Laura Polkinghorne speaks to the one man company Hubcap Creatures about its innovative way of recycling.
Scratched and worn, to most people old hubcaps seem like rubbish.
But to Brighton artist Ptolemy Elrington they are the beginnings of a sculpture, waiting to transform into a stunning creature.
“My mother was a painter and my father worked in theatres, so art has always been part of my life,” he reveals.
Sculpted using hacksaws, craft knifes and a battery powered drill, Ptolemy first created animals out of old car parts as a hobby.
“It was a combination of events that developed my art into a career,” he explains. “I did go to art college, but was actually a bit put off by it. It was in my twenties that I continued artwork as a hobby. The hubcap creatures started off as gifts for friends and family, and I did a small exhibition in a cafe, but it was when the company went online that they really took off.”
Thanks to a huge donation of more than 1,000 hubcaps from the Eden Project the artist certainly has a plentiful supply at the moment. However, he used to accumulate them from the side of roads.
“I’ve got so many hubcaps now, that I don’t tend to collect them anymore,” he smiles.
“I was given hubcaps by friends and family, but sometimes I would have people email or call me saying they have loads stacked up in their garage and don’t want to throw them away.”
Something Ptolemy has noticed in recent times is that people are becoming more aware of recycling – a continuous theme of his artwork, especially within the work he does in schools.
“The language used has changed towards encouraging more ethnical themes,” he says. “The language of car industries has changed too. They have become very aware of the notion of long-term sustainability. Long gone are the days of the 4×4.”
Ptolemy’s passion for his work is clear, finding beauty in the hubcaps and intrigued by what they can become and the way in which they can be manipulated into different shapes and positions.
“There is such a range of different hubcaps, as there are so many different manufacturers, different types of plastic and different shapes,” he explains.
“I’m sometimes surprised by the result that emerges from the hubcaps.”
With a wide variety of different animals depicted in his sculptures, he states the inspiration behind his work is nature and its range of complex and interesting creatures.
“I am fascinated by the insect world,” he reveals. “If I open a book of insects, I have to put it down straight away as there is so much that inspires me to create.”
The majority of time he sells the art, after all it is his main income, but he admits he does find it hard to let go of some of the pieces.
“If I really like the sculpture I sometimes keep it under wraps before I sell it, so that it stays around the workshop for a bit longer,” he laughs.
Although the hubcap owl is one of his favourites, it is the shark which seems to be the most popular creature among his customers.
“They tend to like the teeth and scary effect,” he says. “I make quite a lot of fish as well. But I never make copies. Occasionally I make a pair of sculptures that are meant to be sold together, but each is still an original piece. Even if I am creating, for example, several fish, there are different species of fish and positions they can take so that each sculpture is unique.”
The larger the piece, the more complicated they tend to be, with Ptolemy spending a day on each tentacle of his octopus sculpture and three months to complete a giant bee made from recycled materials for the company Ecover.
But as his skills and abilities increase there are few animals that Ptolemy can’t create.
“One of the first I was asked to make was a gorilla,” he recalls, “which I thought I could never achieve the required texture, as hubcaps are smooth.
“Now I have developed further, I have done different textures, such as feathers and fur.”
Ptolemy sells to a huge range of clientele, from a collection of scrap metal birds produced for a recycling company to a crocodile decorating the entrance to a pub in Lewes, even sending his sculptures as far as America and Kazakhstan.
“I like to sell artwork that can be put somewhere or hung somewhere to be looked at and admired,” he explains.
“I am always nervous when the client sees it for the first time though. Some people cry with joy, especially if I’ve created a sculpture of a deceased pet.
“Some people object to the way in which I mix car hubcaps for one creature, as it can have different car brand marks on it, but this is a very rare reaction. I hardly ever receive negative feedback.”
Currently working on an eagle and several butterflies, Ptolemy has plenty of ideas for future creations.
“I would like to create a life size shark and possibly a wolf,” he says. “The work I have commissioned by car companies is quite secretive, as they don’t like to reveal it until it is completed. They will appear online though, so watch this space.”
To contact Ptolemy Elrington email email@example.com
To see more of his artwork, visit www.hubcapcreatures.com
Ptolemy at work, pictured by Eva Garay
August 26, 2014 Motors and Gadgets