Three Cans of Coke, Hold the Soda

David Wasserman sees papal robes in the rich reds of discarded Coke cans, discovers a sepia-toned immigrant family in a rusted-out five-gallon drum, and creates stained-glass windows from the design on a 7-Up can. For more than three decades, the 79-year old East Meadow retiree has created artistry out of the ordinary, using recyclables and sign painters' metal as the raw materials for his "constructions." The colorful metal mosaics range from the serious -- such as "1921-1945," a portrait of a nephew killed in World War II -- to the silly, such as the recent "Nouveau Riche," which depicts a red-bricked outhouse outfitted with a TV antenna.

The artwork, which covers nearly all the available wall-space of his small ranch-style home, is the result of thousands of hours of delicate work. It's a process that begins with a rough pencil sketch of the design, then takes shape as Wasserman, his hands as deft as those of any Japanese paper cutter, snips out the pieces that will fit together to make the finished construction.

Wasserman started working with metal in the early '70s, after experimenting unsuccessfully with oil paintings. "I realized I was doing the same things that thousands of others were doing," he says. "So I looked around and I found metal." Until his retirement in 1995, Wasserman and a partner headed Lance Studios, a Manhattan design firm that produced safety posters, film strips and other materials. By day, Wasserman churned out slick brochures and logos. But his evenings and weekends were devoted to his constructions.

When Wasserman first started creating his artwork, "no one recycled," he says, which made materials easier to come by. When he was low on art supplies, Wasserman replenished his stock not at the nearest supermarket, but by scavenging local landfills. He and his wife, Betty, also spend hours scouring the picnic grounds of nearby Eisenhower park for discarded cans.

Certain projects required even greater sacrifices. For "Circus Poster," which features a leaping tiger, the couple spend months consuming cases of Pathmark orange soda, using the cans to create the animal's vibrant coat. Now his wife, Wasserman says, never touches the stuff.

Although his son, Steven, has set up a Web site to showcase his father's work, Wasserman has quietly refused entreaties from family and friends to show his more than 35 creations publicly. "To show in a gallery, you have to be willing to sell your paintings," he explains. "I don't know what could be more enjoyable with the money I would get than having them around to look at."