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  • Writer's pictureRosemary Lawrey

40 - In pursuit of rust


“You do take the strangest photos” said my friend after I’d shared with her a memory of a boat trip we’d made together on the Hythe ferry last year. The photo had been a view through the barnacle and rust-encrusted iron stanchions underneath Hythe pier, taken from the water. For me, the gorgeous uncontrolled layered textures of rust are always irresistible.

Recently I have been lucky enough to be able to join in a season of online experimental drawing challenges led by Sally Haynes of Newbury. As one of the experiments, Sally asked us to gather together rusty objects and see what results we could obtain by soaking them and allowing their imprints to stain paper or fabric.

Readers of this blog will already have joined me in my appreciative rambles around rusty sewage pipes and pier pylons so will know the appeal rust has for me. But my friend, the very same of the trip to Hythe and a fellow member of the experimental art group, had just completed a Marie Kondo-style sweep of her home, concluding that none of the bits of corroded metal she had found in the process were bringing her the joy they once had. And so she was perplexed. “What am I going to do? I’ve just had a clear-out and I’ve not got a single rusty item in the house!” she wailed. Being too parsimonious to share my own precious rusty treasure, even with such a good friend, but wishing to help, there was nothing for it, I would have to go for a walk and send her my findings in the post.

My first thought was the beach – I’d found some lovely bits of washed-up iron there in the past, their once-shiny surfaces turned into a lacework of russet and orange. But that day was a stormy one and the sea had flooded the beach, the sand was swirling and the tide lapping hungrily at the sea wall. Not the right moment for beachcombing. I walked past the bus station – currently a construction site where rusty excavator bucket heads clank through the air, or nest at rest, one inside the other. Up the pier here, as in Hythe, there is plenty of rust – at least until the bus-station renovations creep up to encompass the pier itself. But for now, at least, rust encapsulates the very charm of the place. Thick green winter waters gnaw endlessly at pillars and girders. Red and green – that irresistible complementary colour-wheel combo. Viscerally exciting to a rust aficionado, and indeed the inspiration for the main picture of this post, but not portable.

Undeterred, I turned back towards the town, confident that the mordant seaside air would mean that the streets would be rich pickings and that soon I would find a suitable sample of Ryde rust small enough to fit in an envelope and mail to my friend in need. I toiled up the hill, past the art deco hotel, forever in a state of renovation. I peered through the wire fencing, eyeing up a corroded scaffolding clamp almost within reach, but, wary of security cameras, I decided against the felony. Onward I wandered, past rusty boot scrapers and bits of piping serving as garden planters, exotically tarnished fire escapes, wrought-iron benches and manhole covers, all of them well riveted down against attempted theft and shipment to the mainland. Alas, today, at least, the streets of my town were not paved with easily-pocketed rusty washers.

Unsuccessful in my search for portable rust, I wandered homeward, having to admit defeat when, just outside my flat, something glinted at me from the gutter. A lovely old flattened tin can, well coated with rust and rippling with texture where car tyres had run it over. It was the perfect size and shape to fit in an envelope. I wrapped it up safely, added a rusty washer left over from the easel renovation (see previous blog post No. 39), and hurried down to the post office with it, hoping to catch the first-class collection. Thankfully this time the dreaded question “what’s inside?” was not asked. When it arrived some weeks later (another story), my friend was delighted and had great fun mark-making with rust. I have posted my favourite image of her rustwork below. It reminded me, when I saw it, of a prehistoric animal painting like the ones found in the Lascaux caves. Indeed, red iron oxide has been a source of colour and inspiration since the Stone Age.

Photo courtesy of Susan Line



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