The Man Who Turns Car Parts into Animal Art
A few days ago, we showed you some of the work of British artist Ptolemy Elrington. If you hadn’t seen it – and you really, really should – Elrington takes disused hubcaps, shopping carts, car bumpers and whatever else he can find, and turns them into striking pieces of animal artwork. Fish, birds, insects, wolves – he’s done the lot. Frankly, we were stunned, and once we picked our jaws up off the floor, we wanted to know more about Ptolemy and his amazing craft. So we rang him up, and here’s what he had to say. (see more of Ptolemy’s amazing work at Hubcap Creatures)
What drew you to working with recycled media?
I had a go when I was at college and it appealed to me. I like finding shapes within the materials that I find, and reinterpreting them. It’s a stimulating process and doesn’t get boring because of the variety. There’s the thrill of finding new things with new potential, there’s the delight I feel when a friend or even a stranger donates something that they think I can use.
Then there’s the eco angle - I was brought up in a thrifty environment and it stuck. I hate waste and litter. Carelessness drives me nuts. So my work is acting as a reminder that maybe something that’s come to the end of it’s original life may have more potential.
Hubcaps are plentiful, often beautiful, and usually destined for a landfill or incinerator. I find them easy to work with and love they way they look once they’re chopped and changed. Bumpers are a relatively recent discovery, and it’s similar to the hubcaps in that the shapes within are exciting to me.
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What process do you use to shape the hubcaps? Heat?
No heat. I’d probably set fire to my studio or asphyxiate myself with melting plastic. I just drill holes and make staple shapes with wire to hold the bits together. Some hubcaps are bendy, and I hold them in the position I want by guitar stringing a bit of wire across – nice and simple.
I do use a battery drill, but otherwise it’s no power tools – just a hacksaw, craft knife and pliers. I’m not keen on too much noise if I can help it, cutting and welding up shopping trolleys or scrap cars is another story…
Anything that works really well in the build process?
Most things work providing you apply yourself correctly. Being lazy or careless doesn’t work at all, and looking lots is the answer. I was taught that lesson at college, and I’m grateful because it’s the answer when creating art that makes you feel satisfied and fulfilled - but never 100% because then that would be the time to give up!
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When did Hubcap Creatures become your focus?
I started as a hobby a year or two before the turn of the millennium. The first thing I made was a creature, a fish type thing, but I had originally collected the hubcaps in order to make a suit of armor. It’s just I haven’t gotten round to it yet…
Any favorite designs so far?
I had two fish that I kept in my personal collection. The Mirror Carp (seen above) is my favorite and the Rockfish is my second favorite. The Rockfish was stolen from an eco show display on the grounds of St. James’s Palace on The Mall in London, which is Prince Charles’ home when he’s in London. There were armed guards with machine guns dotted around the place, including next to my fish. He didn’t see anybody take it…
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How long does it take to put together a creature from beginning to end?
That’s a piece of string question. I spent three months on one piece and one day on a different one. On average, expect about one working week.
Any creatures you’re itching to create?
Oooh loads. I want to make a life-size great white shark. I made one in the past but I want to produce a new and improved version. I also want to make some Egyptian gods, loads of different types of fish, a grizzly bear, a hubcap horse – I’ve made a full-size horse out of steel and I think the hubcaps would look pretty fine – and lots of other things too! The trouble with making big stuff is storage. I’m running out of space.
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