They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and for Whitecliffe alumni Bobbie Gray this is certainly the case.
From unwanted vinyl records and VHS tapes to deflated footballs, eco cups and boat debris – transforming discarded materials into stunning artworks has become the sustainable artist’s North Star.
Bobbie’s latest installation Kōwhai Grove has seen her light up the Tauranga CBD with 3000 illuminated flowers painstakingly crafted from 16,000 unwanted plastic bottles. Commissioned by the Tauranga City Council, it’s the culmination of more than nine months of work, and Bobbie couldn’t be prouder.
“Not only is Kōwhai Grove the most ambitious project I’ve created to date, but it was also made with the help of the local community,” explains the Tauranga-born, Amsterdam-based artist. “By fostering collaboration and engaging the community, I created an opportunity to ignite conversations, inspire change and shift attitudes towards responsible consumption and creative resourcefulness among the participants. It’s this discourse that can create a lasting impact.”
Bobbie’s first foray into transforming trash came about when a DJ friend (now her partner) gifted her with a box of unwanted vinyl records. Working as a signwriter at the time, she used offcuts of vinyl decals from her signwriting job to create stencilled artworks on the records. This paved the way for her first solo exhibition back in 2010. Then during her second year at Whitecliffe she scoured inorganic collections gathering deflated footballs, which she deconstructed, inverted and stitched back together for The Dirty Side of Football.
“We’d been tasked with creating artworks using discarded materials, but my piece became even more meaningful as it coincided with the FIFA scandal that was unfolding at the time. I ended up with as many footballs as there were individuals facing legal consequences.”
Plastic Soup followed hot on its heels featuring hundreds of single-use plastic bags woven into a net.
“Within this net I carefully arranged 52 discarded plastic items symbolising the stomach contents of a recently stranded whale. This poignant artwork aimed to raise awareness about the dire consequences of plastic pollution in our oceans.”
Experiences such as these further ignited Bobbie’s determination to repurpose materials and create art from recycled sources.
“The process of giving new life to discarded items resonates with me, aligning with my values of sustainability and environmental consciousness. Transforming discarded materials into meaningful works of art has become a way for me to contribute to the conversation around waste reduction and inspire others to reconsider the value and potential of what is often perceived as ‘waste’.”
Since graduating from Whitecliffe with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2017, Bobbie has continued to cement her place in the art world, both here and overseas. Not only can her work be found in the Wallace Arts Collection, but she’s worked as an artist assistant for Sarah Hughes, completed an artist residency in Cassis France, and has developed a multifaceted practice spanning sculpture, painting, photography and digital media.
“I think this versatility came about because at Whitecliffe I learned to develop my idea first, and trial different media to see which visualised that idea best.”
Her breathtaking light installations (including Wisteria Lane and Inflorescence) have appeared in numerous art and light festivals across Tāmaki Makaurau, Tauranga and Whakatane and some of the moving images she created at Whitecliffe have been exhibited globally. Digital Garden (her Year 4 final submission) was projected onto a two-storey building at a UNESCO world heritage site in Tunisia and the Coventry Cathedral in the UK.
“I never dreamed of seeing my work on that scale and in so many amazing places! It certainly gave me the motivation to dream bigger!”
Even during times of immense difficulty Bobbie has managed to bring the magic. Her most recent series of paintings, Sonder Series, came about after she was randomly king hit on the street, suffering severe concussion.
“I was unable to work for several months so to pass the time I found myself crawling around the floor of my old Ponsonby villa tracing all of the borer markings. These ‘galleries’ (borer marks) are like their own unique language, with shapes and patterns that resemble foreign or ancient symbols - the hieroglyphs of New Zealand's historic homes and buildings.”
So, what’s next for the multi-talented sustainable artist? As it turns out, plenty, including a show next April at Corban Estate with RE:USE Collective (a group of women artists with a shared interest in sustainability), and an exhibition in Poland with ON Public Gallery (a roaming digital media art gallery).
“My dream project is to create a large-scale collaborate immersive experience for Vivid Sydney. We’ve already been shortlisted twice, so with some determination and further development of our concept, I’m confident that we can bring that idea to life too!”
To check out Bobbie’s work visit www.bobbiegray.com or follow her on Instagram @bobbiegrayartist
Talk to our team
If you would like to ask us a question or request more information, please detail your enquiry using the form below. If you would like you can contact us directly on 0800 800 300, email us or use the contact us form.