Michael the Outsider Artist

Michael Pietersen (51) from Aberdeen has been making wire sculptures since he was a schoolboy, selling a few pieces to make extra money. His talent and ingenious use of recycled materials recently brought his work to the attention of retired interior designer Ian Reed, who is excited to help Michael market his work.

Michael had little formal education, leaving at the age of 16 with a standard 4 certificate. He worked in Cape Town for a few years then returned to the Karoo to take over his father’s job as a farm labourer.

A few years ago, he fell and injured his back while repairing a windpump. He also contracted TB, and spent some months in hospital. Although fully recovered from the TB, he is no longer able to work, and needs crutches to get around. He was thrilled to receive a new RDP house in Aberdeen in 2016, and now spends most of his days working on his wire pieces.

These are not just simple animals or bicycles, but complex models, often with a story attached. One piece which has pride of place on Reed’s veranda is a model farmyard, originally intended to be just a bird cage. There are sheep and goats, covered in animal skin, a horse covered with vinyl offcuts, and a windpump with blades made from an old aerosol can. Discarded imitation Christmas tree branches have been used for grass. The whole construction is mounted on an old ironing board, and “there is even a stairway to the beach,” said Michael proudly.

An Outsider Artist is usually someone with no formal training, often using unusual materials. Michael works solely from his head, and as such, many of his pieces are out of proportion, but this adds to their charm. “I asked him to make me an ostrich, but the head looked more like a flamingo,” explained Reed, who showed Michael a photo of an ostrich to help him visualise the flat-topped head.

With an outlet planned at a new craft shop in Aberdeen, and inspiration from Reed’s ideas and mentorship, Michael hopes to reach a new market and be able to better support his family.

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