This Pollution Is Beautiful

August 20, 2013 | Andy Cush

To create the mystifying marbled circles you see above, artist John Sabraw and environmental engineer Guy Riefler looked to pollution. Riefler collected river water that had been tainted with iron by coal mining near Athens, Ohio, then using it as pigment for Sabraw to use in paint.

“I was coming back from rivers with stained socks,” Riefler told New Scientist“Most pigments are iron-based anyway, and we thought that we could use this water to create paints.”

Once the color is collected, it’s dried out, ground up, and turned into oil paint, which Sabraw uses creates the images you see above.

Unsurprisingly, there’s an activist impulse at work as well. Riefler hopes to sell some of the pigments commercially, then use the profit to clean up the water–potentially drying up his own supply.

“There aren’t enough resources to clean up the rivers right now,” he said. “We could produce a tonne of pigment per day. If we can generate a strong pigment the paint companies like, we can fund our mission to restore the rivers.”

(Images: John Sabraw)