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Walthamstow artists Alke Schmidt  and Della Rees on how the environment and social issues past and present  affect their work and why even bad things can be beautiful

Photography by Martine Charalambou

German born Alke and New Zealander Della have both lived in this country for over 20 years and although they have shown work at the same events this is their first collaborative exhibition. They decided on this venture when having worked together at the Mitre Studios in Walthamstow over the past year they realised that they were both moved and influenced by similar concerns over environmental matters.

Della’s work usually brings art into urban contexts recycling found materials and appropriating traditional techniques into site-specific works.  She says “My works are often by their nature transitory and are themselves eventually recycled and absorbed back into the environment”.  In ‘Spill’ she has produced pieces for indoor display using different mediums including oils, marbling and plastic.

Alke has been inspired by anger at the effects of pollution on the planet and the consequences they have on its population. “I feel that much of my art is motivated by my outrage at man-made environmental disasters as well as the social injustices created by the ‘markets”. In her work she often contrasts present day topics with influences from past eras, for example using imagery of the recent unrests on British streets against Rococo backgrounds.

The exhibition ‘Spill’ at the Stone Space takes its theme from global oil spillages.  Alke, roused by the effects of the BP catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico uses reprints from a collection of the 19th century naturalist, James Audubon’s  ‘Birds of America’,  and paints over them with shapes in textured enamel paint plotting the evolution of the pollution across the Gulf.

Della’s exhibits at ‘Spill’ include ’20 Ships’ spills’, a piece mapping various spillages from ships across the world;  ‘Container Stack’  references container ships and explores the fact that oil and water do not mix;  ‘A memorial’ captures the iridescent beauty of oil and draws on the similarity in its colours to those of the New Zealand Paua shell.

As this fascinating and thought-provoking exhibition shows there is beauty to be found in even the most catastrophic of events.

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