PROJECTS : cobalt blues 2024

Continuing with my use of the grid pattern appropriated from floor tiles found in the Hastings Observer building (see Observed), Cobalt Blues moves on from combining it with commercially produced floral wallpaper designs (see Invasive Species) whilst also referring back to previous artistic concerns. The piece traverses three centuries in two very different, though similar, ways.


I'm referencing my 6-year long Willow Pattern Project which explored the 200-year old transfer plate pattern that was part of the growth of the British industrial revolution and mass production in the 19th century. The popularity of blue and white ceramics grew from the ruling classes' obsession with Chinese porcelain that was imported – along with tea – as part of the unholy trade with China and Asia. The pigment was very stable when used for glass or ceramics, and was mined in Europe – so far less expensive than Ultramarine, imported from the Middle East.


The vast majority of cobalt is produced as a by-product from large scale copper and nickel mines. The Democratic Republic of Congo is by far the largest producer.

It's used to make lithium-ion batteries that supply energy to everything from cars to e-cigarettes. It’s also toxic and in the Congo thousands of workers work in “subhuman” conditions, according to Amnesty International. 

Postcard Blue_Jack, Berlin

Cobalt Blues 2024

Acrylic paint, copper leaf, silver foil on canvas 99.5cm x 86.5cm

“Mining of cobalt is now linked to grave human rights abuses, including the exposure of miners to unsafe worksites and reliance on child labor. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that at least 25,000 children are working in cobalt mines in the DRC...Between 15-30% of the cobalt from the DRC comes from informal, or artisanal (ASM), mines. Individuals on the periphery of large industrial mining sites resort to makeshift methods to collect the cobalt.

“Hundreds of thousands of destitute ASM miners collect scraps of cobalt from the ground daily. Using shovels and their bare hands, they dig makeshift tunnels, into which they climb to gather rocks containing cobalt ore. Often, they come with their families, including kids. The cobalt they collect is placed into burlap bags and sold to Chinese traders in each local community. This cobalt is identical in composition to what is excavated from mechanized mine sites, and the two flows of minerals are routinely co-mingled. The vast majority of DRC cobalt is shipped to China for refining and then sold to battery makers around the world.”

Extracts from "To Meet Global Cobalt Demand...", a 2023 article in Forbes magazine by Michael Posner