Since childhood, London-based artist Josh Gluckstein has been fascinated by the incredible diversity of our planet’s wildlife and inspired to make sculptures of animals from found materials. He often uses discarded or recycled materials like clothing from thrift shops or wood from old furniture, and an important aspect of his practice is concern for the environment. “I have travelled through Asia, Latin America, and East Africa, and have been fortunate enough to have some incredible wildlife encounters,” he says. “However, on my travels, even in the most remote locations, I was shocked by the huge amounts of plastic waste.”
Much of the garbage that washes up on shorelines around the world is due to an unregulated system in which richer countries export waste to developing countries because it is often cheaper than developing better infrastructures to handle it. Many of the thousands of shipping containers exported each year are often dumped illegally. Gluckstein shares:
I remember going to the Galapagos Islands and visiting a beach famous for a large population of sea lions. It was indeed incredible to see them in the wild, but on every inch of sand not covered by sea lions, there were plastic bottles and cans. It was a heartbreaking sight. I knew I wanted to create artwork that didn’t create waste and harm our planet.
Gluckstein fashions life-like portraits of elephants, primates, pangolins, and big cats out of cardboard by tearing, cutting, and gluing pieces together into expressive visages, sometimes applying thin washes of paint for added depth and detail. He often works on multiple sculptures at a time, and a piece can take between a week or several months to complete depending on the scale or amount of detail. “In lockdown, at home and out of my studio, I was very keen to get to work, but didn’t have the access to the materials I would usually use,” he says. “That’s when I discovered cardboard, which was readily available, and I found it to be an incredibly versatile medium.”
A new series called Gold focuses on trafficked animals by applying gold leaf to their bodies, highlighting the reasons they are poached. The pangolin, for example, is critically endangered because it’s illegally hunted primarily for its meat and unique scales. Gluckstein plans to show these works next month at Woolff Gallery in London, with a portion of sales donated to the WWF. Follow updates on Instagram, and see more of the artist’s work on his website.