Washed-up art: Miles Taverner

By Claire Ferguson

eco artist using reclaimed wood from beaches

Miles Taverner is an artist based in the U.K. specializing in contemporary works. Inspired by the connection between mankind and the sea, he collects reclaimed material washed up from rivers and coastlines, then forms something entirely new out of the otherwise forgotten or destroyed matter. Appealing colors, textures, and tones draw you into the tactile surface, and invite the viewer to reflect and wonder where the individual elements have traveled since their provenance. Each piece reflects an odyssey of the sea, visions of adventures past. 

beachcomber finding wood and metal from UK beaches for his sculptures

Like many beachcombers, Miles’ love for beachcombing began in childhood, with memories of discovering flotsam and jetsam on the Thames foreshore or buried in the mud along the East Coast of England; Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, wondering what stories they could tell. Later, he became a licensed Thames mudlark, taking many expeditions with his trusty rescue dog Bruno. With no problem finding an abundance of material, mainly colored weathered wood, his collection began to expand and he officially started making art with some of his pieces six years ago.

English sculptor using beachcombed wood and metal in sculptures

Miles has been able to find items of all sorts from old bottles to a drop fuel tank from a plane, but he loves anything to do with old ships/boats, especially timbers or bronze fittings. He enjoys mudlarking in nearby Rotherhithe in London, which has an extensive history in shipbuilding and breaking, making for incredible finds. He has even found some old bronze chain plates from a naval vessel that date back to 1831, fascinated by the historical element to them. One of his pieces also includes part of a wreck called the Smiling Thro’, which sank in 1921 in Trevone, Cornwall.

beachcomber upscaling beach finds into art

Miles’ work allows him to create something that lasts and holds the memories of the found material he brings home. Once he gets all of the items cleaned and dried, he’ll resize them to fit the piece properly. For his striped pieces, he decides which colors work best together first.

scultpure wall made from beachcombed wood

For his assemblage work, he starts with the frame and then places the pieces inside until he is happy with how it looks. The process is long, but finding the right pieces for each picture is rewarding. “It gives me a good feeling to work with nature. As humans, we waste too much, and I hate the mass market, which makes up much of what we have and own,” he says. “My work is created from what nature has given back to us, with signs of being at the mercy of nature’s wildest elements.” He is inspired by the styles of Margret Mellis, Bridget Riley, and Ben Nicholson. He recently had an amazing first exhibition at Canary Wharf London on a beautiful Dutch barge and can’t wait for more to come.

creating art from upcycled driftwood in england

When Miles is not creating his art, you can find him in the water surfing, stand-up paddling, or windsurfing when the conditions are right. He also is beginning to take his new whippet puppy, Bess, out for some adventures. His favorite beachcombing locations are along his local river, the River Blackwater, as well as Devon and Cornwall for superb washed-up debris. And of course, the River Thames at low tide (if you’re licensed!).

eco art made from beachcomber finds painted wood

He recommends going by the old mariner’s adage “it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good” after a storm. It reminds him that for the beachcomber it’s the opportune time to get straight out onto the shoreline after a decent bit of wind. Vintage bottles can sometimes be found around the old Victorian disused oyster pits or abandoned old barges and washed-up timbers. 

If you find yourself in the area, Miles recommends visiting the Company Shed Seafood Restaurant in Mersea for local caught and cooked seafood, as well as the local microbrewery Wibblers in Southminster, which brews its own ales in a beautiful 300-year-old oak barn. Burnham-On-Crouch also has a small local museum dedicated to local fossils, boatbuilding, and all things nautical. The nearest town, Maldon, has a lovely riverside pub called The Queen’s Head. There, you can enjoy a drink and meal on the quay right by the beautiful old East Coast oyster shacks and Thames barges.

framed artwork made from english upcycled drift wood

Follow Miles on Instagram @milestavernerart and learn more at milestavernerart.co.uk.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2022 issue.

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