Art appreciation

Old cassette tapes turn into works of art in Meg Frank’s ‘Road Trip’

Summer is here and I’m craving a good road trip – windows down, sun shining on the horizon and good music à la Nicole Kidman in practical magic. This desire is the idea behind my recent piece “Road Trip”: four cassettes with eight miniature landscape oil paintings illustrating the journey through America from the west coast to the east. All of my road adventures have playlists, and when I look at each of the tape paintings, I hear the songs that kept me company on those long drives. Of course, this also works in reverse; hearing a certain song can take me right back to I-80, singing half the lyrics as I explore the horizon. That feeling of transport into memory and nostalgia is what I’m trying to evoke with these tapes.

COVID resulted in several cycles of canceled plans, so I took several road trips to keep my wandering brain sane. Most of the reference photos I used for the paintings were photos I took while driving across the country in the summer of 2021. I started painting other outdated tech items, like old cell phones and laptops; they feel like slightly more substantial Polaroid images or other memory tokens I carry with me. I like to bring the phones with me to review and enjoy in other settings like the subway or the park. With the right preparation, almost any surface can be painted, from seashells and rocks to glass soda bottles or pickle jars. Finding things to paint can easily be part of the vacation, and painting those things when you get home is a great way to remember the fun times.

I first had the idea of ​​painting on a cassette thanks to the task of a teacher to bring unusual “canvases” to class. One thing I already had to think about for painting class was carrying all the paintings I created in class back to my apartment when they were wet. Being on the move a lot as a kid had also left me appreciating portable means of presenting art. Finding something that came with its own case was really satisfying – even better that it was a clear case.

When I started painting cassette tapes I was also experimenting with CD cases. I eventually decided that I liked cassette tapes and their cases better than CD cases because of the separation between art and frame (or case), but I kept coming back to the first CD case I had painted. It was an oil painting of a cloudy sky inside a CD case, which I titled “SoundCloud”. I wanted it to do more than just show the sky; I wanted it to be immersive. It’s hard to do that with such a small object, and I realized the way around that was to add some music.

Selections from Meg Frank’s “Road Trip” series of paintings on tape depicting the following locations (clockwise): Kansas; Lake Pueblo, Colorado; View from the Whitestone Bridge in Queens, New York; The Hoover Dam, Nevada side
Photo courtesy of Meg Frank

Music has always been a big part of my artistic practice – I always have the radio on in my studio and many of my pieces have playlists I’ve created to listen to while I’m working on them. Some of the tapes I’ve painted have recordings of the playlists I listened to while working on them, but many of them are also mass-produced tapes with music from icons like Hall & Oates, U2, James Taylor, Tina Turner and other bands I grew up listening to in the car. I was able to source a lot of the pre-recorded tapes through neighbors in my local band Buy Nothing, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with recycled materials.

To paint an object like this at home, you will need several brushes (#1 round, #3 round, #5 round, #6 flat), gesso or Mod Podge, acrylic paint, plates cardboard or paper to mix the paint on, and several cups of water for rinsing. First, apply several thin coats of gesso or Mod Podge to your object with the flat brush to prime it. This will help your paint stick to the object and prevent it from chipping. This step can be done anytime before painting, so if you’re doing this craft with kids, prepping the items the night before can save annoying drying times. Before painting, I do a quick sketch on the object with a pencil or pen to help me avoid distorted paintings. I use oil paint, but I don’t recommend it for casual crafting; it is very messy and requires the use of toxic solvents. Acrylic paint is much cheaper, easier to use, and easier to clean. It dries quickly and can be cleaned with soap and water.

I love painting on canvas, but there’s something particularly satisfying about creating art that someone else can hold in their two hands, and sometimes even listen to. Thanks to these bands, someone else can know what it looks like in my brain when I see these specific sights. Someone else may know what my memories are like.