King Of The Bottletops At The City Farm
Robson & Kellogg the Cockerell
In recent weeks, Robson Cezar, King of the Bottletops has been enjoying a spell as artist-in-residence at Spitalfields City Farm, so while I was there picking hops with Master Brewer, Ben Ott, of Truman’s Beer last week, Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I dropped in to see how he was getting along.
The mellow atmosphere of harvest-time prevails at the farm now and I discovered Robson at work in his studio between the vegetable patch, where lines of tomato plants hang heavy with fruit, and the pig sty under the apple trees, where Holmes & Watson snaffle up windfalls.
Inside the tiny converted portacabin, lined with weatherboarding and hung with Robson’s colourful pictures on the outside, you discover more bottlecaps than you ever saw, all piled up like loose coins in the king’s counting house. On a long shelf, lines of old tea tins serve as containers for each distinctive variety. All day, visitors to the farm - both young and old – come and go, dropping in to help sort bottletops into their respective colours or staying around longer to learn how to make their own pictures. And in the midst of all this, Robson sits placidly in his cardboard crown, glueing bottletops systematically onto a board – squeezing two drops of glue from a saucebottle onto each bottletop and pressing it carefully into place.
Diagrams on graph paper inside the cabin reveal his method, working out the structure of his design upon a grid. Then comes the arranging and shuffling, contemplating all the infinite permutations of colour and form to arrive at an ideal arrangement. Finally, he embarks upon the long process of attaching all the bottletops which can take several days and requires sustained concentration, like needlework or weaving. Happily, Robson can do this part while visitors come by asking questions or pursuing their own projects, but mostly just to wonder at his beautiful sparkling pictures conjured from such modest materials.
Drawing inspiration from the farm, Robson made a lively portrait of Kellogg the Cockerell, using two thousand bottletops, and then a glistening new sign for Lutfun Hussain’s Coriander Gardening Club for Bengali Women, in colours that match their ripening tomatoes. Taking an idea from the recent hop picking visit of Master Brewer, Ben Ott, he is currently at work creating a huge eagle of more than six thousand bottletops for the new Truman’s Brewery in Hackney Wick, to be completed for the Brewery’s First Anniversary Party next Sunday, 12th September. Next, he will set to work upon an enormous scarlet chilli in time for the London Chilli Festival at the Farm on Sunday 28th September.
In the meantime, if anyone fancies strolling over to admire the Farm in all its harvest glory and watching the master at work shuffling bottletops around a board, the King of the Bottletops is welcoming all to his court each day until the end of this month. And if anybody else decides they want a sign made of bottletops, please contact email@example.com
New sign for the Coriander Gardening Club
Robson at work on his portrait of Kellogg the Cockerell, using two thousand bottletops
Robson with Rossana Leal and his new sign for the farm cafe
With friends in Allen Gardens
Work-in-progress on half of the eagle for the First Anniversary of the new Truman’s Brewery, using more than six thousand bottletops
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
Visit the King of the Bottletops at the farm any weekday (except Mondays) between 10am and 4pm until 28th September. Introductory workshops take place every day and can be booked by email to Rossana@spitalfieldscityfarm.org
The Festival of Heat – the second London Chilli Festival is at Spitalfields City Farm on Sunday 28th September 12-6pm
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