WHILE for most people January is a time of clean sheets, fresh starts and the impetus to declutter, the Cornerstone Arts Centre, is hosting a lively exhibition that illustrates how the ‘rubbish’ other people throw away can equally be described as art.

Harwell artist Robert Strange surprises the viewer with large, fresh and cheerful pictures depicting a series of objects that have been discarded or out-served their purpose, including beach toys, golf tees, and soft toys.

On one wall in the exhibition at the centre in Didcot hangs an illustration of the largest sweet wrapper collection in the country, while in a neighbouring frame, dozens of collectable bubble bath bottles line up like a school photograph.

Each collection is depicted with a light-hearted touch and an enviable neatness, which brings to life this white airy gallery in a way that all ages can enjoy. As a child, Mr Strange filled his pockets and drawers with odd bits and pieces documenting his finds in scrapbooks and illustrated diaries, his disparate groups of ephemera having no use other than reminders of his childhood experiences.

And yet, his many collections, stored in dozens of boxes and glass jars, now line the walls of his immaculate Harwell studio (which will be open to the public during Artweeks events) and serve as a basis for his current artistic practice.

There’s always something to hand to inspire his next work, and each choice brings forth an accompanying story.

Mr Strange explains, for instance, that although he loved teaching art in a secondary school he disliked having to wear a tie and to amuse himself and his students he wore increasingly bright and gaudy ties that would stand out in assembly, a set of novelty designs that students enjoyed adding to with Christmas gifts. Eighty-five have been squashed into a case and recorded for posterity in this exhibition.

He said: “Once squashed into their boxes every collection seems to take on a whole new lease of life, as if they have their own tale to tell, and I’ve also captured these new stories for visitors to read.”

Drawn with a rainbow of coloured pencils, Strange has gathered every tone imaginable, each picture is an impressive flattening of the 3D objects, a process which takes several weeks, and will particularly delight and fascinate those who have recently been swept up in the current colouring-in craze.

The results can be seen alongside his paintings, prints, photographs and a display of some of Strange’s acquired objects, in this playful show where the practice of collector and artist meets. Although this is an exhibition inspired by junk and expendables, all art is inspired by the era in which it is created, the environment, social history, and popular culture of the time.

An eccentric collection of transitory items may have no monetary value yet can still generate a strong response in the viewer evoking memories of their own childhood or recent history. McDonald’s toys, for example, are ten a penny on online auction sites yet together reflect the changing cultural interests of families and children and provide a record that museums may yet exhibit.

Mr Strange is, perhaps, already one step ahead then, as this imaginative and creative exhibition brings discarded goods back to life and marks their moment in history.

Or join him at Cornerstone, see him at work and write your own stories in a workshop on January 30. Related children’s activities will run during half term, from February 13-21. The exhibition started yesterday and ends on February 21.