Upcycler and junk artist Gabriel Dishaw’s unique creations engage the viewer’s imagination as well as make dents in the landfills taking over the earth.
Boxes filled with odds and ends are stacked on the shelves on the wall. Pliers, hammers, clamps, saws and screwdrivers hang in a neat line under the shelves. It looks like any other workshop, until your eyes fall on the work-tables. They are strewn with rusting typewriters, calculators, circuit boards, wires and other things that look like the insides of defunct computers. For a second you wonder if it is indeed an artist’s studio or a pit stop for trucks on their way to a landfill. The presence of the artist peering into his latest acquisition, a friend’s old computer, reassures you.
In the 9th grade, Gabriel Dishaw’s art teacher listed options for the next project for the class, one option was junk art. That was Gabriel’s first attempt at upcycling. “After that I ran with it and made it my own and have hence continued to evolve as an artist,” he says. He credits his mother for his creative streak and his father for his mechanical approach. “They always encouraged me to be creative and pursue my art endeavours.”
Gabriel does not find the creation aspect of his kind of art different from other art forms. He says, “It’s just a different medium but every art form boils down to creativity and the artist’s ability to channel his imagination.” He starts each piece or series with a fresh approach as the process varies from one to the other; for instance, his ‘sneaker series’ is about revisiting some of his favourite sneakers. He starts off by taking apart a real shoe and examining how every element in it has come together to build the shoe. He then duplicates the same design with upcycled materials thus blurring the lines between the real shoe and the upcycled shoe.
Some sculptures are inspired from a piece of metal or a component of something that he has taken apart. “One such example is a large sculpture I created called the ‘Rearing Horse’. I had taken apart an adding machine and one of its parts reminded me of a horse’s head, and that’s how the ‘Rearing Horse’ came about” Gabriel shares.
Old technology, cell phones, computers…all contribute to Gabriel’s creative process. But he finds adding machines and typewriters the best materials to work with because of the many intricate parts that they are composed of. He says, “The best thing about this medium is that it is endless and usually inexpensive.” Family and friends are a great source for the raw materials for his art but there have also been instances where people have dropped off stuff at his doorstep knowing it will be put to good use. He also regularly scours local antique markets and flea markets for any bits and pieces that may come handy. “I will use almost anything I can get my hands on… really,” he admits.
For Gabriel, the most satisfying part of the creative process is to take something that was being used somewhere and repurpose it for something else. He says, “I find myself looking at hardware and anything mechanical and reimagining it as something else.” Gabriel believes that his art provides him an avenue to express himself as well as help the environment.
For the client besides owning a unique piece of art there is also an element of playful mystique involved with each of Gabriel’s piece. They are sure to spend long hours trying to figure what each component’s original use was.
Over the years, Gabriel has serviced a wide range of clients from sneaker company heads to Star Wars fans to people who simply appreciate upcycled art. But, he believes that the common thread amongst them all is the fact that they recognise and appreciate the message that his art is trying to send out. He says, “We live in a world with so many mechanical and electronic machines as part of our daily life that we do need to find creative solutions for all of the e-waste we are creating. My mission is to initiate a dialogue and help find creative ways of dealing with this ever growing sea of discarded technological objects in an environmentally sound way.”
Text By Himali Kothari
Photographs Coleman Norris