I’m looking at a photo in one of the several local papers showing worthy and hearty persons with the bags of ‘rubbish’ they have so public-spiritedly collected off east Suffolk beaches. Excellent, well done; particularly as the image contains the not too hidden message that the rest of us are rotters for polluting our shores – and by implication the seas – with our litter and mess. Quite so.
Yet I recall a happy morning a few weeks ago on an empty beach at a place I am not going to identify since it is ‘mine’. It was also, not for the first time, a rich source of material for my art: other people’s ‘rubbish’ provided for me beautifully rounded and superbly textured bits of wood, some off trees, some from boats and some from ancient peat; all sorts of stones, not just the obvious natural pebbles but all sorts of shapes, colours and textures of sometimes used limestones, sandstones, flints and granites; man-made materials with softened outlines and interesting surfaces such as broken tiles, earthenware and glazed, wonderfully contorted and coloured baked clay, formerly bricks, and chunks of sea-caressed concrete, presumably from the many 2nd World War structures currently slumping below the high-tide line. Some of the iron pieces and wire netting is probably similarly sourced, but other pieces are of fittings and machinery and now of potentially useful shapes. Among the organic material are lovely lengths of storm-washed ropes and netting: my garden is graced, for example, with the ropes, sticks and flags of a lobster-pot marker.
I have used such material in quite a lot of my work over the last five years (see, for example, ‘South Lookout, Aldeburgh Beach’ currently in The Gallery) and have recently sorted the haul made on that breezy morning a few weeks ago. Some pieces are already shaping up in small ‘sculptures’ which I have in mind to display in my exhibition at Halesworth in July-August; I’ll insert some photos here idc if they mature.
So yes, worthy beach-cleaners, do your best with the many plastic bags and other nasties which can so despoil our coast and harm its wildlife; but please always remember that one man’s rubbish can be another’s precious, and often unique, artistic support. ‘Rubbish’, like ‘weed’ is ,after all, a relative concept, not an absolute.