Plastic and Foam Assemblage Wall Relief
Bryan Northup, Sea Inside, 24 x 30, 2017

Bryan Northup

Sea Inside: Visioning Single-Use Plastic at the Cellular Level

Solo Exhibition at the International Museum of Surgical Science

November 22, 2019 – February 16, 2020

Opening Reception: Friday, November 22, 2019 at 5:30 PM. Free and open to the public. RSVP required.

My work responds to human dependence on a uniquely modern material: plastic.

Bryan Northup, 2019

Using collected single-use plastic, environmental artist Bryan Northup attempts to blur the lines between appetizing consumables, anatomical dissection and everyday waste to explore layers of meaning in an age where plastics have saturated our environment and penetrated our species—both biologically and culturally—to the cellular level. The work in this exhibition is part mosaic, part painting and sculpture, all made from discarded single-use plastics. Organic forms and textures in Bryan’s work suggest perishable matter, flesh or food, likely to decay quickly, but because these objects are created with the permanent materials of plastic, they will never decompose.

Northup probes the occluded, the subcutaneous through cutaways and cross-sections, attempting to find how far plastic has infiltrated the “sea” inside each of us. Transverse sections force an interaction with ubiquitous plastics of modern life, perhaps suggesting surgical practice and precision while simultaneously manipulating our appetites for a delicious, if fanciful meal.

The compositions are constructed with techniques mimicking a sushi chef’s: rolling and slicing. Using three dimensional slices, or sections of rolled single-use plastics as mark making devices, abstract wall reliefs and sculptural works are created in an attempt to imagine how these very plastics are interacting with living systems at the deepest level. With this body of work, Northup hopes to record a material fingerprint, a time capsule, that implicates contemporary social values and attitudes surrounding environmental conservation, consumption, waste and how these affect our own bodies.

Bryan Northup is a California native, living and working in Oak Park, Illinois since 2008. Bryan graduated from California College of the Arts in Oakland, California with a BFA in Fine Art Photography in 1998 but works in several media including cold and warm glass, painting, mixed media sculpture and photography. Until recently, Bryan has focused on working with glass, from traditional stained glass and mosaics to experiments with recycled bottles, creating kiln-formed, functional tableware, lighting and sculptural works including a line of bowls made from the hail damaged glass of the Garfield Park Conservatory. As an environmental artist Bryan has turned his attention to the problem of single-use plastics. Since 2015, Bryan has used these plastics and foam that litter our daily lives to create wall relief and sculpture works that mimic and abstract food. His current work forces an interaction with the ubiquitous plastics of modern life, manipulating the viewer’s appetites while recording a material fingerprint that alludes to contemporary social values.  ​

Northup’s artwork has been exhibited both nationally and abroad in galleries including Chelsea’s Gallery 524, Bortolami, CICA, South Korea, Gallery MC, St. Louis Artists Guild, Beloit College Wright Museum of Art, South Bend Museum of Art, Zhou B Art Center, Bridgeport Art Center, Evanston Art Center and Highland Park Art Center. Read more at

This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.


This project is partially supported by a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events.