Artist Highlight: Pete Clarkson
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Pete Clarkson has been creating sculptures out of marine debris since he moved to Tofino to work for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve 18 years ago. An inter-tidal artist, he forgoes paint, pencils and clay, to work instead with the garbage polluting our oceans and shorelines. Looking closely at one of his assemblages can reveal an unlikely combination of objects from umbrella handles to bath toys and wood from shipwrecks.
Making art from marine debris came about shortly after I moved to Tofino to work as a park warden at Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park. I love beach-combing, but was unprepared for the volume and variety of marine debris washing up in the park. After spending most of my life working in some of Canada’s most pristine wilderness areas, it was a harsh awakening. Yet, as I sifted through the bizarre assortment of flotsam and jetsam, I was often struck by the inherent beauty of the objects I was finding.
Each object has its own story, its "life experience". Once adrift, the object is transformed by the ocean, experiencing what Shakespeare described as "...a sea-change into something rich and strange". As I search out the debris I'm presented with a vibrant palette of colours, textures, shapes, and patterns. If an object really inspires me, I pack it back to my studio where it’s cleaned and sorted and mentally filed away. Working with the objects I become even more fascinated by the way they've been worn and weathered. In my mind, they are elevated beyond the mundane and I try to capture that sense in my work.
Working with found objects provides me with a multitude of stories. There's the object's history - who it's come into contact with and what purpose it's served. It's journey - where it was going and what it was intended for. The environmental story and it's interaction with the ocean. The artist’s story – what it means to me and why I chose to use it. Finally, there's the viewer's story, and how it relates to their experience.
The environment has always played a large role in my life and work. The assembled objects provide an outlet for me to express myself artistically, while providing their own commentary about contemporary social and environmental concerns. As the debris arriving from the recent Japanese Tsunami tragedy so poignantly reminds us, these objects also carry a message of global social and environmental connectivity.
With so many stories to tell, I try to present the objects as found, with minimal modification, applying them as you would a colour or brush stroke. As sculpture, each work is meant to create an illusion that the individual object was destined for its role in the broader work. To that end, I layer the work so that the various attachment points are hidden, further minimizing any visual clues that might interupt the illusion. My hope is that by providing unfettered access to the piece and it's many stories, the work will create its own dialogue with the viewer.
The central theme of my work is art, the environment and the inherent stories unique to found objects. Most of the objects have been collected by me from the shores along Vancouver Island’s outer coast. The daily debris delivered by the tide never ceases to amaze me. Each piece tossed and turned in the ocean, rounded and worn by the elements. On one level it wounds me that the world is so overcome by debris, and yet I am often inspired by its sublime beauty, and the reminder it carries that we are all connected.
Peter Clarkson, March 2020, Tofino, BC