Art is rubbish

EMMA LEE Artist Fran Crowe, whose work is currently on show at Big Blue Sky, in Wells, creates seaside souvenirs with a difference to highlight the problems of beach and marine litter.


Unlike most artists, Fran Crowe doesn't care if people think her work is rubbish - because that's literally what it is.

The mother-of-two from Suffolk creates installations from man-made debris she finds on beaches - she packages it up as seaside souvenirs then puts them on display.

She currently has a thought-provoking show at Big Blue Sky in Wells.

"I'm interested in the environment," she explains. "I go to the beach a lot and I was reading about marine litter and was horrified - not just at the effect it has on the beaches, but the awful effect it has on the wildlife."

According to a UN report, described by Fran as "really shocking", which was published in June after she had started the project, there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter per square mile of ocean. And more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year because of eating or getting entangled in plastic.

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She hopes that her work will highlight the issue in a humorous and interesting way - and, of course, she's also doing her bit to help clean up our beaches at the same time.

"I thought it was a nice idea to take the litter and turn it into a beach souvenir and present it back to people," she says.

Fran, 50, has just finished a BA in visual studies at Norwich School of Art and Design - and set up a stall of souvenirs unique to Dunwich and Thorpeness, near where she lives, at the degree show exhibition earlier this summer.

She also held similar events in Dunwich and Thorpeness in April and May.

The pieces on show in Wells were all found on the local beach and marshes.

"We went to the beach and collected what we saw. When you put the pieces together it looks very colourful and catches people's attention. The rubbish had mostly been left behind by visitors. There were bits of plastic - we found the heel off a welly. We also found fragments of beach hut debris," she says.

"It's art that people have made. A lot of art is based on 'found' natural items, and this is coming at it from the opposite end of the scale. I've had really nice feedback. You may not think of it as art, but it's a good way of getting people's attention to the problem in an interesting way," she adds.

The tongue-in-cheek packaging points out that the souvenirs are "100 per cent unique - made by man, fashioned by nature". They're also "custom made in the North Sea", and "not suitable for seabirds, marine mammals and children under 14".

Although Fran's work is not for sale, she is happy to give pieces away in return for a donation to two charities she supports - the Marine Conservation Society and the Dolphin Conservation Society.

Speaking about Fran's project, Gill Bell, of the Marine Conservation Society says: "Marine litter is known to kill marine animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and seabirds. Animals can die from eating litter or by becoming entangled by it. MCS are very pleased that Fran is raising awareness of the issue of marine litter."

The artist previously worked in business, but then decided on a change of direction. "I felt I had had enough and wanted to put a bit back," she says. "We bought a smallholding in Suffolk and grow fruit and veg. I wanted to try to live a slightly more simple life and explore another side of myself through art. I started off doing an evening course, I did a foundation course and the next thing I am doing a degree."

Fran's quirky previous projects include giving away free trial packs of Fresh Air from five different locations to shoppers at the Buttermar-ket in Ipswich and handing out carrier bags 'sealed for your own protection' and wallet and credit card stickers to shoppers at Chapelfield in Norwich for Buy Nothing Day.

"I'm really interested in art that makes people think again about the way we live our lives," she says.

A Present From Wells Next The Sea is at Big Blue Sky, Wells, until September 30. It's open from 10am-5pm every day. For further details phone 01328 712023.

Information about Fran's work can be found on her website at