East Sussex artist explores the wonders of rotting wood

Wood rot is rarely welcome, but for driftwood artist, Tina Kaul, the more rot, the better.

Saturday, 12th June 2021, 6:10 am
Tina Kaul
Tina Kaul

All becomes clear in her exhibition at Red Door Gallery in Rye from June 9-21 (Wed-Sun, 11am-5pm), as part of this year’s South East Open Studios (SEOS), one of the most established annual arts events in the south-east.

Now in its 24th year, with more than 200 artists and makers taking part, it is an opportunity to discover art on your doorstep and meet the artists, Tina among them.

“I actually get more excited, the more rotten, bug infested and disgusting a piece of wood is when I find it,” she says. “It’s really amazing once one starts chiselling away at it, the amazing patterns and shapes that emerge when all the soft rot is removed. The natural knots in the wood are often the last parts to rot away so you can end up with a really interesting, almost bone-like structure to work with. In fact, I really look upon it that nature is the artist and I am just interpreting nature’s art.”

Formerly a two-dimensional artist and furniture up-cycler, Tina started a love affair with driftwood over the lockdowns of the past year and it has become her main creative focus. During the lockdowns, Tina and her daughter, Isabell (aged eight), would take their daily exercise strolling along the banks of the River Rother, between Rye and Camber, often returning home with an interesting piece of driftwood along the way.

What started as a bit of fun to fill their garden with curious structures, quickly became an obsession. With Isabell’s eagle eye for spotting even the tiniest bits of nicely formed wood, and Tina’s creative take on upcycling virtually anything, the two discovered a new passion.

Tina has made all sorts of things from the findings. As well as some striking sculpture in a range of sizes, including some huge freestanding centre-pieces, she makes rustic practical items such as shelving units, key rings, candle-holders and more.

“I love how each piece of driftwood tells a story. It may have floated all around the world, been part of a tree in Tunisia or furniture in Finland. Weathered and shaped by endless waves, some totally smooth, some haggard and rot-worn, it’s the most wonderful and inspiring stuff to work with,” says Tina.