Meet our Artist of the Month, Phil Stewart Artivist. Describing himself as a “rubbish artist” isn’t self-criticism here, for Phil makes thought-provoking, radical and often humorous art and sculptural pieces out of waste, ranging from his ‘Contemporary Papering’ collages created from single editions of Sunday newspapers to his series of Handchairs made from papier maché and aviary wire. Over the years, he has recycled into art materials including trampolines, washing machines, old doors, The Guardian newspaper, pram wheels, mobile phones , toilet seats, police helmets, CDS and TVs. He is a regular at the Glastonbury Green Futures Field and passionate in his belief that producers as well as consumers need to take responsibility for waste. He talks to us about repurposing and reusing, soundbites, Lowry and turning a caravan into a ladybird…
Why and when did you start making art?
Why – art is my most effective means of communication.
When – I became a rubbish artist in the early 1990s after completing Higher Environmental qualifications (MSc)
Where do you work?
At home in the kitchen on the kitchen table, outside in the garden, in the woodland and at Glastonbury Festival Green Futures Field and any other space I’m invited into, if I feel like it.
How would you describe your work?
Reactive, interactive, environmental, tactile, extending the life of waste materials, inventive, contemporary, new, thought provoking, humourous – but not necessarily all at once. Sculpture, installations, contemporary and landscape Paperings. From a standing stone to a 2m long fish to a Papering commenting on flooding to a caravan turned into a ladybird.
Do you follow a set process or does it vary?
Some of my work follows a set process, if it is part of a sequence of works, for example The Handchairs or my contemporary Paperings. However, when I go off in new directions, I try out new ideas and techniques. If I could say it was a specific process, I wouldn’t be able to describe my creativity as a gift and I passionately feel it is. I don’t know where I am going, I often have a loose idea it evolves. Using waste / second hand materials can promote a train of thought. For my Contemporary Paperings, I write down soundbites that come through in the news and press and include them within the Paperings. They capture a period in time, as does the colour that has been used in the newspapers and the words are made up from the letters in the newsprint , therefore it is contemporary on many levels. When preparing for a public installation I make a drawing of how it will look and how the public will interact, which also takes health and safety into consideration. Using rubbish materials you have to continually master new techniques and develop coping strategies.
What inspires your work?
Life, passion, creativity, a means of communication and the environment inspire my work.
Do you have any creative role models?
My Grandad, because he did and said you can build anything and came out with great statements like: “don’t use a 3” nail when a 6” will do”. And people who think outside of the box, generally well left of centre.
Are there particular themes that run through your work? If so, what are they?
Rubbish, environment, wildlife, trees, current affairs, events, feelings..
What do you hope a viewer/ audience gets from your work?
A ‘cut and come again cake’: each time you revisit, you get another piece, you won’t see everything at one viewing. Inspiration, reflection, at times empowerment, humour.
What is your favourite work of art (by another artist)?
No favourite work of art, but I like a lot of Lowry’s work.
Is there an artwork you are most proud of/ favourite piece?
My latest, on a continual journey evolving and developing. I like the fact that some of my work is very interactive, fun and functional, but that other pieces are catching a moment in time. So, the honest answer is the last piece I completed.
What has been the standout moment for you as an artist so far?
Recognition as a ‘rubbish’ artist, invited back over many years to Green Futures Field, Glastonbury Festival to set up my installations. To anyone who doesn’t know the festival, this is a campaign field that deals with Green Futures. So as an environmental artist this is a place you’d want to be.
What are your hopes for the future?
1 As the Bee Gees sang ‘Staying Alive’.
2 To continue being creative and coming up with new ideas.
3 For more people to see my art and communicate.
How do I get my art seen?
Facebook and Instagram – Creative Recycling
My front garden next to a lane, where walkers stop and laugh.
Green Futures Field Glastonbury
Planned exhibition for July 2021 at Artism UK