While interviewing the artist Madi Acharya-Baskerville, a lady walking past stopped to tell her: “Your work has really inspired me. Really thought-provoking. I loved it. I’m going to go and start collecting things and start painting again, so thank you.”
We’re sitting in the courtyard of Darl-e and the Bear in Woodstock where Madi’s new exhibition ‘my life as a bird’ has just opened, and it’s already creating quite a stir.
You can hear Madi’s voice from within as well, her film explaining the work and following her beachcombing expeditions as you enter.
Made by local film maker Nicola Josse, it follows Madi searching for washed up objects on our beaches which she takes home to create her famous installations, sculptures and paintings that highlight sea pollution and our role in the current environmental crisis.
All of which she calmly explains on screen, as we wonder around the gallery admiring the results, listening to the waves washing up on Chesil Beach.
“There is no point in making something, putting it on show and refusing to talk about it, because as artists we have a responsibility and a part to play in the the community, and that is hugely important,” she says.
Her environmental conscience also plays a huge part in her work, on this occasion my life as a bird’ based around a piece she made, currently at The Royal Society of Sculptors annual Summer Exhibition.
“I like how things come together – the artist and the art – that they are the same thing rather than totally separate. That is who I am. It would not be me without it”
“The title really stuck. It made me think about gender as well as birds swallowing plastic, because bird is a derogatory word for a woman which is quite funny coming from a woman, but the title also really focussed me on ocean and plastic pollution – it crystallised what I wanted to show at Darl-e and the Bear,” she tells me.
That Madi is in huge demand is obvious, with exhibitions coming out of her ears, London (A.P.T Gallery) and Sheffield (Bloc Projects) following on from Woodstock, and museums and art collectors queuing up to buy her work.
The Whitworth in Manchester has just acquired a piece for their permanent collection, as have numerous others over the past few years. Other exciting projects took place in Kenya, one at the Brunei gallery at the SOAS University in London as well as an artist’s residency in Oxford working with challenged children.
Is the momentum of her growing fame an added pressure then? “Yes and no. I never force the process. Things can come together with less work rather than more, and sometimes if something is not working I move away from it. The time away is quite important. There must be an ease in how things come together,” the Jericho artist adds.
Her work is formed using objects she has found on the beach which she takes home and categorises.
“It’s quite Freudian that what I find is a reflection of ourselves, so it’s about the environment and what the community can do. And while it is waste, some of it’s really beautiful. It’s about its potential,” she smiles.
So what does she look for? “”Some things are more valuable to me than others – wood with peeling paint is like gold dust,” she laughs “and molten plastic – plastic that’s burnt or disfigured – fishing nets because of what’s happening with the ghost nets trapping our wildlife. Its so appalling. So you have to get there early.
“I take great pleasure in just looking at the objects in my collections. When I’m making a piece I’ll tip up the box and pour everything out until I find what I want”
“Sometimes I’ll go back for a piece I’ve seen and it’s gone and sometimes I don’t find anything, but I like that the pieces have a decayed feel. I can’t work with a blank canvas.
“Other things wash up that you just don’t see again – rubber rings that I use as frames, inner tubes….
Collecting her sea treasure in Dorset, Wales and along the Thames with Groundwork APT in London, Madi mixes her finds with beads, embroidery and old saris passed down from her mother, so does she always have a finished piece in mind? “I quite often don’t know what I’m doing but the objects talk to me,” she explains.
When she gets the objects home, they are carefully stored away in her space in Magdalen Road Studios in East Oxford: “I take great pleasure in just looking at the objects in my collections, like a painter looking at paint colours. When I’m making a piece I’ll tip up the box and pour everything out until I find what I want.
“I enjoy the process of looking and thinking about each and every object, and feel quite an attachment to my collections. They are all precious,” she says.
The collecting is therefore as integral to her work as the finished pieces themselves:
“I like there to be order in the chaos so everything I bring home goes in boxes. And I categorise them. They have some funny names – dolls heads, shoes or belts – so that I can find what I’m looking for.
“Sometimes I think about an object I want to use quite obsessively and turn it over and over in my mind, or I know what piece I want and can’t rest until I find it.
“So when I’m working towards an exhibition I work right up until the last minute and everything else in my life just stops.” Like what? “Socialising, talking – it fills my whole world,” she says.
As for the ethos behind the work, Madi, who works extensively on community projects as well as hosting workshops at museums such as Modern Art Oxford, says: “Environmental issues are very important to me so I aim to highlight the non biodegradable aspects. And while it is a huge problem that I cannot solve, I can do something. Everyone can go out and find something and bring it home, and make something, and think about what that means.
“So I love the potential of working with the community and the social side of that. The two come together quite well and the potential is endless.”
All of which must leave little time to consider her achievements? “Maybe there is a detachment between me and my work just because it has evolved so quickly, and I’m so busy, that I haven’t had time to process it. But I just keep moving forward. I get so engrossed in the work that I don’t have time to reflect on it,” she shrugs.
All her work is hugely personal then? “It is really personal but I don’t look at it like that. Textiles have such a way of marking time and occasions, like the old saris my mother gives me, and I like how things come together like that – the artist and the art – that they are the same thing rather than totally separate. That is who I am. It would not be me without it.
“So this show has come about quite naturally really. I love the space at Darl-e and the Bear. It’s a really unusual gallery and I think that really fits with my work.”
‘my life as a bird’ by Madi Acharya-Baskerville runs at Darl-e and the Bear until
September 26. For more information go to: https://www.darleandthebear.co.uk/events.asp