What began as a hobby for the artist Ed Chapman is now a full-time vocation with an added eco-friendly twist. Tahira Yaqoob talks to the Briton with a knack for creating sought-after celebrity portraits out of everyday materials you might otherwise find in your bin
Working in a string of unsatisfying jobs, from a stint in a fish and chip shop to a position as a regional newspaper reporter, Ed Chapman longed to turn his hobby of creating mosaic artwork into a career.
Despite never having gone to art college, he discovered, at the age of 20, a knack for creating striking likenesses of celebrities using torn pieces of discarded paper. It took him nearly a decade of perfecting his art in his evenings, but it is now a full-time job for Chapman, 40, who has sold his portraits to celebrities and collectors around the world.
From Lancashire in the UK, Chapman has exhibited in galleries from New York to Manchester. Among his fans is the singer Lemmy from Motörhead, who commissioned a portrait for his pad in Los Angeles. And in February a mosaic portrait he created of Jimi Hendrix using 7,000 donated guitar picks sold at a cancer charity auction in London for £23,000 (Dh137,600), considerably more than the guide price of £12,000 to £16,000.
His father was a sculptor and his mother a painter who studied at the Liverpool College of Art alongside John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called "fifth Beatle" who died at the age of 21. She introduced Lennon to The Catcher in the Rye, a novel whose cover her son later created in a paper mosaic.
"I started with portraits of James Dean and Kurt Cobain and I was quite pleased with the result," Chapman recalls. "I kept experimenting with different materials but I was just doing it as a hobby. It did not start out as a mission to recycle but it has become something of an eco-message. I started using ceramics in 2003 with a simple image of Che Guevara because I wanted to see if portraits could be done in another way."
Chapman became a full-time artist a decade ago. His works feature stars ranging from Angelina Jolie and The Beatles to Premier League footballers.
"It has gone in tandem with increasing celebrity culture," he says. "Fifteen years ago, exhibiting portraits of famous people in a gallery was not the done thing but that has certainly changed."