Trash or Treasure?

When I started to work with found objects, I began walking along the various bits of coast that I could access on my morning exercise with the dog.  I collected any items that caught my eye with a view to using it in my work.  However, it was not long before I felt compelled to start collecting the “trash” as well as the “treasure” and, sadly, there is much more of this.  People often ask me what has been the most interesting find so I thought I would compile a post to let you know!

 

In January 2017, I was walking at East Head, West Wittering when I found this object.  I had no idea what it was and took a couple of photographs, hoping to discover it’s identity when I got home.  I belong to an excellent online group of beachcombers and after many suggestions of coconut or coco de mere, someone suggested that it was part of a human cranium!  And so it was!  The police was called and the skull sent off for analysis.  Sadly, I never got to find out the results but believed it was mostly likely to be from an ancient burial at sea   .  The Daily Star headline ran “Mystery as ‘shipwrecked sailor” head found on British beach in odd circumstances” and for a day or two I was famous as the story went viral.  Of course I did not find a “head”, we don’t know who it belonged to and the circumstances were not “odd”!

I am drawn to all things rusty and confess to having quite a collection of items for use in rust dyeing and assemblage.  Here is one I particularly liked sitting on my kitchen windowsill:  Once again, it was not long before the alarm was raised and the police followed by the bomb squad visited!  I have found several objects since which have been more obviously questionable and now know to call the coastguard rather than bring the item home!

Rusty bottle Wittering 13:3:17.jpg

I would guess that most of the litter than I pick up has been either dropped at the beach by visitors or has washed in from the sea somewhere else in the UK.  I regularly find old shoes and shoe heels and soles and I think that these come from an old dump on the Isle of Wight some 24 miles away as the crow flies.

 

I often find objects labelled from overseas.  Whilst I can see that some of these have made the journey by sea from their apparent destination, some may have been purchased in the UK.  I recently found a label from Brazil, often find European packaging and occasionally things from the USA such as this lobster creel tag from Maine:

Melvin L Hutchinson

I am now in touch with this gentleman’s daughter who lives on a small island in Maine and the family are amazed that I found the tag belonging to Melvin who has just retired from 70 years as a lobster fisherman!

Some of my finds demonstrate the sad fact that plastics are prevalent in our seas and that they will take many many years to decompose – a drinks bottle will take 450 years to vanish!  Here a few examples of relatively recent finds (CLICK FOR DETAILS):

 

And, finally, I occasionally find an object and cannot ascertain it’s purpose.  I have now found nine of these little rubber items and am still none the wiser – they were found at differing locations but all within 5 miles or so of Selsey.  I know someone who has found a couple on the North East Coast of England too.  We agree that they are not rubber balls and can only think that they are some sort of protective cover.  If anyone could enlighten me I would be delighted!

 

INSPIRATION ….

I now feel settled within my niche of working with found objects.  But how did I get to this point?  An early influence was Cas Holmes who creates wonderful textiles using found and recycled materials either directly or as tools (I well remember her printing with a malted milk biscuit!) and it seemed to make sense to me to re-use as much as possible in one’s creation.  Later I came across the beautiful work of Alice Fox and very much enjoyed a course with her at Studio 11 in Eastbourne.  We started each day with a walk along the shoreline collecting items that we could use – in this instance we were particularly looking for items with which we could rust-dye.  Before the class started, I was away walking along the beach each morning – there was something about the absorbing way I searched which allowed my eyes to see but my mind to wander in a creative meander.  I have never stopped!

Beachcombing Day 1.jpg
Beachcombing Day 1 at Studio 11 Eastbourne in 2016

Alice suggested that we lay out our finds so that we could take in what we had and how the pieces might work.  She also introduced us to the work of a silversmith by the name of Stuart Cairns.  Whilst I do not have the ability to make the beautiful objects that Stuart makes, he inspired me to continue to work with the found.  I do not seek to copy his work (I do not have the skill!) but I greatly admire it and so jumped at the chance to see his current exhibition which runs at “Make”, Hauser at Wirth in Bruton, Somerset until Saturday.

SC - Bound and left vessel 2 - silver, stainless stell wire, linen thread, driftwood, rose thorn and washerSC Wetlands Vessel - iron wire, driftwood, oxidised silver, bobby pin, fishhookSC Traces & Fragments vessel 2 - silver, stainless steel wire, beach pebble, found sardine canSC 5SC 3

If I had to sum up Stuart’s work in three words they would be: beautiful, delicate, fragile.  Each piece is so perfectly judged – just the right amount of detail, just the right balance between found and made.  Do have a look at his website but the objects really do need to be seen to be appreciated in full.

I would also just like to mention the work of ceramicist Elaine Bolt.  Elaine also appreciates Stuart’s work and has been supportive of me in the past.  I think you will see that same sense of balance in her pieces and the apparent simplicity of the work.  I say apparent because of course none of these artists produce their work with ease or without a great deal of hard work and study.  I tried working with porcelain with Elaine once – an unmitigated disaster!

So, I will continue to work in my own way but always admiring these various artists and makers.  They continue to inspire me and hope that you will gain something from looking at their work too.

 

It’s All Over

After three weeks at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester, the time came last Sunday to take down our work.  I thoroughly enjoyed the run, meeting lots of new people, chatting to other artists, and of course handing over five pieces of my work to their new homes.  Nicola Hancock did a great job of curating the exhibition, displaying her own work along with four other artists who each came from different walks of life, offering up different methodologies and outcomes, but whose work all reflected on how creativity offered release to those suffering mental anguish in some form – here the title “Creative Redemption.”  Several visitors told me how good it was to see some contemporary work displayed in this gallery in a new and exciting way.

creative redemption pano Jan 19.jpg

I sold two collages and three pieces of sculpture …

 

… and, just as importantly, received lots of positive feedback and encouragement from visitors.  Several said that they were off to the beach to see what they could find and I would love to hear from them – as long as they took a bag to pick up the rubbish at the same time, that is all fine with me!  Others related to the theme of the exhibition and chatted about the restorative power of stitch or other forms of creativity.

So, I am now thinking about my next project.  I will certainly exhibit at this venue again and am thinking in terms of combining my found objects with recycled everyday items to create a new body of work.

Thank you to the Oxmarket Gallery, Nicola Hancock, Terry Hancock at ReFrame, and to my husband for helping me along the way.  Until next time ….

Empty Oxmarket.jpg

 

Finding Inspiration …

Most days I walk along the beach – I call it “Beachcombing” but it is just noticing what is around me and picking up any items that “speak” to me (as well as litter and marine debris).  I don’t necessarily know how I will use the pieces that I collect but there will be something about the colour, shape and most often, texture, that draws my attention.  The object might be metal, wood, plastic, cloth, rubber or any manner of material but there is usually a common thread.  This is that the item will have started out as useful – mass produced, neat and tidy.  By the time I find out, when the sea has done it’s work, the once pristine, utilitarian thing has become a unique piece – worn and tattered and no longer of any use to anyone – except me and others who appreciate this kind of thing.  Here are some items from this morning’s walk from Climping to Littlehampton.

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Back home, my finds are all “filed” according to material but only after I have photographed them and added them to the appropriate folder on the computer.  Thus I have two ways of looking for items that I think will work together although I am pretty good at remembering what I have.

Knots

One of the most common finds while I walk along local beaches is rope and twine.  Often this is knotted and in varying degrees of perfection – I have a whole bag of them now.

Found Knots Church Norton Feb 18.jpg

I decided to start experimenting using knots with some of my found pieces.  I had the idea of using found times which had holes in them and knotting through or around the holes.  I knew that this would be a laborious, repetitive business but was interested to see how this slow repetition would affect my thoughts as I worked.  I had read that undertakings boring tasks allowed the mind to wander and become more creative:  Read more about this here – Harvard Business Review – two studies found a strong link between boredom and creativity. In short, people who were subjected to monotonous, repetitive, or otherwise uninspiring tasks then asked to think creatively or brainstorm ideas far outperformed those who were not subjected to the drudgery.

When our minds are bored, they seek inspiration. The studies’ authors “suggest that boredom boosts creativity because of how people prefer to alleviate it. Boredom, they suggest, motivates people to approach new and rewarding activities. In other words, an idle mind will seek a toy.”

And so, I started my first project without any end goal, just to see what would happen.  I worked with a rectangle of found metal, calico and found twine from the beach.

Next, I decided to try bristles from a found brush in combination with a piece of found metal mesh.  The mesh was delicate and, by the end, had started to break up.  Like the first task, this took me several days.  I am still working on how to present it.

The next project is a little bit “out there”!  I recently found a tea strainer and decided to see what developed if I started to knot through the mesh of this.  It is very hard work and I am having to use a magnifying lamp to see the holes.

This one may not be a keeper – we will have to see.

What has been interesting, thought, is to see how my mind wandered during the long hours of knotting.  I started to think about the people in times gone by who spent their days making fishing nets.  This seemed to strike a chord and link back to the beach where I had found my objects – a research project beckons ….