TWO years ago artist Robin Wilson was going through a rough patch.
“I was broke,” he said, “and on top of that I had a booze problem.”
The 53-year-old graduate of the Hornsey School of Art, who has lived in Camden all his life, was suffering from depression.
“It was partly bad luck and partly to do with things that were my own fault,” Mr Wilson admitted. “I couldn’t get myself out of bed in the morning, let alone get creative, and the last thing I could afford were art materials.”
One day, after a particularly heavy night, Mr Wilson cast around his flat and realised that the one thing he had in abundance were scores of empty beer cans and discarded tea lights. He set to work moulding the wax and thin metal tea light holders to sculpt masks. He then cut the aluminium beer cans until they resembled tribal head gear. It was the start of an obsession with recycling “waste” into objets d’art.
“I decided to use discarded items as my raw materials,” said the Oval Road resident.
“Over the following months this developed into a creative experiment that I called ‘Skipartology’. I decided to limit all materials used to those found on pavements or in roads or skips. If it was refuse, it was fair game.”
Some of the resulting work went on show earlier this month at a gallery in Old Street as part of an exhibition arranged by the Single Homeless Project (SHP).
Pieces include etched roofing slates – “they are absolutely perfect for a kind of lithographic technique, you just scratch into them so easily” – and wooden-handled saws emblazoned with Aztec-style reliefs.
Frames that Mr Wilson uses to display his canvases were also plucked from the streets.
A former pupil at New End Primary School and Hampstead Comprehensive, he has worked as a painter and decorator, and he has dabbled in ephemeral art and pulp fiction since his teenage years. He compulsively writes and illustrates comic strips, and, in the early 1990s, co-created the notorious satirical magazine Scallywag with his brother and half-brother.
The publication hit the headlines after then-Prime Minister John Major sued Mr Wilson over a story alleging he was having an affair with a Downing Street caterer. The case was settled out of court.
“At its height it was really scary,” he said. “It destroyed us financially. We had, I think, 21 editions of the magazine and it struggled along for a little while after the lawsuit, but we couldn’t keep it going.”
Despite their apparent differences, Scallywag and Skipartology share a demotic tendency.
“They are the opposite of pompous,” said Mr Wilson. “This is not high art.”
Twenty-nine other artists are displaying work as part of the SHP exhibition, Untold Stories, and there will be a special opening of the show on July 23 for the Whitecross Street Party.
• Untold Stories is at the Together Our Space Gallery, 12 Old Street, EC1 until July 23. Open week days from 10.30am-5pm. 020 7520 8660.
Published: 14 July, 2011
by JOSH LOEB