James Kearney and Danielle Lewin in front of their sculpture.
James Kearney and Danielle Lewin in front of their sculpture. / PAULA HÉRVELE

Art begins in the scrapyard

  • Two British artists are displaying a giant sculpture from scrap metal in Malaga's port

Where some see an old toaster, others see the perfect material for modelling. What for one person is the handlebar of an old motorcycle, for another is the tentacle of an octopus . Scrap for some, but a potential work of art for British couple James Kearney and Danielle Lewin, who turn recycling into an artistic technique, transforming all types of metal and unwanted materials into sculptures. For just over a month, one of these has been gracing the corner of Muelle Uno in Malaga port, and it wasn't designed in London or New York: their studio is in Riogordo.

"The light, the people and the atmosphere for working in are incredible," says Danielle, giving some of the reasons why the pair moved from London to rural Malaga. Their work begins with a variety of small items which are 'rescued' from scrapyards, but they gradually become bigger and bigger. That's why they always have to finish off outdoors, "and England is grey and rainy," Danielle explains. In Riogordo they have enough space for their workshops, the tranquility of the countryside and just an hour's drive to the city. "It's very inspiring. Our work is very noisy too, so here we have the best of both worlds and that's what we need," she says.

"Lovely atmosphere"

They have left behind the competitive rhythm of life in London and here they have found "a great atmosphere to share with artists."

However, they have not completely broken the 'umbilical cord' with the British capital. They are both part of the Mutoid Waste Company, a group of artists which is considered one of the most influential movements of the counterculture. Co-founded by Joe Rush in London in the early 1980s, it spread to Italy in the 1990s and is now worldwide.

The group became famous for its giant sculptures made from scrap metal and large murals on abandoned buildings where 'underground' parties were held. It later spread into different fields, but always with the philosophy of converting waste materials into art. In recent years they have been popular for events such as the closing of the Paralympic Games in London and the Glastonbury Festival, which was revolutionised by their creations. For example, the 'Phoenix', an enormous mechanical bird placed above the stage for the Rolling Stones concert. Hydraulic cranes, a canoe and two baby baths give shape to this 'animal', which danced to the rhythm of 'Sympathy for the devil' before setting fire to its nest.

During the morning the 'Phoenix' was a shiny, inert bird, but at night it came to life. "I really love this work, because it seems completely different whenever you look at it," says James. "It's to do with the materials we use, the way the light shines on it by day. At night it has a different look, it seems more alive," explains Danielle.

The same thing occurs in Malaga. Between El Palmeral and Muelle Uno on the quayside stands a giant octopus with legs of steel which shine in the sun. It was inspired by the Mediterranean, with elements representing the sea: an anchor, weights and ropes. Initially, three bicycles simulated the movement of water and when they were pedalled they generated power to light up the sculpture, but they had to be removed a few days ago because some people were misusing them. Now there is a fixed light at night.


James says that looking for materials is therapeutic. He is an expert at rescuing all types of objects from scrapyards and turning them into something different. He can see the beauty and potential in things that others throw away. "And when people see everyday items in a sculpture, like a toaster or car parts, it changes their perception and the way they see things around them. They are amazed," he says.