Recently it seems the ultimate in trendy words is “repurposing.” It is being tossed around as if it is some new and magical discovery never before heard of.

In reality, we in the art world know that repurposing is a centuries old practice. Many famous artists are known to have repurposed their work. Vincent Van Gogh is known to have painted over previous works as often as three times. X-ray imaging has revealed, for example, a portrait of a woman beneath his painting “Patch of Grass”. American artist N.C. Wyeth’s “Family Portrait” has been discovered to have another work under it. No, repurposing is not new to artists. From canvases to murals, hidden works are continually being discovered beneath others.

Artists may well be the original repurposers.

Unsatisfactory paintings on paper get cut up and used in collages, or parts may be salvaged to be used as small stand alone paintings, or even as greeting cards or gift tags.

Works on canvas are often painted over. This could be because the original piece was solely for practise or study; Or the artist was unhappy with the work for some reason and it didn’t make the cut; Or perhaps the artist’s budget forced the need to reuse the substrate to allow him to continue painting. For whatever reason, repurposing art is nothing new.

In the case of my painting CAVE DWELLINGS, the work I painted over was an abstracted floral that just couldn’t seem to find it’s way to completion, and the board was the perfect size for the piece I wanted to create. So I repurposed it.

There are actually some advantages to painting over another work:

  • The first painting may occasionally show through to create rich undertones, leading to more interesting colorations than just the outer painting could create.
  • The brush strokes left behind by the first painting add wonderful texture that serves to enhance the strokes laid down with the creation of a new painting over them.
  • And there is always a good feeling when you are able to salvage a piece by making it new again.

Art restoration experts, historians, and curators are now discovering works with one or more paintings beneath the surface. Pieces going to auctions are now checked for just such treasures.

No, repurposing isn’t anything new. 

Artists have been doing it for centuries.


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“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” ~ Walt Disney