"On the way to the gym one day I saw a long, thin piece of metal on the ground. I didn’t know what it was, but I kept seeing them and started picking them up. A few months later someone asked me why I was picking up street cleaner bristles.

I said, ‘Oh, so that’s what they are.’ I found it surprising that the street cleaners picked up junk, but then spread junk themselves. By that time, I had also started picking up other metal, such as nails, screws and bolts.

I wasn’t sure what to do with all of it, so I went to Bowens building supplies store in North Melbourne and said I wanted something that glues anything to anything. They sold me T-Rex Power, which bonds everything, and I still use it to this day.

That was how my art career started and it’s just got bigger and bigger. I now have a dedicated space at River Studios in West Melbourne, and my art, which is all made from rubbish I’ve found on the street, has been in numerous group and solo exhibitions.

My art is inspired by a strong interest in sustainability through repurposing and upcycling. People have described it in many different ways: quirky, imaginative, environmentally aware, industrial, geometric and occasionally, even beautiful."

"I was born in the US and moved to Australia in 1975. I thought I’d stay three years, but I married an Australian and I’m still here. My husband and I have lived in Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and now here in Melbourne.

Over the years I’ve taught library and information studies at several Australian universities, then worked in communications and fundraising, and later as an editor. However, I’ve always been interested in art – at university I studied maths, but unusually for a maths major, I chose oil painting as an elective. Since then I’ve taken various classes in lost wax jewellery design, watercolour painting, weaving and hand-built ceramics.

Since my retirement, I’ve worked as a volunteer for various Australian Government programs, and have done stints in Vietnam, Vanuatu, Thailand and Laos. I’ve had the opportunity to see many different ways of life and do many interesting things, so it’s been gratifying.

I’m glad I didn’t try to make a living as an artist, because to make ends meet is very difficult in the arts generally. However, I think it is important for everyone to express their creativity in some way. Now, being at River Studios and interacting with other artists adds an extra dimension, and I’m grateful to Creative Spaces and the City of Melbourne for this opportunity.

River Studios is a great space and I’ve connected with a fantastic artists’ community. Other creatives will bring off-cuts from their work for me to use in my art, I am their ‘go to’ for nails and screws, and we lend each other tools. There’s a great age range, great diversity. Some people have other day jobs while some are full-time artists, and some, like me, have changed profession.

People at my gym, book club and library in North Melbourne– where I live – also bring me trash they’ve found. All the boards, tiles, drawers, everything I use to make and mount my artworks, are found on the street. I do dive into skips if they’re located on public property. Builders drop bolts and screws like nobody’s business, so I’ve collected boxes of those to use.

I go on daily walks, and when I’ve gathered a bag full of stuff, I will wash, dry and sort it. During the Covid lockdowns the studio was closed, so I’ve still got bags of good stuff left over from my walks then.

Everyone seemed to be cleaning out their houses during Covid, so there were lots of old bureaus and desks being thrown out. If they were in reasonable condition and I thought someone would take them, I’d leave them for a few days, but after that, I’d take the drawers out. I’ve probably collected 50 or 60 drawers.

I received an arts grant from the City of Melbourne to hold a solo exhibition at the City Library Gallery on Flinders Lane in 2021-22. It was called In the Drawer: The Silver Lining, and I used many of the drawers I’d collected to create framed art. To me, the drawers symbolised the isolation of Covid, while the images I created within them celebrated some of the positive experiences that came with Covid, such as people spending more time playing with their children, meditating or working in their garden."

Nancy's City of Gold piece of art.

Nancy's City of Gold piece of art.

Nancy's art.

Nancy's art.

"Personally, I try to live as non-commercially as possible – I’m not into retail therapy. I’ve got a solo exhibition on in Canberra at the moment called Zero Waste, which I’ve also created in drawers. The inspiration for this exhibition was a comment in the Clean Up Australia newsletter that said we don’t need a small number of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly. That resonates with me. Zero waste can mean different things to different people. For example, to my granddaughter, it’s when her class picks up rubbish with tongs on their school oval, while for my grandson, it’s collecting soft drink cans for pocket money.

I’m a bit of a magpie, really, but I love what I do. I surprise myself often – I never know what the result of my art is going to be. That’s the beauty of working with junk, you don’t have to commit. If you use watercolours and make a mistake, you throw it out. But with my junk, I can lay it out, then switch it all round. Until I glue it down, I can keep changing it and trying new things."

Nancy in her studio in West Melbourne.

Nancy in her studio in West Melbourne.

Head to Nancy's website

Find out more about Nancy D Lane on her website.

Creative Spaces

Spaces at River Studios are offered to artists on a 12-month licence, with the option to extend. Interested artists can apply to the City of Melbourne run facility on the website.