Recycling passion spawns artistic excellence

Townsville based artist Alison McDonald, pictured in front of her Jensen Studio ‘Bliss’

With drill in hand and an immense sense of immersion, Alison McDonald draws her seat to her workbench for another day of turning scraps into art.

Sam O’Brien

Townsville based artist Alison McDonald, pictured in front of her Jensen Studio ‘Bliss’

Townsville based artist Alison McDonald, pictured in front of her Jensen Studio ‘Bliss’

For almost 50 years, Victorian native McDonald has been turning bottle tops, keys, nails, records, pots and other items of general refuse into incredible works of art.

“Mother Nature is my biggest inspiration, so I use recycled materials that are given to me or that I collect” Alison said of her works.

“I hate waste, I really hate waste”

Alison’s work has become iconic around Townsville with her piece “Shimmer” taking out the artistic excellence award at the 2015 Strand Ephemera.

However it was in the cold, gloomy streets of Victoria where Alison began to develop her love for art.

In fact Alison comes from a family rich in artistic skill with sculptors, cartoonists, writers, painters and musicians part of a bloodline which Alison credits as one of her greatest influences.

“I am originally from an artistic family that nurtured my creativity from an early age.”

Alison also attributes part of her recycling ethos to the way she was raised on the orchard in Victoria.

“My grandmothers used to recycle everything, they would collect everything. I think the war did that to them

“I grew up on an orchard and we didn’t have rubbish collection so we had to be very careful what we did with our rubbish.

“It [the rubbish] wouldn’t just go in the bin and get collected so that made me very conscious.”

Throughout her art career Alison has used a variety of items, many of which people may think are obscure; a claim which Alison vehemently denies.

“I’ve used plastic bottles, cup hooks, coins, recycled wire, corks, saucepans, CD’s [and] phone cards.”

“I usually use something that we get lots of, little coffee pods, cassettes, things like that

“It’s stuff we see every day, so it is only other people who think it’s obscure; it’s not to me.”

In fact, some of Alison’s most popular pieces have been created using items we pass on a daily basis.

Her winning Strand Ephemera piece ‘Shimmer’ was created using metal power pole tags, whilst fan favourite piece ‘Flow’ was constructed using plastic bottle tops.

’Flow’, which is made of discarded plastic bottle tops is one of Alison’s best-known works

’Flow’, which is made of discarded plastic bottle tops is one of Alison’s best-known works

Bottle tops and metal tags however pale in comparison to what Alison does consider the most obscure item she has used.

“X-rays may be the most obscure thing I’ve used perhaps.”

Along with her larger sculptures, Alison also uses recycled goods to create jewellery to ensure even the smallest pieces of off cuts don’t go to waste.

“Sometimes I get really sick of doing really big stuff and I want to get a bit more intimate in my studio.”

“I would do all these great big sculptures and I would have all these little bits left over and thought that would make a real nice piece of jewellery.”

Amongst items Alison uses for her jewellery are discarded road signs, plastic bottle screw top stoppers and, one of her favourite items to use, the fish shaped soy sauce bottles provided with sushi.

“The sushi fish, I love that. We get those, they’ve got soy sauce in them we put the soy sauce on our sushi and then we toss it. We would be lucky to have that in our hands for 30 seconds.

“One day an archeologist is going to come along and dig this thing up and he will go ‘wow, this is made of such permanent material! It must have had a really, really, interesting use.’”

“Can you imagine the archeologist when he goes ‘they had it in their hand for 10 seconds and then they threw it away and it came from a material that was produced over millions and millions of years, oil, and then they made the thing and then they threw it away.’”

“The irony of how we use materials is of great interest to me and I try to even out those values.”

Alison moved to Townsville in the mid 1980’s with her family, where she completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts, with honours, in sculpting and painting at James Cook University in the early 2000’s.

Alison credits her move to Townsville as a crucial stage in her career which has helped to frame the artist she is today.

“I moved to Melbourne when I left high school and I met a man who was in the army.”

We moved around and we got a posting to Townsville and then we moved around some more.

“When we got the opportunity to leave the army, where did we want to go? Back to Townsville.

“It was just a place that I felt I belonged and I could be happy here.

“I feel the people are warmer because you get outside and do things. I like the casualness rather than the formalness and the greys of Melbourne and Victoria.”

Allison is currently working on a number of pieces ahead of a variety of exhibitions and shows

Alison is currently working on a number of pieces ahead of a variety of exhibitions and shows

Alison’s time at James Cook University will be recognized in July, as part of the T150 Celebrating Townsville Exhibition at Umbrella Studio.

The Exhibition, commissioned by the JCU Special Collections Team, will explore the influence of art educators on the development of Townsville’s art collections.

Alison sees the exhibition as an opportunity for Townsville to recognize all those who have contributed to the Townsville art scene over the past century and a half.

“One of the things a lot of people don’t know about Townsville is we have got so many art educators and so many great teachers.

“It’s very important that people see what abilities and skills are around in Townsville and show it off.

“It’s an asset to Townsville how many great artists we have got.”

It is these art teachers that Alison sees as major influences on her career, including Jane Hawkins, who lectured Alison at JCU and nominated her for the T150 “Celebrating Townsville” Exhibition.

Alison said one of the key lessons she learnt from JCU was the importance of drawing and its role in preparation.

“It [has] set me up to think about the preparation (drawing), the form (sculpture) and then the final finish, which painting taught me.

“I learnt so much there [at JCU], it was an enormous influence.”

Along with the T150 “Celebrating Townsville” Exhibition, Alison has a number of upcoming shows including a work for the Warwick Regional Council and a travelling solo exhibition, which will travel to 12 galleries around Australia from December 2016 to early 2019.

Alison is particularly excited about her upcoming travelling solo exhibition.

“It’s a solo exhibition with Visions Australia who have sponsored it, [as well as] Museum and Gallery services and Umbrella Studios who have organized it. It’s pretty big.”

Alison McDonald is a nationally recognized artist working out of her Jensen Studio ’Bliss’. For more information on Alison and her upcoming works, visit