Interview With Ptomley from Hubcap Creatures
Written by Adam
Where did the idea come from – turning hubcaps into art?
That particular raw material came from my acquisitive nature regarding all abandoned things aesthetic to my eye, regardless of their origin. I’m not averse to picking up a bit of rubbish from the side of the road if I think it has potential. That’s what happened with the hubcaps, and I collected quite a few before I finally got around to making something out of them.
Was it an environmental decision or is that just a happy by-product?
I feel very strongly about our cultures lack of understanding regarding the nature of value. (See my website). Creating something out of supposed rubbish I hope has a positive effect on anyone open enough to absorb that concept. This sense of value was focussed by a long trip to India in the early nineties, which opened my eyes to real poverty and also to true initiative in dealing with that. When I find a particularly choice item discarded it fills me not only with pleasure at the finding but also disgust at the waste.
Do you literally just pick up any hubcap you find or have you got people scouring the streets?
They’re all side-of-the-road-finds. I used to pick up a lot going about my daily business, but with friends and family all getting into the habit I’ve been accumulating quite a hoard. It gives me a big buzz when people bother to stop and pick up a piece of rubbish to help me out and to contribute to something I feel strongly about. It’s a great compliment and a signal that I’m doing something worthwhile. I’ve had many donations from strangers who have seen me in a magazine or on TV, which makes it all very encouraging
I see a few hubcaps around – are they really that common?
Once you start looking they’re all over the place: central reservations; roundabouts; junctions; even hedges.
How did you get started?
I accumulate junk being a bit of a magpie. If you see a skip with a pair of legs sticking out of it they’re probably mine. I pick up old stereos, vacuum cleaners, lights etc. All with a view to either repairing them or passing them on, or to taking them to bits and making something else out of them. I started collecting hubcaps with the intention of making a suit of armour but haven’t got round to that yet as the fish got in the way.
How long does it take you to make a piece? I imagine the huge dragon now at a car dealership took a while!
My working days vary depending on my mood, and circumstance of course, but an average fish sculpture made from hubcaps can take about a working week to complete. Obviously this depends on how well it proceeds, and how complex or large it ends up becoming. I’ve spent over a month on one piece before, and a simple sculpture can take only a couple of days.
What’s your favourite shape to make?
The sharks I reckon…
Apart from your commissions, a lot of your sculptures are fish-based. Is that something to do with living near the sea or does the shape of your materials immediately lend itself to fish?
The fish mostly look the best as far as I’m concerned-shiny and silver, and I really enjoy myself when making them. I am foraging into other fields though, but I keep drifting back to marine creatures because I find such an enormous and interesting range. The insect world has been drawing my attention of late but I’m reluctant to make a real start so far because there doesn’t seem to be an end to the possibilities, and once I plunge in with a vengeance I’ll probably be overwhelmed.
How important is the environment in your work and outside of it?
I try to do all the usual stuff: sort out my recycling; take a bag instead of getting a plastic carrier bag; attend occasional demonstrations; shop with a conscience; use my van only for long, necessary journeys etc. But to be honest I could do a lot more. Trouble is I’m not motivated enough to take on saving the planet as my main occupation. This goes back to enjoying myself. I’m happiest when I’m creating my work so that’s where I want to be. The other things take a back seat. But I try I guess….
Is there a move towards making art out of used materials in the UK?
Not a movement as such but there’s plenty of people doing it. They’re mostly the kind that fit into the category of ‘craft’ if you’re into putting people into boxes.
You’re appearing at UK Aware in May. Apart from to sell your pieces, is that in part to show a wider audience a different side of recycling/reusing?
I don’t do a lot of self promotion and I’m often absorbed in my work so it’s good to go out occasionally to remind people that my stuff available, but mainly it’s to say that art isn’t necessarily a high brow thing. Anyone can do it, and the big benefit of eco art is the raw materials are plentiful, and usually free. That’s a big help when it comes to encouraging people to have a go. I think everybody has some sort of a creative bud inside them and it should be given plenty of water…