Sh*t art

AML art director Dylan Burnside-Smith expounds on how inspiration for his latest photographic series: ‘Paintings from Above’, quite literally fell from the sky.

One evening, while walking home from a few beers, I found myself paying somewhat inordinate attention to the pavement beneath me. I say somewhat because I have already made a series, titled ‘Cracked Canvases’, which comprises edited photographs of the streets of London. The intention had been to challenge myself to transform something considered mundane into art that someone would happily put on their wall. In exploring this concept, organic ‘decoration’ such as cracked slabs and chewing gum spots proved to be more visually engaging. I found amusement in the disparity between quotidian complaints about unkempt streets and intrigue in the art I could turn them into.


This evening, however, the pavement didn’t have a crack or chewing gum on it. It was covered in bird poo. It got me thinking: could I make bird poo look beautiful? I felt like it was a good progression for me to explore, so that’s exactly what I started doing. Initially, bird poo reminded me of Banksy. It was black and white, and like graffiti, bird poo is generally found on walls, cars, or the ground. It’s another mark upon the urban landscape. Bird poo also reminded me of abstract expressionism. Specifically, that of the action painters such as Jackson Pollock. It was this direction which I found most visually exciting.  


Some explorative paths led me down into the realm of patterns. Another route I investigated involved filling a canvas with hundreds of different bird poos until it looked like some stripped back wallpaper. That worked well but only as a one-off. I wanted to make a series, so I returned to the drawing board. I love minimalism, and after some time experimenting, I realised that perhaps the beauty can be found in each individual mark. Bird poo shares a similar quality to that of paint, which makes each mark unique. Moreover, their innate ephemerality made them even more valuable. I then went through a rigorous process of trying to find which I felt were the most visually interesting ones to look at. Some of the ones with the best textures were also the most disgusting. Fantastic! 


I applied a different colour overlay to the poos which suddenly made it feel more like a piece of paint, and then added this to a coloured canvas. The final result felt right. It looked interesting, the bird poo was the hero in the image, and the colour gave it a new context which made it easier to look at. What started as a personal challenge had now, with a lot of head scratching and perseverance, come to artistic fruition. Overall I’m happy with the final outcome. At least everyone’s Christmas present is already arranged…


You can see this full series and all of Dylan’s other work on his website: