Larry Aitken, or Larry the Sandman as he's known, can often be seen on the streets of Manchester sculpting figures. The clue to his chosen medium is in the name.
Following stints as a gravedigger, barman and refuse collector, he taught himself to become an artist, and Larry has spent the last twenty years working throughout Europe. He spent three of them in Greece, one in Portugal, one in Scandinavia and the last 15 years have seen him in Spain where his love of working with sand originated. Larry returned to the UK last year only to find himself facing homelessness or a life of benefits, neither of which he wanted. So he took his sand to the streets.
We like Larry's work so we asked him to recreate one of Time Out Manchester's recent street ads. The results have been outside Boots on Market Street this week, where we had a natter over a coffee.
You've spent a lot of time in Europe. How many languages do you speak?
'I can get by in Spanish, I know some Danish and I can swear in Greek.'
You describe yourself as a self-taught artist, but where did the fascination with sand sculpting come from?
'In the past I've worked mainly in acrylic and developed skills with fine pen work as well. I was selling work in Spain when my friend Zoltan suggested that sand might be a better choice. As he pointed out, you can work for ages on a single painting and once it's sold, that's it, but a sand sculpture can keep the money coming in all week long. So I tried it and really enjoyed it.'
The sign you have up by your work says 'Homeless Not Hopeless' - what do you mean by that?
'When I got back to England in September last year I started making sand sculptures of homeless people. I wanted to start my own business but I felt I was being pushed by the system into benefits and training which I didn't want. I was being encouraged to take out a loan to start my business. That's not what I had in mind so I refused benefits and concentrated on this, doing it myself. I wanted that sign to reflect the fact that homeless people aren't necessarily without hopes or ambition.
And you're working on an ongoing project with homeless people now?
'Well, I thought I'd teach sand sculpting to other homeless people, but Market Street would look like the Sahara in a week, so I've put that on hold. But I can use sand for all sorts of arts and community projects. It can help with therapy, with team building, there are all sorts of workshops I'd like to run. Kids love it too of course. Ideally I'd like to create an exhibition with other artists to raise awareness of homeless people and highlight the skills many of us have. But you need workshop space and you need a place to put the exhibition on. So for now I'm working on the streets and I'm happy to do commissions too, like this Time Out bear.'
Larry can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org and is currently setting up a Facebook profile if you're interested in working with him.