Elza Zijlstra creates art out of discarded objects she finds on long walks along the beach. Her art, a mesh of beach trash and eclectic images from vintage magazines (art created under her logo TrashWorks), distills images that are at once original and striking.
In one image titled Harry Wanted to Travel, a man in a suit holds on to a bunch of balloons, as if carried over an alien landscape. What is striking is not only the composition and surreal imagery but, like many of Elza’s images, the prospect of a layered under-story. Who is Harry? Why is he in a suit? Where is he going? Or does he really want to stay?
Elza’s style has elements of collage. There is the juxtaposition of objects and images that creates fresh scenes and stories, often with a bit of tension. We come to realize that the smile on the surface of things might be hiding other stories that seek their moment of expression.
More, in her unique blend of life and art and storytelling, Elza reminds us that art is in the ordinary things all around us, even or perhaps especially in the things that we discard.
We are happy to invite Elza to Inkspokes today to chat with her a bit about her art.
Thank you Elza for taking the time to visit with us.
NS: Can you tell us a little about yourself? What or who inspires you in your art work?
EZ: I grew up in the north of the Netherlands, near the sea. When I was a child, I used to wander around beaches for hours to look for nice shells. Now I still make long walks, but leave the shells aside and pick up everything that should not be on the beach: the so-called plastic soup. I have a medical background, currently working on my PhD,and when it comes to designing, I am an autodidact. After having tried different creative tracks (painting, writing, sewing) I am really happy I found a framework in which I can work: beach trash and images from old magazines.
It’s hard to say what exactly inspires me, because I can get inspired by nearly anything I see, hear or read. It can be a certain scene from a movie, a character from a book or a picture I see on the internet. It also can be a line of a song that suddenly speaks to me. I get a lot of ideas when I am on holiday. Especially in southern countries there is a sort of unstructured chaos I do not find in the Netherlands and chaos (busy marketplaces, deteriorated houses, stuffed little old supermarkets, etc.) inspires me – there is so much to see at one square meter. I also love old stuff and browse around in second-hand book shops for hours. I am deeply fascinated by stories about priests that went to the heart of Africa in the 40s, woman-unfriendly advertisements of the 50s, psychedelic fashion from the 70s. It all can set something in motion – mostly a feeling from where stories and images develop in my mind.
NS: How did you first get started in doing upcycled art? What was your first piece that you remember?
EZ: It started on a trashy beach in Spain when I was on holiday. Sort of subconciously I put three pieces of trash together and made a little boat. I thought it was a lot of fun and took some trash to my apartment where I made all possible combinations with this trash – which was not enough, so next day I went back for more, followed by more trash from more beaches all around Europe. I gradually professionalized a bit, from putting trash on my living room floor and making a quick picture to working with white canvas and a tripod. I became more productive when I started to experiment with adding images of vintage magazines. This addition gave me a lot of extra possibilities.
It was not a set-up plan, but I don’t think it is a total coincidence that it came on my way. I always loved to collect beautiful, weird and funny stuff and often tried to re-use it. I am also interested in environmental issues. Happily it all came together at that beach in Spain.
NS: Your images all seem to tell a story. I was particularly struck by one titled Harry Wanted to Travel. What is the story behind that?
EZ: When I browsed around in my collection of vintage magazines, as I often do, I found a picture of people staring into the sky. I cut the picture out and kept wondering what was in the sky. Because I had collected a lot of caps from bottles, I figured it should be balloons. I looked in my magazines for a picture that could add up to these balloons. And I found Harry. First, I had a story in mind where Harry and some other people were hanging from these balloons, flew over landscapes and one person would fall down in every image. I ended up with Harry on his own and this image touched me. The title popped up immediately and I knew this was the story I wanted to tell.The image of Harry makes you wonder: who is Harry? Where is Harry? Does he want to be where he is or does he want to go somewhere else? He seems a little lonely and out of place in his suit, in this surrealistic landscape, but didn’t the title say that he wanted to travel? I leave it to everybody’s imagination to answer these questions.
It’s funny by the way, one so-called beachcomber saw the image Harry Wanted To Travel and told me that the orange balloon is actually a Smartie lid. It’s so funny, even the separate pieces of trash in my work tell little stories.
NS: What is your favorite project so far? What was your favorite part?
EZ: All my images are little projects of their own. Most projects start with a vague concept I have in my mind, like ‘science fiction movies from the 70s’ or ‘sweet French music’. But the work can end up in a very different place. The crab with a hobby started with the attempt to make a UFO. A lot of my works are results of failed attempts to make something else. I love this kind of spontaneous, surprising, improvisation art.
I like to work on my collection of animals that are made of plastic only and no paperwork. The restriction of using plastic only gives me a sort of freedom to just fiddle freely around with my pieces of plastic. I also like my fashion-project. It’s very nice to become a sort of fashion designer with beach trash.
I made some stop motion movies and that is something I really love to do. It’s great to see my precious pieces of plastic coming alive. There is a lot of fantasy and playfulness (and patience) involved in making those movies.
NS: Is this an interest that you share with other artists or storytellers? Do you collaborate with others?
EZ: I started to become serious with Trash Works in May of 2014, so at this moment I am still in the stage of discovering my own possibilities and developing my skills. I have not collaborated with others so far, but via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (and also in real life) I started to connect with others – collage artists, beachcombers, illustrators, upcyclers, writers. I love it and I am open to collaboration.
NS: Besides producing your own art work for sale, do you also do custom art for others? Do you see using your upcycled art work in a book or providing them as illustrations or as cover art for other authors?
EZ: Yes, I make custom art for others. I designed the wedding invitations of a couple I know, did art-work for two CD’s of free-jazz band Dead Neanderthals, made the logo for a freelance writer, and designed a few PhD-covers. I would love to expand this custom art and can see myself designing book covers and illustrations for books as well.
NS: Can you let us know any plans or projects that you are excited about with regard to your artwork?
EZ: In April, I will have my first exhibition and I am looking forward to it. I want to make some 3D-pieces for this exhibition. Furthermore, I have many ideas for stop motion movies. At this moment, I am working on a movie that shows an ordinary day in a young woman’s life. My dream is to make a children’s book which speaks to adults as well. Actually, I have many ideas, because the possibilities seem endless, but I force myself to slow down a little bit to preserve my social life and progress on my PhD degree.
To connect with Elza Zijlstra | TrashWorks or to learn more about her artwork, you may connect with her via:
(All artwork in this post are Copyright by Elza Zijlstra. All Rights Reserved.)