of Artelier's art consultancy is delivering art for yachts, and in recent years we have witness a shift of yacht owners becoming more concerned for their environmental impact. Thanks to the demand of individual yacht owners for the industry to become more eco-conscious, yacht design is beginning to change. In the last couple of years, shipyards have created innovative superyachts that are solar and electrically powered with industrial batteries, incorporate reclaimed and recycled materials, and reuse grey-water. In many ways, this shift makes the experience truer to the essence of yachting – harnessing nature's forces to traverse the ocean.

Bespoke Art and Sustaimable oak frames for Sea Eagle II

This has led to great leaps in eco-yacht design. Dutch superyacht shipyard Oceanco launched Black Pearl (106.7m), whose ground-breaking ecologically focused engineering utilises wind-power, solar and hydrogen energy for onboard operations, and has inbuilt regeneration and insulation features that minimise energy consumption. Black Pearl’s engineering is efficient enough that she is capable of crossing the Atlantic without using a drop of fuel. The push towards this level of innovation was inspired by the yacht owner, whose own engineering background and climate concern encouraged the yacht yard do push existing boundaries.

Artelier has also seen how many yacht owners are now increasingly considering sailing yachts, rather than purely motor-powered. We recently commissioned an artwork collection for Sea Eagle II (81m), a sailing yacht launched by Royal Huisman in summer 2020, and one of the 10 largest sailing yachts in the world. All the artworks commissioned were sustainable pieces, which was in line with the designer's focus on natural materials. Artworks included wooden sculptures carved from sustainably sourced wood, 3-dimensional wall art crafted from paper, and paintings that used natural pigments.

Bespoke Art Commission with Bespoke Sustainably Sourced Oak Frames

Sustainability for Luxury Hospitality

As modern, eco-conscious people travel the world, they seek hotels that are likewise committed to sustainability. Hoteliers and hospitality designers must respond to this demand, and while efforts to promote environmentally conscious operations like reducing washing or plastic waste are worthwhile, sustainability has to be a key concern from the initial stages of hotel design to be more deeply effective.

However, when considering the sheer scale of hotels and how hotel areas will be used, ensuring sustainability throughout the hotel poses more obstacles than in private spaces. Many materials, for example, need to be more hard-wearing: carpets that use synthetic fibres are easier to clean, and often need to be synthetic in order to comply with fire safety regulations. Meanwhile, while materials like marbles or metals can be used sparingly in private properties, they are simply not sustainable at the quantity required for hotels.

Wall feature commission using 100% natural organic paints and minerals for hotel lobby

For a hotel project to be truly sustainable, sustainability has to be a core consideration from the inception of the project. It has to be considered in everything from structural materials and utilising natural sun and ventilation, to being rigorous in sourcing reputable interior suppliers who prioritise sustainable production. In order to make sustainable hotel design more than simply tapping into a trend, new hotels have focus on longevity – much negative environmental impact comes from the waste of replacing worn-out features.

Considering this level of care to incorporate sustainability, it is essential that decorative aspects are not an afterthought to the project. After great effort has gone into sustainable design solutions, artworks can be overlooked, and in reality not be that sustainable. Whilst on an individual basis each artwork's sustainability may not be a major source for concern, together they can make a significant impact. If every room features artworks as well as the lobby, stairwells, and spa areas, irresponsible sourcing and using even small amounts of unsustainable materials can quickly add up. It is essential, therefore, to work coherently with specialist art consultants who are able to make sourcing sustainable art straightforward, and curate the entire collection for minimal environmental impact.

Sustainable carved wood headboard commission for boutique hotel

In addition, sustainable artworks bring many benefits to the hotel project. If a hotel decides to compromise on luxury materials in favour of sustainability, and opt for a more neutral, pared-back approach to interior design, the artwork can become the accent or focal point in the space. Sourcing art is further a great opportunity for supporting local artists, as artworks can be created from local materials and shipping costs are minimised. In addition, supporting sustainable artists also makes for an engaging way for the hotel to promote its values and reflect its context.

Sustainable Art: The Transformation of Materials

Ancient Craft

In many ways, artistic processes have long been sustainable. Traditional crafts, such as wood-carving, weaving and ceramics, were developed by ancient civilisations by utilising the naturally derived materials that they had to hand. Even when a raw material has to be manipulated as part of the process, such as spinning textiles into yarn or mixing pigments to create paints, these techniques are naturally low impact for their use of basic technology, and do not need electricity or complex machinery.

As such, many contemporary artists actively incorporate traditional techniques into their practice, becoming inheritors of ancient sustainable craft. These artists are pursuing sustainability as an inherent consideration within their work, and have been doing so for decades, rather than simply taking advantage of a design fad. The resulting artworks, however, do not look like basic artisanal crafts, and instead are examples of collectable, sophisticated fine art, and making them ideally suited to elegant interiors.

Willow Commission for Hotel – In Progress

As a result, many sustainably focused projects are drawn to such artists. In a recent project for a 5* hotel in Mayfair, London, Artelier has commissioned an artist to create a series of abstract wall installations created through willow weaving. The hotel project emphasises natural materials and sustainability, and so using an artist who revives the ancient craft of willow weaving was appealing.

The willow is sustainably harvested from Somerset, which has a naturally pale colour that complements the neutral palette of the hotel bedrooms. Each bedroom's feature artwork has a slight variation in design, with an organic, flowing composition. The artworks challenge preconceptions of willow weaving as being a rustic craft that is reserved for baskets; instead, the artworks showcase distinctly contemporary design that revives the ancient technique for a luxury hotel context.

Natural Materials

While some contemporary artists actively use ancient craft techniques, more broadly many artists authentically engage with sustainability through using exclusively natural materials. Taking humble and widespread materials such as wood, they are able to creatively transform them into fine art. The artworks communicate the natural beauty of earth’s resources, and deeply connect viewers with the environment by making them experience nature in new and surprising ways.

Christian Burchard's Sculptures & Working in his Oregon Studio

One such artist is Christian Burchard, who creates wood sculptures from a tree species native to the area surrounding his studio in Oregon, USA. His expressive carving creates poetic and dynamic sculptural compositions. He aims to show viewers the essence of the wood’s natural structures, allowing the material to 'speak its own language', rather than imposing onto it. Artelier commissioned a collection of Burchard's work for superyacht Pelorus (115m). The client and the interior designer used a neutral palette within the interiors, as they wanted a pure and natural design that utilised organic materials. They approached Artelier for us to identify artists that were in tune with their own materials, and would contribute to the sustainable feel of the overall design.

Artist Stuart Ian Frost’s creates site-specific installations from natural, and often foraged, raw materials. Each installation is created specially for its landscape, and Frost seeks to evoke the particularities of the individual environment. He draws inspiration from local geographical features and the raw materials themselves, but also often looks to incorporate the culture and architecture of the area. Like Burchard, Frost’s artworks seek to present nature in an unfamiliar, yet illuminating way, encouraging the viewer to challenge their own perceptions of the materials. His large-scale sculptures playfully incorporate pattern and organic shapes to transform the raw materials, giving them a newfound vitality. Meanwhile, his smaller scale artworks use foraged natural materials, such as bird quills, and represent them in symbolic geometric designs.

Stuart Ian Frost Installation & Wall Art from Feather Quills

Found materials are also central to British multi-disciplinary artist Sir Richard Long, who uses basic materials like mud or rocks to create sculptures, paintings, and installations. In so doing, he pushes the boundaries of which materials are typically considered suitable for fine art. Many of his artworks are created while on walks in landscapes, a primordial engagement between man and earth, and are left to be reclaimed by nature. His gallery artworks likewise present a visceral engagement with natural resources, such as his paintings created from mud from the Riven Avon in England; Long uses his bare hands to paint, preserving his gestures by leaving his hand and finger prints visible.

In such ways, many artists are naturally resourceful and low impact, by their use of foraged and natural materials. Conceptually, many of these artists are also inspired by how the natural world can be represented to viewers, in a way that emphasises man’s harmony with nature rather than dominance over it. Within a sustainable project, these artworks bear special significance, as they symbolise the objective behind incorporating sustainability – a re-evaluation of how humankind interacts with the environment, and how we can better preserve and respect natural resources.

From Richard Long's River Avon Painting Series

Resourcefulness & Reimagining Everyday Objects

Naturally derived materials are, however, not the only way that artists can incorporate sustainability into their medium. Pursuing a career as an artist is notoriously financially challenging and rarely lucrative; as a result, artists use materials economically, and have an innately resourceful approach to their process. Artists therefore come up with ingenious solutions and creatively repurpose materials. In contrast to commercially produced decorative elements, pieces created by individual artists are inherently less wasteful due to this approach.

Some contemporary artists also recycle everyday objects and use them as their materials – by separating the objects from their mundane function, they rejuvenate them and re-contextualise them to create fine art. Much of Jessica Drenk's work takes mass-produced objects and reconnects them to their natural origins. Though created from manmade objects, organic shapes often emerge from their accumulation, revealing a deeper beauty within. The pages of a book, for instance, can be accumulated to resemble the cross-section of a tree – this forms an abstract representation of the rings that slowly develop over time, before the tree is cut down to be used for paper.

Jessica Drenk's Sculptures from Pencils (left) and Book Pages (right)

Contemporary artist Tara Donovan creates impressive sculptural installations with mundane objects, showing how overlooked items can create an intensely powerful atmosphere. The result is often not only a visually striking installation, but inadvertently a statement on unsustainable lifestyles and the global obsession with consumerism.

In one of her installations, Donovan's creative process draws parallels with alchemy as she creates otherworldly shapes from accumulated plastic straws. Resembling crystals grown in a laboratory experiment or in a cave deep underground, the artist forces the viewer to reassess their perception of such a familiar object and how it can become so hauntingly unfamiliar. Since plastic straws have been condemned or even banned across the many countries, they are in themselves a symbol of throwaway culture. In today's context, the installation stands as a totem to a culture that has already impacted the earth so much.

Tara Donovan Installation from Straws

Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui uses a diverse range of found materials, from bottle caps to milk tins, iron nails to driftwood. By engaging with discarded, banal objects, he promotes environmental concerns, and highlights mankind’s usually wasteful and material overconsumption. However, his choice of materials goes beyond exemplifying how discarded objects can be made into beautiful artworks – he pointedly expresses how less privileged artists across the world have to re-use discarded objects out of necessity. His artworks likewise speak to the wastefulness within a consumerist society, and how globalisation has contributed to this widespread attitude.

For a sustainable project, it is therefore possible to commission artists who therefore not only use low-impact materials, but indeed reclaim objects that would otherwise be wasted. Unlike commercial decoration companies, artists can push the possibilities of sustainability even further, and incorporate unlikely materials to stunning effect. By working with an art consultant, artists can be sourced who speak to both the conceptual and aesthetic demands of a project. With specially commissioned new artworks, radical and inventive ideas could be explored with use of materials: for example, waste from the construction of the hotel could be repurposed or locally found materials given new life, creating artworks that speak uniquely to the context of the project.

El Anatsui Wall Hanging from Bottle Caps

Promoting Sustainable Practices

The New Arts & Crafts Movement

The diversity of artists' responses and creative processes is something that investors have always been captured by. Today more than ever, there's a significant move for investors to support artists who are true ‘makers’, and champion an individual’s craftsmanship.

After an industrial or technological boom, material culture often swings to glorify man-made products that are cost- and time-effective to produce. There is, however, an eventual resistance to this, and a resurgence of the handcrafted and labour intensive decorative arts. After the 19th Century Industrialisation in Britain, for example, the Arts & Crafts Movement promoted a philosophical opposition to mass-produced, machine made interior objects, believing that such objects lose the soul of artisan items.

Today, we are witnessing a revival of these values, which has reinvigorated local craft. There still exists a tension between cheaper, technologically advanced production and slower luxury craftsmanship. Unlike the Arts & Crafts of the late 19th Century, however, many of todays handmade objects are affordable – the growth of independent shops, craft markets, and online platforms like Etsy has encouraged artisan makers and buyers. Those who have greater resources are further able to commission exquisitely made art, and continue to champion the movement by valuing artists.

Woven Wire Wall Art Commission using Traditional Turkish Carpet Weaving Techniques

Clients want to engage with the concepts behind artworks, and appreciate the level of skill and time it requires to hand-craft exquisite artworks. Viewers of the artworks, especially in commercial contexts, are likewise keen to understand an artist’s ideas and use of materials, and so engage with the person behind the artwork. Commercially-produced feature walls and decorations simply cannot provide the same level of soul and complexity of ideas, and this is perceptible when experiencing a space.

When a project supports artists who work in this way, they are not only acting with social responsibility, but actively promoting sustainable ways of working. The working conditions of individual artists who are environmentally conscious are radically different from companies that produce art or decorative finishes. The sheer scale of production necessitates extensive machinery, and requires vast manpower – it is therefore more dubious to claim that their processes are sustainable, in comparison to the small-scale production of artists in their studios. Artists require less by way of space, resources, and out-sourcing labour, as well as the cost of energy to run the studio. Commissioning artists rather than companies is inherently a shift from mass-produced decoration, and ensures sustainable production.

Social Enterprise & Locally Sourced Art

In line with the desire to support individual artists is the focus on buying local art. There are numerous benefits to this approach, rather than importing art from elsewhere. For environmentally concerned projects, locally sourcing art keeps the carbon footprint low, as the artworks have less distance to travel. While many elements, such as raw materials or furniture, may have to be shipped from abroad, art presents an opportunity to minimise the overall impact of required shipping.

Raku Fired Ceramic Wall Panels for Pool using Locally Found Clay

For hotel projects and private clients alike, investing in local artists is further a valuable way of contributing to a thriving local art community, and giving back to a grassroots economy. This creates a sense of connection between the international project and the local community. The art can therefore be true to the concept of the project, and promote a sense of social responsibility. It is important to note the privileged position of luxury hotels in developing countries, and the opportunity they have to positively contribute to local communities while using funds already allocated to art in their budget. Further, locally-sourced art also benefits hotel design, as the hotel does not receive art that simply recreates the same luxury aesthetic that has been popularised by international designers. Instead, clients receive visually fresh artworks, which are home-grown and localised to the specific context, and celebrate the local culture’s own artistic heritage.

If unfamiliar with the local art market, however, clients can find sourcing local artworks particularly challenging. Working with an art consultant is therefore especially valuable, as they are experienced in spotting talent in artistic communities and working with local artists to develop their work for large-scale projects. In a recent project for a 5* hotel in Ethiopia, Artelier curated a collection that was inspired by the context of the area, drawing on different aspects of local culture and geography to form a thematic response. To carry out the commission, Artelier sourced Ethiopian artists, whose artworks celebrated Ethiopian artistic traditions, and were to the taste of an international audience. As part of it, we worked with contemporary Ethiopian artists who re-interpreted traditional Omo Valley tribal body painting as contemporary oil on canvas paintings.

Gestural Body Paintings by Omo Valley Tribe, Ethiopia

Communicating Sustainability through Art

With the move towards environmental concern, many mass-producing companies have tried to meet this demand by providing ‘sustainable’ products. However, is there really space for this in the future, when increasingly the move towards sustainability goes beyond natural materials, but also sustainable practices in the studio? Clients are trying to achieve a sense of connection in their projects, and so the individualism of makers is in itself becoming increasingly more valued. Bespoke artworks are a more authentic and personal way of decorating. A specially commissioned artwork can symbolically convey the central concerns of a client, and communicate their focus on sustainability.

Ever since artworks were created by ancient civilisations, artists have used their work as a traditional form of visual communication, that goes beyond simply decorative enhancement. Art engages the viewer's attention and creates atmosphere, producing an immediate and non-verbal understanding. A basic material transformed into a large-scale art installation instantly conveys to viewers the artist's commentary on man’s relationship with the natural world. For instance, in a commission for the headquarters of a company at the forefront of recycling innovation, Artelier commissioned a mobile sculpture that embodied the company values. Created from sustainable steam-bent wood, the mobile constantly evolves and transforms, representing the concept of recycling forms.

Art offers a way to combine luxury with truly sustainable practices, and is one of the few products to be able to do so. But it more than simply decoration – art is able to tell a story. It communicates the deeper essence of the project, and is an evocative way of representing its sustainable values. The skill of the art consultant is to be able to source artworks that stay true to the project's commitment to sustainability, and curate them in such a way that conveys the message to a wider audience.

Sustainable Wood Mobile Commission for Recycling Company HQ

With over 20 years' experience, Artelier provide art consultancy for varied contexts, having delivered art for luxury hotel, private residential, yachts and aircraft. At the forefront of the sustainable art movement, Artelier are specialists in sourcing and commissioning sustainable art and are able to deliver turnkey solutions for your project.

To discover more about our process, values and projects, visit our Art Consultancy homepage.

Get in touch with Artelier to hear about how we can tailor our services to you.


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