Mesmerizing artworks reveal hidden beauty of seashells

Rowan Mersh
© Rowan Mersh

Many of us probably have fond memories of being by the sea, picking up and marvelling at the secretive beauty of seashells that have washed up on the shore. The variegated forms, swirls of colour and rich textures of these natural little treasures never cease to delight. Of course, some of us may be so burdened by everyday worries and cares that we forget to appreciate these simple delights.

Hoping to break that everyday gaze of indifference is London-based sculptor Rowan Mersh, who creates these stunning works of art, using a variety of seashells arranged in mesmerizing ways. Surprisingly, each work is made up of only one kind of shell, and each work attains an incredible complexity of textures and dimensional depth using a relatively simple palette of one specific material.

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh
As Mersh explains on This Is Colossal:

On beginning a new project I first make a small sample to understand how best to work with the material, using elements of my chosen material such as size, shape and colour of the material to inform surface pattern. This gives me a guide as to how scale and shape the resulting project. My aim with every project is to expose the true and often hidden beauty of the material I am working with and I feel this is only possible by listening to the material from day one.

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Our favourites are these circular shell artworks, which are reminiscent of mandalas -- symbols of wholeness and unity -- found in Eastern religions and philosophies. Like a lot of things and processes in nature, they also look almost mathematically inclined too. These have been made from shells that have been sliced or adhered together.

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Rowan Mersh© Rowan Mersh

Of course, keen observers and conservationists will point out that seashell collecting has a big environmental impact. "These pretty beach tokens play an important role in ecosystems; algae take shelter in shells, birds use them to build nests, and hermit crabs carry them as armor," notes Conservation Magazine.

According to Mersh, the seashells used in his artworks are sourced from sustainable shell farmers and harvesters around the world. For the rest of us, here are some ethical guidelines for seashell collecting from Travel For Wildlife:

    1. Don’t take anything that is alive.

    2. Leave spiral shells: hermit crabs depend on empty spiral shells of all sizes for their survival.

    3. Take less, or better yet, take only photos. A wide variety of plants and animals depend on dead shells for their survival.

    3. Take less, or better yet, take only photos. A wide variety of plants and animals depend on dead shells for their survival.

In any case, art like Mersh's reminds us that nature is full of wonders. But rather than combing the beaches and keeping it for ourselves, those wonders are probably best left untouched. To see more, visit Rowan Mersh.

Mesmerizing artworks reveal hidden beauty of seashells
These beautiful pieces present another side to seashells.

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