Deb Magee, artist, Brisbane Recycling Art Competition

Telling a story from recycled objects gives the audience a chance to see what can be done and helps them to see the value in what they are throwing away ...

When we think of recycling, most of our thoughts only go as far as remembering to place bottles into the bin with the yellow lid. Few of us take recycling as far as finding new uses for old household items but Deb Magee does more than just recycle, she creates works of art. Deb is an established practitioner of recycling materials to create functional works of art and has created several works that boast a charming blend of vintage and steampunk aesthetics. Deb is one of the artists taking part in Brisbane City Council’s Recycling Art Competition, the results of which are being exhibited at the Judith Wright Centre as part of the Salvage showcase. We thought it was a great opportunity to chat to Deb about her art and what the benefits are of giving discarded materials new life.

First of all, I’d love to know where your passion for art and creating came from?
I suppose it started at a very young age, being a military brat we moved all over the world. I was lucky to experience many cultures and see many sites ­– loved to draw and make things from those countries I visited.

What made you want to choose assemblage pottery and sculpture as your primary mediums of art?
They are both very strong loves that evolved over the years of doing my Fine Arts degree. The two art forms are different – one being hard and strong and the other pliable yet showing strength. I’ve always loved metal and putting art together from things around me, so the natural progression was to create sculptures from found objects to make strong forms and this lead to adding metal to my ceramics to extend the story within.

Your style is very reminiscent of steampunk! Can you tell us about where your love for that style originated?
Most of my metal sculptures did always look industrial and vintage and it was my daughter Sarah who commented that my work looked like Steampunk. Once I looked up what that was about I was hooked and fell in love with the genre!

What are some hallmarks of your style that makes your art recognisable?
Naturally it’s all steampunk now – but if you look closely you will always find a light bulb in my work as a signature!

Your works are being featured in Salvage as part of the Brisbane Recycling Art Exhibition and Competition. What made you want to get involved in such a project?
The competition is a wonderful initiative by the Brisbane City Council to get Brisbane on board to recycle, reuse, redo and rethink about all those things that they throw away. There is always a treasure to be found!

How long did your cabinet piece take to create? What are some characteristics about it that people might not catch at first glance?
The cabinet took about six weeks. I like to make all my works functional for daily use so the cabinet was repurposed into a tea trolley – we all love our tea! If you look closely, the old teacups are repurposed as lamp light covers and some teacups as tea cocktail cups – I also love to add little Steampunk elements such as cogs, maps, copper and brass.

How do you go about converting reclaimed pieces and putting your spin on them? Where do they start?
I will have an idea for a piece I want to make and then I go looking for just the right thing at the tip shops and charity shops. From there the story begins with me finding all the bits and pieces I want. One I started from one single heavy cog I found from an old farm machine! Bliss!

Do you typically search for old pieces and discarded items to up cycle for art purposes? If so, what’s the best find you’ve ever discovered?
Oh yes always – the best treasures are found that way! The best find were some old wooden cogs from Reverse Garbage ­– I think they were from a stage backdrop and I use them all the time in my little pop up shop. I also love my heavy metal cogs – I can’t get enough of those!

What makes creating art from recycled objects better than using new materials?
The artistic scope that using recycled objects gives you is enormous! Telling a story from recycled objects gives the audience a chance to see what can be done and helps them to see the value in what they are throwing away. It can keep them grounded in their ‘things’ and to teach them to repurpose instead of throwing away. I have always found beauty in old things!

What is your career highlight to date?
The Brisbane City Council’s Tip Shop Competition has been enormous fun and a privilege to be a part of. My student exhibitions were exciting too!

What are you currently finding inspiring?
Steampunk, steampunk, steampunk! As well as Victorian science fiction – the entire genre has captivated me.

You can view all artworks submitted for the Brisbane Recycling Art Competition‘s exhibition, Salvage, at the Judith Wright Centre until Sunday July 17. Voting for your favourite artwork closes on Thursday July 7.


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