One of the most profound shifts in direction that has occurred for me came about when a good friend of mine had an aircraft accident.
The light aircraft he was a passenger in crashed and he was badly hurt. I ended up spending quite some time by his bed while he was in hospital, just being there for him on a daily basis for a few months. His head had been badly injured, and he had serious burns to his body which had the doctors at the time threatening amputation. Spending so much time with him caused me to experience a shift in my awareness. This whole garish process largely didn’t faze me, and I wasn’t aware of my tolerance for it beforehand.
I would take occasional breaks from my hospital visits and garner driftwood and plastics from remote beaches in South-eastern Victoria in Australia, as a way of having time out.
Something in me was not grossed out about picking up huge volumes of rubbish, and I think my experience in that hospital helped to get me there. My wife and I had just moved into a beautiful new home in Byron Bay that had the most lovely lime-washed ceilings and walls. I remember saying to her that I wanted to make driftwood furniture for it.
We went to some of these particularly remote beaches where the driftwood piled up high in rocky coves and on beaches that were seldom walked upon and were reached by scaling down cliffs.
I noticed not only driftwood washed up on the beaches; there were also piles of plastics, ropes, Styrofoam, plastic bottles, buoys and thongs.
I hadn’t seen the extent of this sort of ocean litter before. I collected somewhere around eighty jumbo garbage bags full of this plastic stuff and sent it all by truck back to my studio along with the driftwood.
There existed in me a specifically defined sensibility about the environment, to want to pick up all this flotsam and jetsam. I’m glad to know that this response happened quite naturally within me.