From childhood, I have always enjoyed being creative; drawing and embroidery mainly. From school, I trained as a nurse and was a Ward Sister for 7 years. After 17 years as a nurse and 10 more as a full time mother, I decided it was time to develop my creative potential. I took a degree in Textiles, gaining a First in 2006. During my final year, I worked mainly with found materials, especially beach debris and driftwood.
I enjoy using materials which have a history, and love art with an element of fun and the unexpected.
From Brooches to Portraits
I wrote my degree thesis on Art and Design from Recycled Materials. While researching this, I came across religious festival headdresses from Ecuador, which were decorated with a bizarre mixture of found objects: broken jewellery, shells, dolls, light bulbs, coins etc. I loved them! In 2005, these became the inspiration for my final year work. I started making hand-stitched brooches from old jewellery, plastic toys, coins, shells and other found objects. Some of the brooches were mounted on beach debris or driftwood to become a piece of art for the wall. I also made ‘memory brooches' from clients' own collected bits and pieces; odd earrings, broken jewellery or childhood treasures which could no longer be used but which the owner could not bear to throw away.
While making these brooches, I collected lots of materials which were too big to be used. After my degree, the idea of making them into a portrait just came into my head and I started by copying a famous Matisse portrait of his wife (Portrait with Green Stripe) which I had always liked. I really liked the result and tried making one of a friend to see if I could capture a likeness of a real person. It was OK but too small in scale at A3, so I decided to make a larger work of someone whom everyone would recognize. The result was Made in China; The Queen, made for Devon Open Studios 2008. This portrait won the ‘People's Choice Award' at the Focus on Great Britain exhibition, Art Works Galleries, Newcastle (August 2009) and subsequently sold to a director at Burberry HQ in London. I continued making portraits of iconic figures and in July 2009, Portrait of Nelson Mandela won the ‘People's Choice Award' at the Open Exhibition, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon.
I use any materials of the right size, shape and colour: toys, shells, buttons, plastic cutlery, beads, jewellery, curtain hooks, springs etc. No colour is added – everything is used ‘as found'. The portraits need to be viewed in 2 ways: from a distance (to recognize the person) and close up (to identify the materials.) They work rather like the late 19th century painting technique known as ‘pointillism' (eg Georges Seurat) where dots of colour were applied close together but not blended. As the viewer steps back from the picture, the colours are blended by the viewer's eye to reveal the complete image
In my current body of work, Plastic Classics, (from 2010) Old Masters are given a contemporary twist. The 3D nature of Van Gogh's thickly applied paint which he squirted straight from the tube, lends itself to interpretation using found materials. Van Gogh painted 17 different versions of his Sunflowers in varying compositions and with different coloured backgrounds. I have made several versions of Sunflowers and Mona Lisa – each one is unique, according to the materials found at the time.
Re-interpreting work by previous artists is nothing new. Centuries ago, artists learned their craft by re-working paintings by their predecessors. Picasso famously copied works by many artists, creating 44 studies of Velasquez' Las Meninas alone, with his unique style. Da Vinci's iconic Mona Lisa has been re-worked many times by artists including Marcel Duchamp who gave her a beard.
Some frequently asked questions
Where do you get your materials?
Charity shops, Boot sales and the Recycling centre in Exeter, and I often get donations of materials from friends and neighbours.
How long does it take to make one?
Hard to say. I tend to live with a piece for a while to make sure it works. Usually I run out of a particular colour and have to go out searching in order to finish a piece. I would think I usually work on a piece over about 3 weeks, but I made the portrait of Alan Titchmarsh in one week, for the show – but that was working pretty much flat out.
How do you fix the materials?
I use a glue gun initially, so that I can pull things off and move them. When I'm happy with the final result, I paint the whole work with a layer of diluted PVA glue.