In Conversation with Meredith Andrews
Award winning Bermudian artist and photographer Meredith Andrews first began collecting ocean plastic when she moved back to the island seven years ago. An avid environmentalist, she would walk the beaches regularly and pick up plastic that she found washed up on the shoreline as she went. Certain items piqued her interest – her eye taken with the specific shade of purple on a toothbrush perhaps, or the unexpected joy at finding a child’s broken toy soldier – and soon a collection began.
Beachcombing became part of her routine but rather than look for shells, Meredith looks for plastics. Armed with large IKEA bags, she regularly walks along the South Shore, filling them with found objects as she goes. These are then split into two piles: waste, to be responsibly disposed of, and items to be kept. She estimates that on average, she keeps 20% of what she finds.
The items that she chooses to keep are washed and laid to air dry, before being meticulously sorted – by object, colour, shape and texture – into an intricate storage system that she has set up at home for this very purpose. Hundreds, if not thousands, of items are stored in this way – everything from dolls’ heads to glow sticks (one of Bermuda’s most prolific polluters, which are used by commercial fishermen to light their nets as they trawl) – each one carefully collected, washed and stored until it reaches a critical mass and the moment strikes when, led by instinct or the lure of a particular item, she begins work on a collage, creating a flat lay, a composition framed by shape and colour which she then photographs from overhead.
“I let the materials lead me when it comes to starting a pattern” she says. Lighters, a constant source of pollution, are a favourite for the artist, who likens the way that the light shines through them to the effects of a stained-glass window. “I want people to look at the objects in a different way. I want them to see what I see” she explains.
Many years ago, when Meredith was completing an MA at Goldsmiths College in London, her tutor, Ian Jeffries, pointed out that she was in fact a collector, alluding to the fact that her portrait work often sat within parameters that created collections of people. She dismissed this observation at the time. Yet she now realizes that her work, which often features individual portraits grouped into themes, such as Mothers, exhibited at BNG in 2013, a photographic series of portraits focusing on single mothers, and Fathers, held at BNG later the same year, which focused on single fathers; does just that.
“I am a storyteller though pictures” she says. In reference to the similarities in approach to her portraiture and still life work – two seemingly disparate mediums – she says “With my portraits, I have always wanted to make a hero out of the everyman. Elevate the every-day. In the same way that with my patterns, I am taking objects which have been discarded and I am giving them a value again. I want to elevate the objects to make people realise that it is not just totally forgotten trash.”
Meredith smiles, remembering her other tutor at Goldsmiths, Nigel Perkins, who suggested, after seeing a photo essay that she had produced of items that has been crushed underfoot at a music festival, that for one of her projects, she go down to the Thames Estuary to collect and photograph all of the detritus on the shoreline. She laughed at the time, but it is, she now realizes, effectively, exactly what she does today along Bermuda’s coastline. We at BNG, and KBB, are all the more grateful for it.
As part of a fundraising programme, an edition of 20 fine art prints of each artwork, numbered and signed by the artist, are available to purchase. Priced at $250, proceeds will go towards KBB and BNG. Click here to shop.