BY CALUM FRASER
Michael Connell cannot walk past a skip without looking in. He is actually just seeing if there is something in there he can use for his art.
The Lewisham construction worker has been recycling discarded blocks of polyester, broken glass and scraps of wood to create works in his shed for years.
The structure in Daneby Road was runner-up in Channel 4’s Shed of the Year contest in 2016.
It has now become a local landmark, as part of the Catford Arts Trail – so thousands of South Londoners have visited in the past decade.
Mr Connell, who has lived in Catford for more than 30 years, is not a typical shed man. He said: “You’ll be surprised what you find in skips. I’ve always got to have a look.
“My wife thinks I am completely bonkers. But you have to be yourself.
“I don’t do normal.”
Now he is looking for Lewisham fashion designers to collaborate with, for a Catford catwalk.
His shed, named Povera after the Italian art movement Arte Povera which championed art in the
everyday, will be the backdrop as models strut around his garden wearing clothes made entirely from recycled material.
He said: “The art takes me on a journey and I’m just a passenger enjoying the ride.
“I love nature. I love my surroundings. I’m like a sponge. Whatever comes in I just do. Art and nature together, it’s the perfect mix.”
The shed is built around two trees, with his distinctive coloured ladders creeping up the branches blurring the line between art and nature.
Mr Connell moved to the UK from Barbados with his family in 1965.
He studied Art at Waltham Forest College in the 1980s.
The 63-year-old said: “The first time I went to art college, someone said to me ‘What are you doing here – you people usually drive the buses?’
“It was a different time. It’s history. My experience has made me the person I am. It’s toughened my skin. By the time I left the college, me and that person were the best of friends.”
Michael dropped out of college after two years and started working on construction sites – and that is where he has carried on working for the past three decades.
But as soon as his shift finishes, he returns to the shed and works there long into the night.
He said: “Most of my energies are coming from my dad. He was artistic but he died before he could do anything with that skill.
“He died with everything inside, so I think some of it is coming out in me. At night, when I’m here, I can feel his presence.”
On his route back from work he travels past a hardware supplier. They leave pieces of waste building material out for him to pick up.
He uses a saw and a utility knife to carve his material. Once he has the shapes ready he paints them.
He said: “It’s not been easy but I’ve never stopped chasing my dreams.
“I love Catford and I want to give back through my art.”
One of his pieces, Trapped, went on display at City Hall in 2003 marking the 170th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
Another piece called Jenny From the Block, made from one solid block of polystyrene, was part of an exhibition outside Lewisham police station. To see more of his work go to www.michaelsart.co.uk
If you are interested in taking part in the catwalk, email email@example.com
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