This cast-away material is my artistic medium

When someone looks at one of my artworks, I hope that they will connect with and appreciate the beauty of the material that I love so much. I hope that they will see some of the beauty that I see in corrugated iron, and understand why I seek it out, collect it and use it as an artistic medium.

I love the material that has become my medium of expression. Decades-old corrugated iron is a proud material whose history is preserved in many layers. These layers are created over time by being bleached by the sun, torn by the wind, eroded by the rain, peeled by fire and painted many times over in different colours by many different people. These layers of paint, patina and rust are partially obscured and revealed by time and weather, and finally unified into an authentic and exciting surface; a palimpsest in metal. It is these imperfections that provide the material with its texture and life. But in the end, this beautiful material is simply thrown away and ends up on a scrap-heap where I rescue some of them.

I search for and collect discarded sheets from a metal scrapyard in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. These sheets can be anything up to a hundred years old and even older. Out of 100 sheets that I find, only 10 or 12 sheets will be suitable to be used in the studio. I’m looking for interesting changes in color, rust, patterns, textures, grain and patinas, although I won’t know what I truly have until I’m back in the studio and the sheets have been flattened and cleaned. At the studio they are then sorted by hue into a ‘library of iron’, ready to be used in my work.

Every sheet of corrugated iron, no matter it’s age, no matter the colours it has been painted and repainted with, is unified by two hues. The first is the iron itself, a neutral dull-silvery grey color that occasionally pokes through where the layers of paint have flaked or chipped off.

The second is the gnawing rust, which comes in a wide range of browns; from the warm oranges to the near black umbers, sunset to midnight. The iron and the rust run through every sheet, behind and through every layer of paint, so that when two different colored sheets, of different ages and different sources are stitched together, they feel like they have always belonged with one another. It’s magic. The painted metal is very forgiving when cut in the studio; the paint chips off in an irregular way and so does not conflict with the organic nature of the overall metal surface.

This machine-made building material, ugly and uninteresting when new, is matured into something complex and organic with time. Each sheet undergoes this maturation in their own slow way. Individual and unique, no two sheets are alike. Decades exposed to the elements means that every sheet of corrugated iron is beautifully blemished with patches of brown rust. It attacks from the edges, invades the cracks, pours out of nail-holes.

I couldn’t possibly recreate the thousands of imperfections – the nicks, chips, scrapes, blemishes, bruises and tears that perfectly texture every sheet. Only time and daily use can do that, with humankind building up layers of paint and soot, and the natural elements tearing those layers away. It is precisely that complexity which keeps the viewer’s eye engaged. We are drawn to complex shapes and patterns, but only to make sense of it, to reduce and simplify it. I find it a marvel that the metal surface works when examined incredibly closely; a square inch where every imperfection has distinct edges, or from farther away where those distinctions are lost and my composition is viewed holistically.

My subject matter and compositions are for the most part basic shapes. The reason for this is that I am wanting to show as much of the exciting uniqueness of the metal surface as possible. One has to let each metal shape breathe in the composition and I am learning to let the metal guide my compositions more and more.