Keith Carey is West End’s very own pirate, cruising through back streets and down Highgate hills, finding discarded treasure to turn into something new.
You may have seen Keith Carey wandering through the Davies Park Markets, or careering down Montague Road in his big black van. From his inked-up arms to his eclectic style, he is quite the character, leaving the perpetual question in his wake — what does that man do for a living? He is a creator. “Right now I’m painting up an old sun deck chair, doing it in multi-coloured. I find it therapeutic, finding the colours, getting it right, taking my time. I’m at peace with it,” Keith explains.
Seventeen years as a stay at home dad put Keith out of the commercial photography game which he had originally studied at RMIT in Melbourne. He now lets his creativity reign in other ways, creating business Oto & Lars, breathing a second life into disposed of furniture and wares. “I’d always tinkered with stuff, being a house husband, doing work on things. Before you knew it, I realised I could make a few dollars out of it — plus there’s a feel good factor.”
Every piece Keith creates is nearly 100 per cent recycled — from the paint he inherited from a finished touch-up job, to the screws and nails he collects from pieces that are beyond fixable. Everything he knows is self taught, using YouTube as his teacher, and Antiques Roadshow as his textbook. It is a family business, with Keith’s two teenage sons and namesakes Oto and Lars scouting the streets from the backseat, with youngest daughter Ilze donning her eyepatch for “pirate time … When we go `curbsiding’, it’s like a competition between my kids. We’re like pirates of the sea, you’ll see us cruising around with trailers, shouting out commands.”
Keith admits that he will never “be a millionaire out of it, but money doesn’t mean anything to me”. Finding Buddhism 10 years ago, Keith is fulfilled by creating good karma doing good by others and allowing the positivity to echo. Through Buddhism he has met a community of like-minded individuals, including a Tibetan monk who he helps find furniture for refugees doing it tough. “I live for my children and my Buddhism. Anything that I can do to practise good ethics fits well with me. The rest of the stuff can go around me. A better person does better by others. That’s the great thing about living in West End; everyone is involved in the community.”
Keith’s eldest son has come clean to his dad that he is “one of the colourful people” in the neighbourhood, but Keith likes to stand out, always willing to “have a conversation with everybody and anybody who wants to chew the fat”. He builds a relationship with each piece he creates, acknowledging “every piece comes from somewhere, has a story, and once belonged to somebody”. A self-confessed rag-and-bone man, Keith turns trash into treasure, rewriting the ending to a story someone else had already closed the book on.
Images courtesy of Kelly Wilde & Keith Carey.