The Art of Junk

Upcycling junk into art is the focus of an exhibition of 10 Shropshire artists who have taken things like pop cans, old spoons and electrical cable and transformed them into paintings, sculpture and jewellery.

Among the exhibitors is debut artist Mark Carruthers who has been creating a sensation with his models of vintage motorbikes and Camper vans made out of aluminium drink cans.

‘The Art of Up’ exhibition is being held at the Visual Art Nework Gallery, in Shrewsbury Market Hall, until Saturday March 1.

It is the first exhibition for 46-year-old Mark, of Oswestry, who only discovered his artistic talent after being made redundant from a factory job.

“It started off a year ago as something to do on a rainy day. My aunt brought back an aeroplane made out of a tin can from Australia. I thought it was a great idea, so I started experimenting,” he said.

“I look through magazines for ideas, cut out photographs and use them to make cardboard templates.”

In his reportoire are VW Camper vans, vespa scooters, Harley Davidson motorbikes, tractors and planes, all made out of pop, cider or beer cans. Until now he’s been making them as gifts for family and friends.

“I can usually rustle up a vespa in around three hours. I haven’t got a lot of patience, but doing these has done me good because you have to have a lot of patience to make them,” said Mark, now a self-employed window cleaner and gardener.

“Once you cut the top and bottom off a can, cut it in half and flatten it you’ve basically got a sheet of metal to work with. The bikes are the most fiddly because they have lots of components that have to be made free-hand.”

Every component, including tiny gearboxes and brake levers, are made from recyclable rubbish. Bottle tops and can bases are used as wheels, engines are made from ringpulls stuck together and seats are cut from black polystyrene pizza bases.

Mark’s new-found hobby is even more remarkable considering he’d never previously shown any interest in art.

“When I mentioned to some friends, who hadn’t seen us in a while, that Mark had an art exhibition, they didn’t believe me!” said his wife Sharon.

Friends and relatives are under strict instructions to save all their empty cans for Mark, and Sharon brings home the break-time empties from her work at the Wilkinson store in Oswestry.

The Art of Up exhibition also includes rings, pendants and bracelets fashioned from scrap silver spoons, wire and paper sculptures and paintings of engine and boiler rooms created out of drinking straws, loo rolls and lentils.

John Wallen, of Gingernuts Jewellery, began his working life as a marine engineer and went on to work in local government waste management and recycling for 30 years before finding his passion for turning cutlery into fetching pieces of jewellery.

He saves antique solid silver teaspoons and forks that are destined for the smelting furnace.

“I buy them from people who buy them as scrap and give them a new lease of life,” he said.

“Mostly they date from the 1920s and ‘30s, but I do sometimes get Victorian and Georgian ones. Usually they’re worn or have been damaged in some way. Any good spoons I get I’ll sell on to dealers for the collectors’ market.”

Reg Cooper’s days as an engineer in the merchant navy has left a lasting impression that is finding expression in his collages depicting boiler and engine rooms and rusty old factories.

“The proud engineering past of this country has been abandoned,” said the former metal and woodwork teacher.

And while his pictures evoke heavy steel structures, they’re actually made out of rubbish, such as cardboard, tissue paper, disposable straws, carpet tubing and lentils.

Other exhibits include colourful coat hangers made from discarded fish wire, electrical cable sculptures, mirror surrounds formed from found broken pieces of glass and ceramic, garments created from recycled cashmere and a tree constructed from waste paper.

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Pete White Pete White

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