With the old, embossed U.S. license plates already gone in many states, Aaron Foster’s art made of recycled plates is the perfect reminder to feel nostalgic about them.

“Liberty Flag” 54 x 36 inches. All images courtesy of Aaron Foster.

As a kind of all-American artist, California native Aaron Foster creates unusual artworks from old license plates. His work is well known — in particular, his series of U.S. maps and flags. In an email interview, Foster spoke with 1-800-RECYCLING.com about his preference for license plates and his take on recycling.

“USA Map” 62 x 40 inches

“USA Map” 62 x 40 inches

With great attention to detail, Foster uses a matching license plate for each state in his USA maps, giving each piece that special history and authenticity. Foster explains about working with the old license plates: “Recycling is really the only way to do what I do. My art simply can’t be created using today’s license plates. Many states are going, or have already gone, to flat, non-embossed plates. That doesn’t work for me. And while most states currently issue a wide variety of plates, they are also almost all predominantly white in color. It’s impossible to create the contrasts and color palettes that make my work unique using newer plates.”

“Rolling Stones” 30 x 55 inches

“Micky Mouse” 33 x 33 inches

Because of this, it doesn’t matter to Foster that some of his license plates look really old and banged up. On the contrary: The more used they look, the more history they have. Foster says: “Creating artwork made from 50-plus license plates, all anywhere from 10 to 50 years old, gives what is essentially a new piece of art a story and a history from day one. The piece is new, the parts are old and they have traveled throughout the country, countless miles on unknown vehicles. Each part of each of my works has a thousand different stories to it.”

“Single Lasso” 41 x 41 inches

“American Indian”

With a keen eye for his environment, Foster has created an amazing series of American memorabilia, ranging from Mickey Mouse to cowboys and Indians, Hollywood to road signs, and on to other iconic works of art.

“Bowl” 55 x 55 inches

“Hollywood Boxed” — 3D-version of the Hollywood sign at night “Beverly Hills” — made out of California plates

His series of cars shows how deeply indebted he is to them — after all, they do provide the raw material for his art. As a kind of homage to the most American of all modes of transportation, Foster has created a very special way to capture them.

“New York City Taxi Boxed” 36 x 36 inches

“57 Chevy on leather” 56 x 28 inches

Some of Foster’s works require multiple layers of license plates. For the flag below and at the very top, for example, he needed to create the Statue of Liberty separately, using the backside of plates, cutting them to size, painting them and adding the finished cutout to the flag.

“Peace Flag” 54 x 36 inches

Apart from wall art, Foster also creates mailboxes, jewelry and furniture like the table below. He says about the idea behind it:

“Get Your Kicks” – Route 66 table, 36 x 36 inches

“I like the idea of recycling and repurposing in many different aspects of my design work. Whether it be strictly in my art with license plates where we can imagine our own automotive histories with each new piece, or in interior design projects where old suitcases become coffee tables old factory carts become bookshelves, or even when an old collection of vintage egg beaters become wall art — I enjoy using things for reasons they may not have been originally intended for.”

“American Flag” 54 x 36 inches

Foster’s very first license plate piece came to life like so many great artworks — by coincidence. After graduating from the University of California – Davis with a double major in U.S. history and bicycle racing, Foster managed his own home furnishing and artist representation company for five years. One day, he was looking for a creative gift for his friend and business partner and built his first map out of license plates. From that very first piece, he was able to combine his fond childhood memories of road trips with his passion for found objects and antique school maps.

“VW VAN R-O-A-D-T-R-I-P, Blue” 46 x 28 inches

He says about the recycling aspect of his work: “There wasn’t a huge push toward green/sustainable/recycling-oriented businesses nine years ago when I made my first piece like there is today. But, even then, reusing and repurposing items otherwise bound for the trash heap was important to me. Not only does using them keep them out of a landfill, but it adds so much history to my work.”

“USA 50 State Map”

And it is this history that makes each piece of Foster’s art so unique. Giving each artwork a new lease of life is not only rewarding for the artist, it also appeals to his creativity when thinking of the perfect new purpose of any given material. Foster states: “In my opinion, it is very narrow minded to think that a thing has only one purpose or use. To think that a license plate can only be used as it was originally intended and then has no value is crazy. By choosing to see things for what ELSE they can do, we can find countless ways to keep our old products out of landfills and in our homes, just doing something different.”

USA Map Flag 62 x 40 inches

And we hope that Aaron Foster will continue to see many wonderful things in old license plates. For more information, visit his website or his YouTube page, where you will see him in his many other roles.