Boatman-turned-artist exhibits at iconic Tower Bridge

Martin Cottis has worked and lived on East London’s waterways all his life, a boatman on the Grand Union carrying goods before taking himself off to art-school to learn to be a sculptor.

Now he has been chosen as one of five artists for a contemporary exhibition opening Friday, right on his doorstep—at Tower Bridge.

“The opportunity to exhibit in one of the world’s great ‘temples of counterbalance’ seems too good too miss,” he says.

“Most of the materials I work with are salvaged or reclaimed from the river or from boats, used as sculptural equivalents for the emotions of isolation, freedom and pent-up energy I get from the flowing Thames.”

He lives half-a-mile away on a sailing clipper at Hermitage Moorings in Wapping—within sight of the iconic bridge he loves so much.


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Martin can be seen most days ‘recycling’ much of the flotsam and jetsam the river churns up.

“I spend a good deal of time scavenging along the foreshore, in boats and in boatyards,” he admits.

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“For me, the ‘voyage’ always starts at Tower Bridge—that’s where the adventure begins.”

Martin lives half-a-mile away on a sailing clipper at Hermitage Moorings in Wapping—within sight of the iconic bridge he loves so much.

But the piece he is exhibiting for the Southwark arts forum project was still being worked on last weekend. His ‘Heron’ sculpture series, however, gives an idea of what he does (pictured).

Tower Bridge asked artists living nearby to submit work with themes linking the Thames with its surroundings, its past, present and future, reflecting the character and values of the riverside communities.

The aim is to give ‘a high profile’ platform for artists living and working in the area like Martin and the other four chosen to open the exhibition by Southwark art forum, Nash Francis, Rewati Shahani, Simona Piantiera and Jo Hutton.

You don’t get much more ‘high profile’ than the world’s most famous bridge, which attracts up to 2,000 visitors a day from all over the world.

The exhibition is being staged in one of its neo-Gothic twin-towers and the restored Victorian steam-engine room, 10am to 6.30pm, admission �8 (under 5s free, under 16s �3.40, concessions �5.60).

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