Maytagging: The Bleeding Edge of Primitive Art


By now you’ve probably heard of Maytagging which is the art of turning rusted out, abandoned appliances into art by using spray paint. The collector, if they are lucky, will already have some appliances laying about on their property or if not, they can purchase completely unusable appliances and have them shipped to their own outdoor gallery for the artist to paint or ‘tag’.

The following collection is private and not available to the public. It’s a small but growing gallery called Blue Tarp Art Gallery on Murder Ridge somewhere in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.

What is so exciting about the pieces we are about to see, is the collectors were part of the artistic process and are both the collector and the artist. Which means they painted a little bit or at the very least, handed over spray cans when orders for color were barked at them.

As you probably know, the art of Maytagging is a living process. The art will constantly change from year to year as the artists who create these pieces can’t be bothered with priming the pieces first, or really cleaning them off at all other than blowing off dead leaves and dust before applying paint. This means the colors will fade rapidly and will have to be reapplied with a different vision. The artist can have projects that last decades as the pieces acquire layers and layers of color without actually ever becoming complete.

The art of Maytagging is so much more than randomly spraying rusted out garbage with paint.

For instance, the following pieces were created after years of planning. The planning process can be complicated, but I will try to break it down for you by giving you a glimpse of a conversation had nearly two years before the project began.

Artist: Hey, what’s that down there? Ovens?

Collector: I don’t know. They’re such an eye sore. I don’t want to pay to have them hauled out. I just want to dig a big hole and bury them.

Artist: Why don’t you just paint them? That would be easier.

Collector: You are so weird.

The naming of the pieces is nearly as important as the art work itself. A piece of Maytagging art can lose half its value if it is determined that the Maytagger didn’t put any time in naming the piece.

This first piece was originally called ‘You Guys, No. I Am Not Opening That Fucking Door. Seriously, I Am Not Opening It’. This was shortened to ‘I Am Not Opening That Fucking Door’.

The significance of this title is that the artist was sure the inside of this washing machine was filled with a great big writhing ball of rattle snakes. It also embodies the general feeling of unease she had tromping around on big piles of leaves and brush that was also probably housing thousands if not millions of rattle snakes.


This next piece is called ‘Eyelashes’. One of the collectors made the call that eyelashes be added. My personal feeling is that he wanted to portray the importance of closing our eyes and looking inside ourselves or some shit like that.


This third piece is called ‘Tree Roots’. As you can see, it’s part of ‘I Am Not Opening That Fucking Door’ but we, the artists and the collectors, feel that it stands alone as an individual piece.

One of the artists used a surprisingly feminine color for the leaves of the tree. He actually picked out quite a few girly colors for this project which sparked much debate and lively conversation between the collectors and the artists.

The other exciting part about this piece, is that one of the collectors added the lilac colored ‘roots’ to the tree. His choice in color was also along the feminine side which compelled the female half of the artists and collectors to comment lovingly about how the males in the group were in touch with their feminine side. It’s possible that other words were used as well.

DSC_0151-001The last piece is very exciting. The technique employed is quite cutting edge for Maytagging.

The collectors were able to procure this bullet ridden washing machine, beating out hundreds of other collectors in the process. This yet untitled piece was painted using nothing but clear sealant. When the sun hits this piece and the slight glare from the clear paint is visible, the effect is sublime.


I don’t want to say that we were the first to employ the clear paint method, but I’m pretty sure we were the first to employ the clear paint method.

Also, it’s possible that alcohol was involved.



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  • Oh, God, did I need this today. I’m wondering if the same technique could be applied to other pieces of “found art,” such as the bicycle no one uses and the piece that I think came off the old lawn mower we got rid of three years ago.

    • Back in “the day,” actually, before the Day, there was an artists colony in Woodstock, New York. There were some really great people: Folks who were truly producing artists who had to split NYC; the Bohemians. Yes. They were BEFORE the Beatniks.

      One of the guys in Woodstock was this guy Schmidt, who carefully wrapped entire trees
      and bushes (just the branches) with tinfoil. He went on to INVENT, yes INVENT the original Tin Foil Helmet To Prevent Brain Waves from the Soviet Union from stealing his thoughts.

      I love the whole idea of Maytagging. Whole tableaux can be assembled and decorated.
      (Refer to the “bullet-ridden piece, above.) Gunfire can now be a media. Wow. My neighbor Clem’s dog pushed over Clem’s collection of filled garbage bags on the porch,
      so Clem decided to make art: He carefully pushed the gas mower through the yard of
      garbage bags and except when an engine block or something killed the mower at 4:35 P.M., every day, reduced the debris to mulch.

      Now here’s where the art comes in:

      Clem soaks the yard in Home Heating Oil. Not gas or kerosene or paint thinner, whatever, but good and old Home Oil right from his 275 gallon steel tank.

      Wait for it, wait for it:

      Yes. He lights it all on fire, and it burns for three days. There was a wonderful beige mushroom cloud right over the valley, and everything smelled like Kearny, New Jersey, inside and out.

      Hundreds of families live in the valley. It was Action Art: Kids were going outside and puking on the lawn.

      I went away in about a week. No one had the presence or the guts to call the cops
      or the fire department, not with Clem up on the hillside.

      The Earth had the Last Say: Some months later the hillside above Clem’s shack gave ‘way in a mudslide that took Clem’s place right off the foundation, put it right in the middle of the road below, and promptly buried it, but not without stopping to mess with the gas water heater, so what remains were on top of the mud simply burned.

      They let it go all day before getting the ‘loaders, ‘dozers, excavators and the dump trucks out to the pile. By then it was all oatmeal and logs.

      • Okay…THAT is a great story!

        I really REALLY like the tinfoil idea. I will have to think about that the next time we visit Blue Tarp art gallery. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • We have a piece that could qualify for this collection, oddly enough. It’s my old and very dead Maytag dryer, which has spent the last 5 months sitting out back, waiting for removal. It’s also CONVENIENTLY already strapped to a trailer, although that fact has unfortunately not caused it to actually GO anywhere…

    So if we painted both items, it could be renamed the Mobile Museum of Restored Art Commemorating the Homemaker’s Craft, right? Wonder how much I could charge per viewing?

    *going to garage to check our spray paint color collection*

  • When I was delivering appliances for a living, we did haul some old ones away that were artistically painted (mostly from Marin County if I remember correctly) and I kind of felt badly about taking them to the metal scrappers, but the used appliance dealers only bought machines that worked, and these didn’t. We gave them the chance, but they passed.

  • That type of art looks like it would be a lot of fun to make, whether or not anyone would ever look at it. I have seen some people do something similar with old TVs, by painting the entire TV, including the screen. I think it looks cool when they still keep it looking like a TV, with the screen showing some sort of picture or scene, and the frame and tube and everything in fun colors and patterns.

  • I had never heard of this! I do like the vibrant colors :). And it’s nice to think the old, forlorn appliances have somewhere to go after they break.

    Or, as we did in my house, when they no longer matched the other, newer appliances (my parents were WASPS).

    I am really curious about those bullet holes. Who shoots that? There’s a story there.

    • It’s possible that we made up the art form.

      The bullet holes? I suspect it was just target practice out in the mountains..who knows? It is interesting, though and it was a lot of fun.

  • OMG I needed this laugh! I just read about 4 depressing posts and I was hoping you’d come to my rescue….as usual.


    My favorite two lines: a) “…comment lovingly about how the males in the group were in touch with their feminine side. Itโ€™s possible that other words were used as well.”
    b)”Also, itโ€™s possible that alcohol was involved”
    YA THINK? LoL.

    • YAY! I’m glad I cheered you up. And I can’t say what we called our husbands because it’s rude and insulting and I know better. But I said it anyway.

      It was fun, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to go back and paint some more.


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