Sunday, January 25, 2015

Here's Tae Us, And Wha's Like Us? A Perverse Post For Burns' Night!

So I am not going to write about Robert Burns at all. I don't mind Robert Burns, but rather like too many things we were given in school, I have a limited tolerance for him and, as with Shakespeare, I regret the uncritical lionisation which seems to accompany them.

Instead, I am going to uncritically lionise one of my own favourite artists, Alasdair Gray, whom, I am delighted to say, is celebrating his 80th phenomenally creative year in literature, art and politics.

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 1

I first came to know about Alasdair Gray - the temptation to refer to him as just "Alasdair" is huge as he has been such a part of my life for so long! - on the publication of "Lanark: A Life in Four Books" in 1981. I was in my last year at school and a friend (one whom I know dips occasionally into this blog: thanks, JT) told me about a mysterious book which was not quite fact, not quite fiction, partly science-fiction, partly mediaeval illustrated manuscript, part literary review, part autobiography and written with the sections in the wrong order and I knew that I HAD to read it. I spent my first summer between school and university, immersed in the book.

It is hard to explain the influence this book had on me and harder still to explain why it is well-enough known but is not one of the most famous books in the English language. As a first book, it is nothing short of dazzling: Anthony Burgess declared that Gray was "the most important Scottish writer since Sir Walter Scott" on reading it. If you haven't read it, go and buy a copy right now.

As it is AG's 80th year and Glasgow - with a lot of help from Sorcha Dallas, a longtime friend and supporter of Gray's and the GSA - has quite rightly decided to throw a retrospective. I do wonder what took so long but then I also wonder why he's never represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale...

ON Saturday, I went along to the Glasgow School of art for an "Artist Walk" arranged by the Reid Gallery at the GSA as part of this retrospective. Fellow Glasgow artist, Claire Barclay, led an enthusiastic group of fans around the show at the gallery and then around Glasgow to see some of the artist's mural work in situ.

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 5

The exhibition - yesterday was the last day - started off with images from "Lanark", which pleased me enormously. Seeing the images from the book in large format allows the study of the details which, at book-size, seem to be little more than texture:

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 3

One of the things I learned from the talk was that Gray is constantly revising his work and it is really interesting to see the way in which some of the original drawings have been altered and changed with white-out and black ink to reach their final form, as can be seen in this drawing (again from "Lanark"):

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 2

A nice touch in the show was the inclusion of a book-case of books, chosen by AG, which have been an influence on him:

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 4

This exhibition is titled "Spheres of Influence II" and includes work by artists who influenced him, as well as artists on whom he has had an influence. I have to confess to struggling with the relationship between AG and Eric Gill, though even the images shown above should be enough to make that clear, but I can't deal with the hypocrisy in Gill's work, the tension between his Catholicism and what we now know about the reality of his life; conversely, what I love about AG's work is the complete lack of hypocrisy, the "warts and all" approach which is apparent in all his literature and also when you actually speak to the man himself. (Although this approach can lead to the slightly grubby and best-forgotten "Something Leather"... I'm sure it is still better than "50 Shades" however!)

As an influence on other artists, AG is legendarily generous, supporting such varied luminaries as Peter Howson and Salman Rushdie!

After the exhibition, we all jumped on the Underground to go and see Gray's mural at Hillhead Underground Station, completed in 2011, of which we learned that he is wanting - rather impractically - to change some of the sections with which he is less-than-happy. I strongly suspect that is not going to happen.

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 8

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 6

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 7

We then walked up the road to the magnificent "Oran Mor", a converted ecclesiastical college, complete with church which now serves as a venue, bar, pub, restaurant and theatre.

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 18

I wrote about AG's murals in June of last year, when I went to a gig there -

Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox - 3

- but this time the group had unfettered access to the venue and had the chance to look at them in daylight.

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 10

One of the fantastic things about having another artist talk about this work is that they bring an awareness of things which you might have missed yourself and which the original artist may not consider worthy of comment. This ceiling is apparently derived from illustrations in a "Ladybird Book"!

the night sky

Claire also pointed out AG's tribute to Gauguin, which is not actually visible anywhere except in the top balcony of the venue (and I am not well-connected enough to ever be invited there!):

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 14

Finally, I love this image which treats an actual found-object with the sort of wit and reverence that I hope I bring to my own found-objects in my work. Again, I'd never seen this painting before as it is tucked away on the upper balcony:

Alasdair Gray Art Walk - 17

If you are interested in any of the other current exhibitions of Alasdair Gray's work, you can find listings on Glasgow Life.

ADDENDUM - Save the Paolozzi murals at Tottenham Court Road Tube Station.

Tottenham Court Road Tube Station
Image courtesy of Julie Gibson on Flickr

From murals in Hillhead Underground to London and the early 1980s murals by another Scottish artist, Eduardo Paolozzi. These artworks are seen daily by hundreds of thousands of people. Crossrail have determined that elements of these murals are to be destroyed. Crossrail - with astonishing philistinism - have argued that they will "only" be demolishing 5% of the mural, to which Stephen Moore responded, "Would you remove the face from the Mona Lisa and say, 'Hey we're saving 95 per cent?' No. It's vandalism!".

There is a petition to ensure the murals remain intact and it can be signed here on

Friday, January 23, 2015

Time Flies

Somehow it is approaching the end of January and looking at my last blog post, Christmas and New Year seem so far away. I've been incredibly busy working on lots of small projects - largely re-stocking after pre-Christmas sales both privately and through Cursely & Bond, who have been tireless in promoting my work - and the foul weather has helped make me want to stay at the bench.

Sad Snowman

I completed the bracelet for Russ at The Dirty Pen studios - see my last post for the lovely story behind this piece:

Pointing-Tool Bracelet - 14

Pointing-Tool Bracelet - 13

Pointing-Tool Bracelet - 12

Set with a magnificent orange quartz, natural yellow/orange sapphire, garnets and a brown diamond, I was really pleased with the way this turned out, as was Russ, which is what matters!

Ages ago, some dumpling decided that they were going to try to melt silver in my high-temperature crucible for stainless steel: it didn't work. Instead, it created this very odd silver "foam", which has sat about on my bench since.


I decided this week to make it into a ring:

Moon And Star Ring - 7

Moon And Star Ring - 3

Moon And Star Ring - 6

Set with a moonstone and a diamond.

It is also that time of year when I send of an entry to the Goldsmiths' Hall Craft and Design awards. This year, I've sent them "20000 Leagues Under The Seas", which was a bit of a struggle to package:

20000 Leagues Under The Seas - Packing

I'm not sure that any "found object" work has ever won anything in the competition, but I keep on trying! My "Alice in Wonderland" and "A Forest" both were chosen for exhibition in the show but that is as far as I've got. This piece has also been entered in the "Digital Design" category, the first time I've entered that.

I've been making a collection of more restrained cufflinks. Last summer, I sent Susannah Hall a batch of my industrial cufflink trios to try in her shop in Clerkenwell in London:

Cufflink Commission - Susannah Hall Tailors - 1

Not one set sold! Hence the production of restrained pairs, which we will try next. I've used this as an opportunity to make use of stones and castings which have been left over from other works, which has been interesting. It is also really odd for me to think in terms of "pairs", matching pairs at that!

Floral Spin Cufflinks - 1
Floral Spin Cufflinks - the last of the gemstone flowers from my Alexander McQueen piece last summer.

Rock Crystal Cufflinks
Quartz Dome Cufflinks - I made these settings for "20000 Leagues Under The Seas" then used only one of them in the piece.

Skull and Garnet Cufflinks - 3
Garnet Skulls -  These skulls are a staple of my work and I always have a number of them cast up, ready to use but I've never used them in cufflinks before.

41-42 Cufflinks - 1
41-42 - Number nails found in Texas and set with lavender spinels, left over from the "Mudlarking" project.

30-40 Cufflinks - 1
30-40 - Number nails found in Texas and set with natural brown diamonds.
Tourmaline Bar Cufflinks - 1
Tourmaline Bars - made from settings which were made to fit the natural tourmaline crystals which I intended to use on "20000 Leagues Under the Seas" but in the end I only used one on that piece.

There has been a fair amount of CAD going on towards "1694: An Eye for Optical Theory" and I scanned one of the lenses using a digital scanner:

1694: An Eye For Optical Theory - WIP - 4

This allowed me to make an accurate model of the lens in Rhino, from which I will develop the settings for each lens.

1694: An Eye For Optical Theory - WIP - 6

Other than that, it has been crazy casting times, making up elements for pieces which will feature in coming blogs!

Cleaning Up Castings

Finally, if anyone is interested, some years ago, I remember watching the filming of what appeared to be a Bollywood musical in a rather grey and cold George Square in Glasgow. I've often thought about it and wondered whether it was ever released. I discovered this week that it was, so here it is. Skip to 16'23", where the action moves from Princes' Square to George Square and the exact scene I watched being filmed!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Belated "Happy New Year"

SO, it is 2015 and I've not made a post for almost a month, which is most remiss. First of all, I wish everyone a happy and successful 2015 and hope that we can overcome what has not, generally, been a particularly auspicious start to the year, especially in France.

I've just got back from my winter holidays in Brighton, which was great as ever, starting it all off with a big bang in the form of the Winter Solstice celebrations on the beach there, known as "Burning the Clocks" - I've no idea and probably neither do they, but it is great fun!

Burning the Clocks - 12

We don't really engage with "Christmas" at all - this year there were not even any presents, though Dingo did manage to find a way to play a traditional Christmas tune on green beans...

Apart from eating too much, I did get over to Folkestone to see the Nicola and Chris at Cursely & Bond where we discussed a potential and very exciting project which I now can't tackle until April... more in due course. I also managed to get to London, where I collected a brilliant shirt which I had commissioned from Susannah Hall:

Liberty Print Shirt

This came about because last summer, Madelyn Smoak and I were in Liberty in London and I was looking at all the shirts in the classic Liberty prints... all the prints except my favourite "Peacock". Madelyn asked about it and the assistant couldn't understand why they weren't available but also couldn't offer to have one made. Much later, Susannah posted on Twitter that she had made up some shirts in Liberty prints and I asked her to make one in "Peacock". I had imagined - and so had she - that it was going to be the most famous turquoise pallet, so it was a real delight when this arrived instead. I would have been happy with turquoise but love this one. Dingo took this photograph and I've no idea what I'm doing.

Back in the workshop on Monday and a marathon to complete some orders and to make some new stock for Cursley & Bond. I also got home to find that the 3D wax prints from Shapeways had arrived and sprued them up for casting. This is the first time I've had wax prints from them and the quality is amazing:

Ribcages WIP - 1

They cast perfectly:

Rib-cages - WIP - 2

While I was in Folkestone, I met with another artist in the Creative Quarter, Russ, the illustrator who runs "The Dirty Pen" studio there. His father had been a builder and had made his own pointing tool from an iron window stay and Russ asked me to make this into a piece of jewellery which he could wear as a memorial to his dad:

Pointing-Tool Bracelet - WIP - 2

We agreed that it should be made into a bracelet and that is now the main project left on the bench:

Pointing-Tool Bracelet - WIP - 6

Other than that, the piece I with which I am most pleased is this pair of cufflinks, made from number nails I found in Denton, Texas, during my visit there last October and set with diamonds:

35-42 - 2

Over the weekend, I took the opportunity to go on the superb tour "behind the scenes" of Glasgow's enormous Central Station, learning about the history, the mysteries and the horrors which lie hidden under, between and over the platforms. Led by Paul and Vic, both officially station historians, they took us on what was definitely the most interesting and entertaining tour of this type that I have ever been on and this has got to be high on the list of "must see" attractions in the city.

Glasgow Central Station Tour - 1

Glasgow Central Station Tour - 5

There are other, different tours coming, including a tour of the remains of the village which was destroyed to create the station - Grahamston - and one of the Beeching-cut "Platform 8" which is shown above and which is at an even lower level than the existing low-level trains. Exciting! I'll be booking for sure. You can book here if interested.

After that, it was off to Edinburgh - by train - to meet with Jeff Zimmer to take in a couple of exhibitions and to discuss our forthcoming collaboration on an exhibition piece. We went to see the all-too-brief exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, "Beauty By Design: Fashioning the Renaissance", an amazing show which looks at the portrayal of beauty in Renaissance portraits in the collection and invites contemporary artists in Edinburgh to re-interpret those ideas.

Beauty By Design: Fashioning The Renaissance - 1

This is a remarkable, moving show. The pieces by the contemporary artists are incredibly subtle and although the show only really has four exhibits, it makes a deep impression. "Leave them wanting more" was never more true than here!

Beauty By Design: Fashioning The Renaissance - 3

Also well worth seeing in the same venue is the BP Portrait Awards and an exhibition of photographs and ephemera around Johannesburg's infamous "Ponte City" housing block.

A flying visit to the Fruitmarket Gallery introduced me to the remarkable photography and film-making of Canadian artist, Stan Douglas, followed by an even shorter trip to the Ingleby Gallery to have a fleeting look at their "Billboard for Edinburgh" show. Too much for an afternoon!

The real reason for visiting Edinburgh and meeting with Jeff was to talk about our collaboration. For years, I have wanted to make a piece of jewellery inspired by one of my favourite films, Peter Greenaway's "The Draughtsman's Contract". My main interest in this film was primarily musical, with a Michael Nyman score which interprets my favourite composer, Henry Purcell, but the more I've watched the film, the more it has grown on me and the more I've understood the dazzling language, the symbolism and the complexity, so much so that I really feel the need to respond to it with my own work. Central to the film are ideas about "seeing" and ways of seeing and so when I found a load of unground spectacle-glass lenses in Creative Reuse in Pittsburgh a few years back, I bought them with the vague idea that they could be used in this piece.

It wasn't until the subject came up in conversation with Jeff and his partner, Mark, who also shares a passion for this film, that we considered the idea of collaborating - originally for the Crafthaus exhibition, but that is not looking possible now - and I suggested that he uses his techniques for painting glass on the lenses (the film also discusses painting extensively, elaborately distinguishing between "painters" and "draughtsmen").

We spent last night watching the film and discussing our ideas...

1694: An Eye For Optical Theory - WIP - 2
More to follow!