Friday, 16 July 2010

Charity Shop Orphans

Browsing on Etsy to decide about setting up and Etsy shop I came across this great interview with Emma Harding about her Charity Shop Orphans project - thought I'd share it with you!

UK Edition: Interview With charityshoporphans
In my eyes, upcycling is about both history and transformation. Emma Harding's project and Etsy shop, charityshoporphans, is a fantastic example of this: her pieces morph from twee ceramic figurines to contemporary and quirky objets d'art in a most delightful manner. What makes Emma's creations extra special is the charming sense of depth she brings to each creature. Not only do they retain a sense of history, their sentimental forms cloaked in new apparel, but their newly adopted lineages really bring them to life.
Tell us a wee bit about yourself.
I live and work in London, England, which is where I’m originally from, although I grew up in the lovely rolling Kent countryside. I studied illustration at what is now Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and ended up at Central Saint Martins College with an MA. Since then I’ve done freelance illustration and some lecturing in a few different UK art colleges. Now I’m more focused on exhibiting my own work.
Give us a brief overview of what you're doing with Charity Shop Orphans.
I had a growing collection of animal ornaments, which I’d bought from charity shops, that were gradually filling up my flat. In 2004 I started painting, naming and giving each one a new set of characteristics, which attached them to a family such as the Parmigiani's, Horne's or Moretti's. Currently there are almost 200 individual Charity Shop Orphans, which are members of over 25 different families.
It's such a great concept for a project, what led you there?
I’m sure it all stems back to childhood. I absolutely loved animal ornaments and always made big, elaborate displays on a shared dressing table (my poor sister). Nowadays, even though I’m really drawn to the ornaments, my aesthetic taste is entirely different, which goes some way to explaining how they look. However, the family naming and grouping is perhaps to do with the fact that they are in the charity shop and no longer wanted, which appeals to my outsiderish nature.
I love that there are several families of orphans in the ongoing collection, is this tied in with themes of connectedness and belonging?Yes. I’ve been in many a charity shop and caught somebody’s eye sighing and awwing at a little wide-eyed ceramic creature sat on a lonely shelf with a 50p price sticker. A lot of these ornaments are designed to be very emotive and in the charity shop situation, where they’re no longer wanted, they are certainly in need of belonging. I’m definitely having fun with the concept of family, putting together unlikely combinations such as bear, cat and seahorse! For me, it creates a sense of story.
What else inspires you when you sit down with a new orphan?
I was asked this question not long ago and came to the conclusion that it’s the creative process itself that inspires me — I get a thrill out of the complexities, warts and all. More specifically with the orphans, it’s the transformation process of a nostalgic object into one that’s more contemporary. Names come from all over the place, from my favourite film directors to people I know, or just in response to a particular ornament orphan.
In your personal opinion, what is the value and appeal of upcycling?
I’m sure that anyone who is creative and can remember making stuff out of virtually nothing in their childhood (as I did) would agree that upcycling seems to be an extension of that natural process. When there’s a strong connection with a found object or material the transformation can be truly creative and personal.
When you're not giving ceramic, wooden and metal creatures a new lease of life, what else do you do?
I’ve got a succession of exhibitions coming up in October, so I’m busy in the studio at the moment. I'm also painting and chopping up ceramic horses, then reconstructing them into some very strange forms, usually involving oversized heads and wrong legs. These are painted and drawn on too, so they're really time-absorbing. Apart from that, I’m working on several film scripts which I’m developing (all from the privacy of my own computer screen!). A few years ago I studied screenwriting quite seriously and have since made a few short films — it’s a really thorny process to go through, but I love it.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
This is really difficult, as there are so many contenders, though I think my favourite is a mixed media piece called “What Cats Want.” On one side is a black plastic moustache and tiny white key and below is text, which reads What Cats Want. On the other side is a red plastic hair clip and miniature green comb and written beneath is What Cats Get. All the plastic bits come from inside Christmas crackers and it was made for me by a former teaching colleague with a great sense of humour. It never fails to make me laugh.
Do you have any advice for artists starting out in their career?
Wow, this is a difficult one! It took a long time (a really long time) for me to see myself as an artist, and it’s been a bit of a struggle. Now I seem to spend a large amount of time trying to solve that ongoing riddle of how to make a living and continue what I’m doing without being pulled in all directions. It’s been a slow process with many tricky setbacks — though I am getting there with obstinate perseverance!
However, I did teach for a long time and met hundreds of artists and designers entering into a creative life. What I remember saying a lot, above all the hard work and commitment stuff, was that what really matters is how you feel about the work you are making. Without being over the top, I feel that it’s a love story between you and your work, which is full of all the excitement and ups and downs, but ultimately the quality of the relationship is what holds it all together.
Anything else you'd like to tell us?
I’m in the process of setting up a gallery/shop stall in historical Greenwich Market Square called Haybox that will be selling lots of Orphan related stuff like illustrated prints, t-shirts, cards, the new booklet, plus the Orphans themselves — all of which will eventually be in my Etsy shop too!

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