Michael Leigh was born in London in 1947. He studied painting and print making in Southend and Manchester before obtaining his Masters degree in Fine Art in 1971 at Chelsea School of Art. He has always made art for a living, supported by temporary and part-time jobs. In 1980, he discovered the ‘mail art network’ at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery. After finding an intriguing rubber stamp bearing the name of a defunct company at a flea market, he was inspired to found the A.1. Waste Paper Company. In the mid-1980s he started making collages and small photocopied publications that he traded internationally through the post.
The recent collages shown in this exhibition are all based on collections of animals, objects and archives found in museum collections, Wunderkammer and cabinets of curiosities. Collages are made from found papers in magazines and books dredged from flea markets, charity shops and boot sales. They reflect his ongoing interest in humorous juxtapositions and his fascination for collecting toys, ephemera, books, records, rubber stamps and so on, and being inspired by the process of collecting.
In particular, the series was inspired by a visit to the Mary Greg collection at Manchester Art Gallery. On seeing boxes of fragile Noah’s Ark animals in Mary Greg’s collection, animals which had become rather battered and distressed over the years, missing hooves, legs and even heads, Michael decided that Mary had taken the bandaged animals in her own ark to a place of safety and refuge. He later learnt of the upset caused to those who had fallen in love with the collection in its broken state, when an over-zealous conservator had carefully glued a zebra’s head back onto its body.
Moths in the Lumber Room is inspired by a letter from Mary Greg sent to Mr. William Batho, the assistant curator at Manchester Art Gallery. On talking about some dresses she wishes to donate to the gallery, Mary writes: “I want to get them sent off, but not to lie in boxes in some lumber room where the moths may destroy them.” (4th June 1924). The reply states: “We will see to it that they will not be placed in any lumber room and you must never for one moment think we allow moths amongst our exhibits. Anything liable is examined often and kept clean.” (6th July 1924) Conservation was a challenge and a concern then as it is now.