It’s funny how things change use with time. When I was a boy, pipe cleaners were for cleaning tobacco pipes, were only available in white and, as school children, we bought them from the newsagent to use as a makeshift modelling material, to be bent, shaped and twisted into stick figures of people and animals, and perhaps stick houses and trees. Today they are now a mainstream hobby product sold in brilliant colours in arts and crafts shops. Somehow is doesn’t quite seem the same. What do pipe-smokers use today to clean out their pipes?
My pipe-cleaner models were small and could sit on a table or be packed away in a box for safety. Artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster have created cheeky larger-than-life stick figures, not with pipe cleaners, but in bronze and, with a subtle twist, the figures are twinned self-portraits.
The use of such bronze figures is a new development for these creative and innovative children of the 1960’s. The inspiration came from a period of residency in the relaxing and calm Caribbean island of St Barts, a huge contrast to their usual lively and energetic urban haunts, where they started to make three dimensional models from electrical wire. The artists are known for taking rubbish and debris which they transform, often projecting light to create shadows that have the shape of self-portraits, playing with the how humans can perceive shapes and interpret abstract forms into something they interpret as human figures.
Blown up in size, with curly hair and twisted wire to create hands, feet and other features, the large bronzes now fill Blain|Southern London’s gallery and are attracting a broad audience to explore, discover and engage with art, including parents with children – who perhaps will be future artists?