Ontario artist Annette Gaffney turns trash into treasures

Coffee pod art
2018-07-16 13-40 1 page 11
Coffee pod art

For as long as she can remember, Annette Gaffney has felt the urge to create.

“There are kids who pick fights with their brothers just to be sent to their room so they can draw for hours… That was me.”

After high school, she worked as a legal assistant in Toronto by day and took art courses from Ryerson and Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) at night. Her formal education continued for four years. Encouraged by friends and colleagues, she had her first show in a little gallery on Queen Street. Other galleries began to take her work on consignment.

Eventually, she left the law firm — a job she describes as “soul-destroying” — and worked as an executive assistant for a real estate developer. The family-run company was dedicated to reducing the impact their operations were having on the environment. Annette visited a waste processing centre and learned firsthand how to help multi-residential buildings recycle. As part of her research, she implemented a recycling and composting/organics program at the head office to see how it would translate to residents in an apartment. “At one point, I started to get really passionate, and I had to reign it in a bit. I was becoming the recycling madwoman!”

Annette and family.

Annette’s time in real estate left a lasting impression on her, which eventually found its way into her art. After her son was born 10 years ago, she threw herself back into creating full-time. Now that she had a child, she thought more about the future and the environment. “What’s the world going to look like for him?” she wondered. “So many things are changing, weather-wise, everything we are doing to the planet… I may not be here to see how things turn out, but he will.”

She sought ways to minimize her own impact. That resolve started with her morning cup of coffee, and all the guilt contained in those single-use pods. “I love my Nespresso machine. I’m the only one in the house who drinks coffee, so it makes no sense to make a big pot of coffee for just one person.” Annette began saving the empty capsules. Even though the city doesn’t recycle aluminum, she knew Nespresso would take them back and repurpose them to make pop cans and other things. Still, she kept looking at pods and thinking, they are so pretty and colourful. Unable to part with them, she decided to make something. It took two years, but Annette eventually incorporated the pods (right down to the foil and the coffee grounds) into her work. The result — much like all her art — is vibrant and whimsical.

Now Annette plans to take it further. If she’s not able to find someone who will wear old clothes, she’ll shred the fabric and integrate the garments into her art, so they don’t end up in a landfill. “I feel like there’s some closure now with the waste I produce. I know this is a luxury not everyone has. But being creative is my job.”


On a recent boat trip to Niagara Falls with relatives, Annette was struck by all the rain ponchos handed out by the tour company. At the end of the excursion, there was literally a mound of plastic piled high. What becomes of all those ponchos, she asked a guide. When told they are recycled, Annette was dubious. Of course, the poncho came home with her that day. “It’s such a lovely yellow,” she says, laughing.


Striking a balance between creating and hoarding is never easy. There’s a drawer of single earrings Annette’s been holding onto for some time. No doubt they will eventually pop up in an art show months or years from now…

“Paintings are lovely, but I want to evolve what I’ve been doing for 25 years. I need make a statement about who I am now. And there’s too much stuff — it’s driving me crazy. I’m either going to use my waste or find someone else who can use it. This is just the start.”


Julie Green is a freelance writer, artist, and autism advocate. She lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and bulldog. Learn more at http://www.juliemgreen.ca.

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