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The Patchman

In the middle of the Karoo - a vast, arid region of South Africa that is low flung and empty, punctuated with a few sparse towns and drenched in the unforgiving African sunshine - lies the village of Prince Albert, home to a unique man, Outa Lappies, recycler, artist, philosopher.

Living alongside the railway line, life passes by and discards what Outa Lappies picks up and transforms into objects of simple function and beauty.

The most visible symbol of this philosophy of recycling is his cart. Having covered many miles with its creator, it now rests alongside a dusty farm road attracting the attention of any stray passersby on journeys of their own. It is a vehicle that has been built up over the years and pulled behind him on his journeys through this harsh and unremitting landscape.

He has travelled right through the Karoo with this cart, telling the story of his life while adding to it at the same time. Part of his story is the value of the found object and the pleasure of turning it into something of value. For Outa Lappies, life is in reality a journey, both literally and philosophically, and if you have the time he will be happy to tell you of both aspects of his journey.

'I live my life in chapters, tell my story, and it is a true story' says the old man as he explains the significance of the particular chapter that is embroidered onto the t-shirt he is wearing. The embroidery is a detailed account of a journey into a nearby mountain range with his cart, and the people and places encountered there.

Part of the purpose of his many journeys is to actively teach children, and anyone else who is prepared to listen, about thevalue and purpose of recycling. This, interspersed with his own outlook on life, becomes far more than a lesson on what to do with an old bottletop, but questions an entire system of beliefs in which so much is discarded and labelled as refuse.

Instead, for Outa Lappies, everything has a purpose and is considered. Old pieces of discarded fabric and cloth -'lappies' - are carefully sewn together and transformed into hats, shirts and other useful items along with careful aesthetic consideration. Tin cans become flowers while patches and pieces of old cloth are transformed into colourful desert blooms to shade the head from the bright Karoo sunshine.

Not only does he recycle objects, but words and ideas are also handed out liberally to explain what he does: 'my father told me - "if you turn your hand this way - upward to beg - you become a slave. If you turn it to the earth. you become a man."

I have made a life from my hands, and now I sell to people all around the world.' His 'Lighthouses' are lanterns made up from old tins, glass, and bits of mirror, and have indeed been sold to people all around the world where they can be found in museums, private collections and homes far beyond the borders of their humble beginnings. Outa Lappies is proud of the fact that these Lighthouses have become in a way part of his own personal journey, thus extending it along with his message of recycling into places that he will never see. Each person that receives one of his 'lighthouses' is invited to join this journey, as every piece is tagged with a 'challenge' (a small element of'rubbish') to make your own piece of beauty, your own item of value from our throwaway world.





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