Allie Fredericks collects all sorts of flotsam and jetsam along the South Devon seashore and transforms her finds into quirky, colourful collages. Words: Anna Turns Photographs: Anna Turns & Allie Fredericks
Early in the morning, before opening up her art gallery in Hope Cove, South Devon, Allie Fredericks walks the length of South Milton Sands, combing the shoreline to see what treasures the tide has washed up overnight. ‘The seashore is best when there’s no one else around. That peace, the shrill of an oystercatcher, the sound of the sea coming off the shingle, and the smell of the salty seaweed – it is super sensory,’ she remarks.
The romance of the sea inspires Allie’s work as a mixed-media artist, making collages with items she finds on the beach. The early morning light reflects in the waves and she can’t resist getting her feet wet in rock pools. ‘There is something deeply spiritual about being here on the shoreline,’ says Allie. ‘A powerful, magical energy exists where the land joins the water – I feel so connected to that whenever I walk here.’
As she wanders with a basket over her arm she collects a handful of driftwood twigs, a mermaid’s purse, some shells, worn and weathered sea glass, some old rope and a few bits of brightly coloured plastic. The contrast of textures sparks her imagination. ‘This pink sea fan looks like a tree, that piece of clear plastic could become the dome of a lighthouse,’ she suggests as she gathers.
‘I love the idea of reviving something that has been bashing around the ocean for years,’ continues Allie. ‘I’ve got a wooden box full to the brim of plastic bits I’ve found. I recently made a collage with plastic in a gold frame to explore the contrast between opulence and plastic.’ She hides dolls house plastic water bottles, crisp packets and flip flops in among netting on her beach scenes. ‘It’s a statement, because that is what the beach actually looks like. Beaches aren’t pristine unless people clear up the marine litter.’ Like many other local residents she feels obliged to pick up any dangerous rubbish like fishing net from the beach.
With a keen eye for detail, she sees the beauty in every rusty metal spring or plastic fragment, and she loves the process of wondering what to make with each piece or which azure shade of paint to use. ‘I’m always looking at how the colour of the sea blends with the sky and the sand. Every time you look out it’s different,’ says Allie, who is sensitive to the changing moods of the ocean. ‘If a storm comes in and the sky goes dark grey, with light shining from behind the clouds, you get this beautiful aqua milky turquoise water next to the ochre sand, so I incorporate these vibrant colours into my collages.’ Allie loves the wilds of the winter just as much as those breezy summer evenings: ‘I feel a little bubble of excitement in my stomach when I’m down at the sea whatever the season. I’m so lucky to be by the ocean whenever I like and it’s special when I have that beauty all to myself.’
Allie’s never sure what’s going to wash up on the shore and that’s part of the appeal. However, she needs a regular supply of driftwood, especially large, flat pieces of weathered marine ply, for the bases of her collages, which are supplied by her ‘driftwood dealers’. These include a friend who scours Cornish beaches and posts suitable finds to her, and her partner Will, who takes a huge rucksack to the beach whenever he goes surfing to bring back driftwood. ‘Sometimes he surfs at several different beaches in a day so he can be very helpful,’ explains Allie. Another driftwood dealer, Marcus, is a postman who lives a few miles west of Hope Cove. He saves the driftwood he collects while kayaking and twice a year Allie loads up her car with the best bits from his garden shed.
‘I like thinking outside the box about how I can use a piece of wood,’ says Allie. She has a small workspace in the corner of a gallery where short pieces become hanging signs, small bits are transformed into boats or houses, and wiggly pieces decorate mirrors. ‘I’ll start by choosing a piece of wood then see what I can make with it. Once I’ve painted the base, I put it outside to dry in the sun and get out my trusty box of bits to start gluing and embellishing each layer,’ Allie explains.
Two years ago, Allie took over the running of Hope Cove Gallery, a stroll from the beach, where she curates an eclectic selection of ocean-inspired artwork. ‘It’s really bright, full of local artists and offers every medium you could imagine,’ says Allie, whose collages feature Thurlestone Rock, Burgh Island and rows of colourful, thatched cottages typical of Hope Cove.
‘My gallery is part of the community, which is lovely, and there’s an ease and informality about this place,’ adds Allie, who was born further up the south coast in Hastings but moved to South Devon when she was five years old. ‘Here we have Burgh Island, Thurlestone Rock, and beautiful bays. Hope Cove has such a special energy. I can see why people come back year after year on holiday.’
After completing her art degree at Plymouth University, Allie started selling her photographs of sunsets at Bantham Beach and began collecting driftwood to make mirrors from. ‘I approached the owners of Hope Cove Gallery to sell some of my work and one day out of the blue, they asked me to run the gallery for the summer season.’ Her work sold well and she eventually took over the gallery, doubling its turnover.
This year she’s challenging herself to learn a new art form every month, from pottery to textiles, with a view to creating one collective masterpiece to submit to the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Show. ‘I want to go crazy with it and showcase all the things I’ve learned – perhaps I’ll stitch in a mermaid’s purse or emboss dried seaweed and incorporate lines of my poetry. It will be a collection of special things that reflect my love of the sea and the shoreline,’ she says.
Her camera is constantly to hand and at the end of the day when the gallery closes, Allie heads to the beach for an evening swim and sundowners with friends, or takes her fishing rod and kayaks across the bay with her partner Will, where they paddle under the arch of Thurlestone Rock. Always on the lookout, of course.
NEED TO KNOW
Allie exhibits as part of the South Hams Art Forum (SHAF) annual Arts Trail from 14 to 29 October when artists across South Devon open up their workshops, studios and galleries to showcase their artworks (shaf.org.uk). See her latest pieces and commissions at Facebook.com/AllieMadeThis, or browse alliemadethis.co.uk. Prices from £25 to £395. Hope Cove Gallery is open all year; you will find it at Hope Cove, near Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 3HE.
For more information call 01548 561981 or browse hopecovegallery.com.