Jo Taylor - Passion and Form
Jo Taylor is a highly regarded ceramics artist / sculptor, who, around 15 years ago, gave up her career as a police officer to pursue her art. This is important to mention only because; to make a major successful career change like that requires, not just talent, but also a real passion and drive to create. This energy and passion is just as apparent in her work as it was in her interview with Redbird and it was a joy to speak with her.
Your work draws inspiration from plaster cornicing work and architectural features. You must enjoy visiting the Sir John Soane Museum! What is it that inspires you about this work and do have a favourite period of design / a favourite architect?
I love the Sir John Soane museum – the eclectic mix of architectural features all under one roof is unique. I have always lived near Bath and have grown up with the magnificent Georgian architecture, I enjoy the scale and drama of the buildings and the ornate decorative features. In particular I am interested in depth of relief, light & shadow, how features change in the light at different times of day and in different weather.
In terms of design style, I like anything that pushes the boundaries; Gothic revival (Pugin); Gaudi; Baroque & Rococo – as seen in the palaces of Potsdam; the glorious gardens of Villa D'Este in Tivoli; the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau and the angularity of Art Deco. Anything that's clear, bold and ambitious in its intention.
How much preparation drawing do you do before you make a piece?
None! I used to draw a lot and try and make my drawings three dimensional through layers, to try and convey depth and shadow, but always felt unable to communicate accurately my intention, although as drawings they were perfectly acceptable in their own right. I feel that each mark I make in clay can be classed as drawing, and that each piece is made from a collage of marks or small drawings.
You create your work using a combination of wheel thrown and hand sculpted pieces. Can you tell us a bit about what you enjoy about working this way, how you choose to combine these elements?
I have always loved throwing and was previously a functional maker. Repetitive throwing is quite a stressful process for your body and I was unable to throw when I started my MA due to a shoulder injury, so concentrated on hand building, pushing further than I had explored previously. I enjoyed the process and began to develop the technique of joining “fragments” together, so it was easy to incorporate throwing again once my shoulder was back on track.
Working on a piece of art can be quite an organic process and you like to create in quite an organic way. How do you know when a piece is finished, what is your personal checklist for satisfaction with a piece of your work?
That's an interesting question for many artists and can cause a few headaches, it’s quite a tough decision making process. I have to work to the height of the kiln so there are parameters, and I usually start each piece with some intention of structure or form. The forms then continue being added to until the decision is made to stop. Making that decision is helped by looking at the work from different heights, from a distance or sometimes from a photo – trying to use “fresh eyes” as though it’s the first time you have seen it.
Your work was on display at Collect 2015 at the Saatchi Gallery. How do you feel about being featured in Collect, how important to you is being on show at galleries like Saatchi?
It’s hard to describe how it feels, as it’s such an aspirational show, and I've been very lucky to have been shown there as part of the Young Masters, courtesy of the Cynthia Corbett Gallery. Being shortlisted for the Young Masters Maylis Grand ceramics prize has meant that my work has been shown at some outstanding venues in London, COLLECT being the icing on the cake. It’s incredibly important to my career as you need to establish a visible presence to enable people to trust in your work, which takes time and a lot of effort; being with the right gallery can make a world of difference.
You do a large amount of teaching, this May you will be teaching / demonstrating at a workshop in Belgium. What do you enjoy about teaching and how do you find that it informs your own creative practice?
My teaching experience has been really diverse – I started teaching after my BA in 2005, mainly in a prison where I stayed teaching ceramics for 5 years. I now teach occasionally at Bath Spa University, have regular classes at New Brewery Arts and have been involved with socially engaged projects working with groups who have experienced issues such as domestic abuse, homelessness and long term unemployment. This summer I will be working with the Crafts Council to deliver workshops in conjunction with the First Decade Project. In teaching I hope to be able to enthuse participants with my passion for clay, and pass on knowledge & skills to enable people to realise their ideas. Clay is such a versatile material – the possibilities are endless, and it’s so universal it doesn’t matter if the learner can’t read or write, can’t speak English, or has any other issue, it’s pretty much suitable for all ages and abilities. It’s exciting and rewarding to see your group create something new, and it’s a two way thing, I can be inspired by them and hope its mutual! It’s also sociable, and the sharing of ideas, conversation and learning is such a positive experience.
Some of the tools you use to make pieces are re-purposed domestic tools, like a butter curler, or apple corer for example. Do you think of yourself as more of a sculptor than a ceramicist? Are there other materials and tools you would like to experiment with?
It can be hard to describe or define yourself - artist, maker, ceramicist, ceramist, sculptor...all I know is I'm not a potter as I don't make pots!
I am a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, and do take a real interest in contemporary sculpture which is a rich source of inspiration. I think the scale and ambition in other materials is aspirational: particular favourites are Richard Deacon and Barbara Hepworth. Whilst in theory I would like to try other materials, my lack of technical knowledge would be a barrier – I have so much knowledge about clay and so little about anything else, I would probably need to do another course to enable me to realise my ideas.
I do like the freedom to be experimental, and using domestic tools, and making my own is part of that; I enjoy the fact that each piece is unique and that I can change any part of my process at any time.
How important do you think is it for artists / makers to experiment with techniques and ideas and how to we train ourselves to loosen up and not worry about making mistakes?
It depends on your style and your goals. For me to have the freedom to try things during my MA without the pressure of a specific goal led to a lot of experimentation with clays, glazes and techniques. Trying new things and evaluating the results took me on quite a journey to really push scale, form and surface, which enabled me to develop my own style and techniques. This investigative way of working suited my curiosity although it’s not for everyone, some people need a brief, limits or more direction. I think mistakes are useful, they help you puzzle it out; much of ceramics is problem solving. I experienced some classic disasters, opening the kiln to a pile of rubble etc., but as long as you can work out why it’s unlikely you'll make the same mistake twice.
I must add that I was very lucky on several counts. During the course I opted to use studio space at Bath Spa's Corsham Court campus, which had less equipment but more space, enabling greater scale in drawing and making. I shared this space with other students and the retired head of sculpture, Prof Michael Pennie, and we had some wonderful discussions combined with an industrious vibe so great progress was made all round. It’s interesting when artists work, not in collaboration but alongside each other. With freedom to experiment and good energy some great work can happen. I am privileged to be showing work with Prof Pennie, and fellow Corsham Court student Sarah Purvey, at Salisbury Arts Centre in September and we will be discussing our time in the shared space during an artist’s Q&A event.
Your installation pieces ‘Submergence’ and the one on show at the National Park in Gloucester have a real animation and character to them. Can you tell us a bit about these? Do you find more freedom in creating installations?
It was such an interesting experience to consider the site before making the work, as I normally work the other way round. The opportunity to make the work for the “Hospitality” show at Bath Abbey was really special, as discussions started during the MA and it took a while to come to fruition. I worked almost in collaboration with the Abbey; there's quite a responsibility in putting work on an altar in a chapel and getting the balance right. Thinking about the light, the other materials used in the immediate area, the audience, the function of the space, and making the work achievable, of enough scale not to get lost and to be true to my intention was quite a process. I was happy with the end result & was privileged to show work in the Abbey. What I enjoyed most was hearing people discuss what it meant. I have my own thoughts and intentions about moving toward the light, fragmentary nature of the group, pulling in different ways, hanging off the edge etc. but the abstract nature of it means people make their own connections: fallen angel; flames; water etc. This context changed entirely when it was shown at Newark Park as part of the Open West 2013, when it was placed outside on the steps of a National Trust house.
Submergence was developed for Fresh Air 2013 at Quenington Sculpture Trust - I'd had an idea about working with water as another layer instead of glaze. Three sculptures were made as a trajectory of submergence, falling off the edge of the diving board, going down the slope underneath and resting at the deepest part of the pool. My husband got the job of installing it as he has diving experience!
I don’t know if you necessarily have more freedom in creating site specific installations as there are immediately physical parameters and aesthetic considerations which inform the work. I do like the challenge of resolving these issues without compromising the work, and it brings another dimension and narrative to what you do.
If time, space and money were no objects and you were offered the opportunity to make something, anything, what would it be and why?
I think the answer many of us working with clay would say is scale! You always work to the size of your kiln which never seems big enough. I would like to make a large scale installation piece, but that could be possible by using multiples which many ceramic artists do. It is something I hope to do at some point, if the right opportunity arises...watch this space!
Jo has achieved so much throughout her career so far and in July 2015 she will be featured as a demonstrator at the International Ceramics Festival. You can find out more information about Jo’s work by checking out her website.
Alicia Bruce – The Sim Project and Political Photography
Alicia Bruce is an award winning photographer whose controversial project, Menie: A Community in Conflict helped to tell the residents’ side of the story and bring attention to the environmental impact of the development of the land around Menie in Aberdeenshire, when it was turned into a giant golf course by Donald Trump. Her work was acquired by National Gallery Scotland in Feb 2011. The photo 'Mike and Sheila Forbes: Mill of Menie' has just gone on display.
Alicia’s latest project, supported by the Morton International Photography Award, is called The Sim Project, a global project that looks at the robotic patients used for medical teaching and training. For this series of work, Alicia travelled from her residency at the Scottish Clinical Simulation Centre in Fourth Valley Hospital to centres in New York, North America and Canada.
Alicia is hardworking and always incredibly busy; 35 weeks pregnant, has her work featured as part of RSA’s 189th Annual Exhibition and heaps of attention for her work. Yet somehow we manage to get some time to talk and it was a real pleasure.
You’ve got a lot on at the moment, being pregnant, having a solo show at the RSA, all the media attention, its all great stuff! How are you coping with it all?
I’m really glad it’s happening now! I was a little concerned the show was going to happen in summer, which would’ve been much trickier to fit in. Sim Scenario was shot in March marking the end of this phase of the project. I’m now looking at sponsorship opportunities to continue as well as building contacts.
So where did it all begin, how did you become a photographer?
I was studying social sciences when I was a teenager and my friend had set up a darkroom and asked me if I wanted to have a go of it. Another one of my friends had just had a baby and so my friend taught me how to develop photographs and the ones I developed were of my other friend’s baby. It was magic seeing the image appear out in the developer. I knew immediately that this was what I want to do!
I worked really hard throughout getting my degree. I worked 20 to 30 hours a week at my job in Beyond Words Photographic Bookshop in Edinburgh to fund my studies. I was also doing an internship at the Stills Gallery. I knew there was no way I was going to be able do it after I graduated alongside work and so I had to find a way to fit it in. Looking back it was an incredible amount of work. I can hardly believe that I did it. But it was totally worth it. Doing the internship and the job gave me a wider perspective of what it is to be an artist and an insight into the industry. I also got the chance to work with photographers like Fay Godwin, Albert Watson, Martin Parr and John Blakemore.
The biggest learning curve, though it took a few years after graduating and a few rejection letters for the penny to drop, was all about getting your work out there, having it seen by people. There’s no use having it under your bed and hoping opportunity will knock!
Do you find that social media helps with that now, helps to get peoples work out there, has it helped you?
I didn’t actually get on Twitter until 2011! A friend told me to get on Twitter because the Menie Project was trending! I try to encourage my students to use it because it is a really useful tool. It’s great for connecting to the wider creative community. Being any kind of artist can be really isolating, because you are working on your own for a lot of the time. It’s good to speak to other people who are doing it too and at the same time! I’m using it less these days because I’m not commuting as much.
Personal identities play a big role in your work. With the Menie Project each member of the community was photographed according to the person’s identity, which really helped make them stand out, as opposed to having been lumped in together. Your photographs pulled out their personalities and gave them their dignity back. Catriona McAra’s quote on your website mentions your work in the context of your Scottish identity. Do you think this is accurate, is your work distinctly Scottish?
Thank you! Well, I think when Catriona wrote that it was certainly true at the time, as I had just been working on the Menie project and other Scottish projects. After Menie I worked on a residency commissioned by Ffotogallery in Blaenavon, South Wales. The proposal for this was based a painting by the Scottish artist William Dyce. Purely by coincidence, I had set up some shoots near the end of the residency on the hilltops at Foxhunter to find heather had come out! With the Morton Award I sought to expand my practice working with a global community rather than a geographically rooted one. The Sim Project has connected me to people all over the world with shared values working with medical simulation. I also used the award as an opportunity to develop my skills as a film maker.
With the current developments in robotics it would seem that there is a re-joining of art and science.
Yes I think so, the SimMen are amazing as objects and there is a definite sci-fi kinetic sculptural quality to them.
Using the Sim-men could be a very surreal experience, on one hand you know that it isn’t real and on the other, there needs to be some suspension of disbelief so that you can learn the right way of dealing with things. What was it like for you as an experience to be a part of that? What did you find fascinating about it?
I’m interested in the tension between the hospital theatre and the theatrical performance possibilities of the simulation scenarios. During a Sim scenario doctors are being critiqued by peers who watch the scenario in a nearby classroom so there’s a lot of pressure to perform well. In some cases it’s life or death! The scenarios have all the tension of a medical drama such as ER. The assessors would write a scenario with the Sim Men and set it up in the room accordingly. The doctors entering the room have 15minutes to make a diagnosis and try to save the sim-patient’s life. I was particularly impressed by how calm they were able to remain under pressure.
Were there times when things went wrong? Did you find the doctors had an emotional buy-in with the Sim Men?
Oh definitely! One doctor who was playing a patients partner in a scenario was holding the sim-person’s hand throughout a scenario in which a life could not be saved, he looked visibly upset. Afterwards I said to him, your acting is incredibly convincing, you looked like it was really happening to you! His response? He’d seen the same scenario happen in real life too many times and felt just as helpless.
Did you ever have to help anyone feel more comfortable in front of the camera?
During the initial stages on The Sim Project I observed several Sim scenarios involving medical staff and students. I introduced myself at the start of each session, provided model release forms and information about the project to people involved. This means I can retain their contact information and can let them know if their image is exhibited or published. People are generally generous and willing to participate. It was staff training essentially, so I just stayed at the very edge of the room and stayed quite, tiptoe-ing around with the camera. As it’s such an intense kind of training they often didn’t even notice I was there. At the end of a scenario, they would suddenly see me and say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re here!’
It helped to reinforce to them just how cool their jobs are, because I was approaching the centres from an artistic point of view. Dr Michael Moneypenny, Director of The Scottish Simulation Centre said that’s exactly why they like non-medics to see the centre. Throughout my residency the Sim Centre staff were great and loved to collaborate and participate. Andy, one of the technicians saved weeks worth of SimBlood samples for me (yes, the mannequins give SimBlood and bleed.) They also loaned me a SimHand for the project, which I've displayed on a plinth in the RSA with the photographs and film. The SimHand adds a sculptural element to the exhibition and allows the audience to engage with the mannequin whilst celebrating the artistry of anatomical objects.
What was your big take-away form the experience, what did you learn?
I learned more than I can summarise here about Simulation, medicine, birth, human factors and more. I learned how to operate a SimMan mannequin from behind the scenes too. Whilst shooting my Sim Scenario filmmaker Michael Prince was filming close-ups for me as I was operating the Sim Man's eyes. I made him fall unconscious, so I was making his eyes close more and more and making him slump a little, making him look like he was passing out!
I couldn’t believe how much was involved with the simulation process. It really was like a science fiction film set. The doctors were writing scripts and the technicians were dressing the SimMen. I also learned that the sim community is a passionate, engaged and enthusiastic one. Such a cool job!
What makes a story compelling to you, why do you choose to work on the subjects you do?
I am incredibly curious and having a camera is like having a license to go to places you wouldn’t normally go and ask questions that you wouldn’t normally ask. I think work reflects your own interests and I definitely have an interest in human rights, community, education and environmental stories. In Menie, it was the human rights of the residents – I gave them a different space to represent themselves that counteracted how they had been represented in the press, which was disgusting. Trump had called them peasants and pigs “living in a slum”. Some press had come to talk to the residents and been friendly, but when the people of Menie read the article, their words had been completely distorted so trust was a huge part of the project for me, something you cannot betray.
Its unfortunate that quite often, what is good for the papers is generally terrible for people / the country and it’s a real shame that kind of journalism exists because it’s not about representing the truth or the people. You did that with your portraits though, you represented them using the truth, which is much more powerful.
Thank you. It was wonderful to get these images into news sections as well as showing the work internationally. The portraits are all accompanied by the Menie residents’ testimonials. The portraits where made through a collaborative process with the residents choosing the source paintings, locations and what they would wear. This empowered them to completely represent themselves.
The local Aberdeen press is so Trump centric, which had to be counteracted. Bringing the work to The Scottish Parliament was also an important part of the project for me. Alex Salmond is MSP for the area yet had never been to the residents’ doorstep. I took the images to his, The Member’s Lobby of The Scottish Parliament, where he had to engage with it.
You should also watch the documentary You’ve Been Trumped by Anthony Baxter, its BBC screening was a milestone which really helped to swing people’s opinion about the people of Menie too.
You can find out more of Alicia’s work by exploring her website: http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/home/ and you can follow her on Twitter @picturemaking
Alicia’s show, The Sim Project, is on at the RSA in Edinburgh from 25th April – 3rd June 2015. Print sales available at RSA sales desk, or by contacting; Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL, Tel: 0131-225-6671
Rusty Squid - Future Art
Rusty Squid are a small team of artists, designers and engineers. They might be best known for their Heart Robot, a robot which has a soft body and simulated heartbeat, who squeezes the hand it holds. Their project Book Hive, an interactive art installation at Bristol University Library, was a honeycomb of books which opened and closed, fluttering their pages in response to the movements made by people interacting with it.
Their work involves projects which merge robotics, computer programming, design and puppetry, creating something that’s both technically and artistically brilliant. As advancements in technology are being made at an increasing pace, what role will artists have to play in the future?
Who better to answer this question than David McGoran, artist, Co-Director of Rusty Squid and Senior Technical Instructor at The Fabrication Centre, University of West England. Due to the nature of Rusty Squid’s work, David is frequently asked to give interviews so we were delighted when he decided to speak to us.
'Technology is what happens to you after the age of 20' (David McGoran)
You’re a very small team with a really mixed skillset, tell us a bit about yourselves.
We are a very small team. We have Rosie, who is on leave for 6months (which is the beauty of our team, that we can take breaks like that), we have Rob, an engineer who’s been with us for 4 years, Helen an interactive designer; Zac, who is very new and is a software designer. We also take on 2 young people every year to work as interns in the workshop.
It’s an interesting choice of name too, how did you come up with it?
Basically we are a group of artists, engineers and designers who were really excited to work together. When we started working together we needed a name, something all-encompassing to describe what it is we do, I’m fairly sure we were using something really embarrassing for ages. Then one of guys, who was really into cephalopods at the time, came up with the thought of using squid and we thought rust, because its human made but it’s also almost organic.
There’s so many diverse disciplines which feed into what we do, so something with multiple legs makes sense. All those different skills working together in one beast.
You describe yourselves as being artists who explore primal emotions with embodied machines, why the combination of emotions with robotics?
The primal emotions are a response to the contemporary fine art world, it’s a rebuking of the status quo. It’s easy to forget who we are, or what we are. We’re just naked apes, essentially. The current Judaeo-Christian ideals that we follow are not a true account of what we are, they actually go against what we are.
There has been so much emphasis on the frontal cortex of our brain, it’s really celebrated, but that part of us came much later in our development. The focus has been on testing computers to be great at chess, when building computers and testing them out that was always what was important, but it’s just maths, right? Computers are great at that! What they’re not so great at is the physicality and movement and all the emotive stuff.
The Fine art world is so focused on the conceptual. We want to tap into the stuff that came before that, the things at the core of our being, the emotions and sensuality, the things we’re great at. The basic human element.
It’s the attraction / repulsion that we’re interested in, the animal side, we want to create a vocabulary with people who fear technology, get them to engage with it on a human level.
There’s a danger now that technologies, such as robotics, are being developed by people who have great scientific minds but they have social skills which are very poor. There needs to be better integration of the human animal with technology, rather than just the logic, there needs to be a re-prioritising.
Combining art, engineering and design is a really interesting approach to what you do. It’s not a usual approach, but each are, essentially, all problem solvers. Tell me a bit about how this works in your team, specifically.
It’s an integration of art, design and engineering. These things are normally defined by themselves. Engineering is about pattern and trial and error. A good engineer predicts the future, what the likely outcome of a system is. A designer does the reverse, they reverse engineer the problem solving process, they start with the outcome that they want to achieve and work towards that. The thing that they all have in common is their willingness to step outside of ‘what’s done.’ There’s more meaning in that. They’re ready to question something; why is it being done this way; why can’t it be done a different way.
Craft is often criticised for doing that, for just following the normal way of doing something. It’s criticised as being taken up by people who don’t want to try making things in a different way.
When I started teaching programming in the art college, it was an act of poetic terrorism. You’d be surprised at the reactions from the students, ‘I don’t do technology I’m an artist!’
That’s annoying because historically artists who have embraced technology have had more staying power. You only have to look at Leonardo Da Vinci to see that stance of 'artists can’t do technology' as being incorrect. Painters can paint with tubes of paint now because of advancements in technology, we don’t have to mix our paint anymore!
Exactly, and that’s why I say, technology is what happens to you after the age of 20, everything else is just brushed aside as being the norm, but it’s like, how do you think this stuff came about?! Look at the tools you’re using, these were the latest technology once and you’re using them now, so why not try another technology? Those are the basic tools of the future.
Engineers do the other thing where they say, ‘Oh I can’t be creative’ they have a limited idea of their abilities too, but there’s no real reason for that. Our identities are always defined by what we’re not.
Which is unhealthy...
Yes. These paradigms are especially unhealthy for the world we’re moving into. We have to get over these somehow, understand that we can do much more than we let ourselves do. It’s limiting.
But it’s comforting too right? The obstructions we put upon ourselves are due to the fact people like to have their field of view narrowed, they feel safe in restriction, in boundaries.
Yes they do and that’s why it’s important to do training and open up people’s minds to the possibilities of doing things a different way. We recognise that and we provide training and Summer Schools to help people learn.
What do you teach at the Summer Schools?
We do stuff with interactives, we show people how to make and build these things using DC motors and actuators and other things. We’re stuck with time and budget restrictions but we do our best within that. We want to re-design technology by using primal, emotional human elements.
Well, most technology is designed in a very boxy specific way, it’s not the best design. Actuators are fitted into the joints of robotics and this makes the movement really weird, it’s not right. If you look at the walking robots they’re gate is all wrong and that’s because it’s not a calculated thing, walking is a controlled fall, the human brain isn’t really doing anything when we’re walking around, because it doesn’t need to. Actuators have been built mostly to turn, like waterwheels and windmills turn. Imagine if we redesigned technology from an emotional or primal point of view and not a calculating point of view. Something softer.
Like the Heart Robot? Like the simulation men used for medical training? In both these cases the emotional connection to a robot, the suspension of disbelief is important, in order to build that connection.
Exactly. The Heart Robot was really interesting, it has a heartbeat, it squeezes your hand and it breathes a little bit, you can feel a little bit of air being expelled from its nostrils. And it reacts to touch as well, like if it got hit it would stiffen up, so much so that the puppeteer couldn’t manoeuvre it and it became hard to move it around, so the interaction had a resonance because it reacted to the way it was treated.
There is another layer of poetry with that, a man-made infant, the idea of procreation and creation and procreating an infant like robot. The thing is that, technologically, mankind is pregnant now and it’s about to give birth, whether it likes it or not! We’ve not realised that yet and we’re not ready. I’m worried because we’re not ready.
What is it that you’re worried about?
Technology is advancing incredibly fast, the amount of work and money being invested into developing Ai and robotics from big companies is rather astounding. But largely it is under the guise to be helpful to humanity.
The speed at which things are coming is scary. We are not prepared for what’s coming. The world we are creating is being driven by programmers and a lot of these people work in a very isolated way, it’s the nature of the job but it means that there is less of an interest in social interaction. This means there will be a big problem with polarisation.
Which is why, when it comes to developing technologies like robotics, the input of artists is so important, to tilt the balance. Are you worried that we’ll have a technocracy?
Yes, exactly. The neo-luddite movement we’re seeing an increase of now, claims to have human values at its core, they idealise nature, it’s a moralist resurgence but it’s the same problem, it’s a polarity.
The animal world is wrapped up in technology. We are technology making animals and technology formed animals. People are dismissive of technology because it’s very simple, or seems very simple but it’s not.
I give talks to engineers which teaches them about interactions with objects, I use a piece of cloth and animate it as a demonstration of passive dynamics and they get really enthusiastic about this. I’ve spoken to them about all the research that’s available on it and they were blown away, asking, can you send us the links, where can we find it? The problem is that so much research that’s being down now is a repeat of the stuff that’s been done already and they don’t know that.
That’s interesting that you picked up on the research element, because that’s speaking to them in their own language. You were connecting with what they understand. Are you, by any chance a Jim Henson fan?
Why do you ask that?
Because Jim Henson used puppets to provoke an emotional connection, because of his work with animatronics and because he was seeking to connect a huge amount of people through one thing. They way his creature shop builds puppets is very organic, they use a skeleton, eyes, it’s a similar thing to what you’re doing.
Yeah, that’s right! I love Jim Henson and Stan Winston and Disney and Pixar, they all manage to do this so well, create a real emotional connection using technology. Which shows that technology needs to be driven by the right values. It took a decade for Pixar to get set up and to make Toy Story and during that time they invented new tools to make animations, they put the time in and came out with something amazing.
Understandably, a lot of your projects are secretive but can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
The company attracts a lot of attention and we get a lot of request to talk to magazines and newspapers, which we just can’t do because we don’t have the time and also, we’re in a really delicate spot in terms of what we do. It can be taken in all sorts of strange ways.
Right now we are in the middle of a big researching process. We are working on creating tools which combine story-boarding and flow-codes, which should hopefully make character building interaction more creative, more primal and more human.
Sally Wilford - Urban Lines and Spaces
There you are, walking through a busy city on a bright sunny day, when you pass an alleyway or a gap in the buildings. The sunlight drops down the side of the concrete monoliths and spills over the pavement. Your eyes are drawn back up the height of the building again to the bright slice of blue sky above. It is this moment that Sally Wilford captures in her paintings of buildings, this breathing space, carved between tower blocks.
Sally took some time out from her busy life as an artist and teacher to talk to Redbird about her work.
Your architectural paintings are very striking, with block colours and often painted from the perspective of looking up at them. Have you always lived in cities? What is it about urban architecture especially that you enjoy transforming into paintings?
Living in London is new to me, I grew up in a village in Yorkshire and from practically every view point I could see hills. In fact, a huge part of my childhood was spent watching my dad paint traditional, romantic landscapes. Three years ago I moved to Tottenham and to be honest, in the beginning, I was a stuck, so I started painting my surroundings. I think it’s the light and line that draw me to urban architecture. Ever since I can remember I’ve had a fascination with the way light falls onto a surface. Like most people, I love to stand and gaze at a beautiful sunset but I’m equally moved by the hard light I see falling on concrete. A shadow cast onto tarmac by a lamppost, the midday light trapped in a doorway or the huge, straight edged shadow cast by an industrial unit are all images that are quite startling to me.
As a starting point I work from a photo but the work usually evolves into something very different by the time it’s complete. My work’s quite process led, I work on board, it fits the subject matter and I need a tough surface that will take a sander. I prepare my board by making a layer using paint and a sanding machine. I struggle with a blank space and this layer eases some of the difficulties when beginning new work. I need to feel like the painting has been started before I put down the first accurate pen marks. I enjoy seeing the straight lines or solid blocks of colour cut through the random paint marks left behind in the bottom layer. Many of my paintings are dominated by solid blocks of flat colour and occasionally I try to adopt a more painterly style but usually revert back.
You also create very strong life drawings. These too have an architectural feel to them, with your use of straight angular outlines and block shading. How does your satisfaction with completing a life drawing compare to that of an architectural painting?
I’ve always dipped in and out of life drawing classes but recently it’s been a regular part of my practice. Initially, I picked it up again because I saw it as an essential discipline that I hoped would help me make the paintings but it’s become something separate. I’m more concerned about line, shape and contrast rather than good likeness and I guess that’s why they bear a strong resemblance to the architectural stuff.
As for satisfaction, it’s difficult to say. A drawing I’m happy with might take me anything between one and forty minutes to complete whereas the paintings might see me battling for three or four weeks. There’s a lot of hair pulling with the paintings and it’s great when you finish one but there’s something wonderfully satisfying about making a drawing in fifteen minutes which you know you can develop further in the studio. I’ve started to make mono prints from my drawings.
Can you tell us a bit about what you enjoy about the mediums you use for your work?
In the past I’ve experimented with quite a bit of 3-D work so I’m open to using anything. I’ve combined some collage with paint recently but it’s not working for me right now. I draw with pen and pencil and my paintings are made using pen, acrylic and mostly oil.
For the most part you keep these two subjects, human form and building architecture, very separate. Hale 2 is one of the few paintings which includes both and even then it is kept to outlines, giving the figure a feeling of transparency or camouflage against the buildings behind. Do you feel that we are lost within our urban environment or do you feel we are much more a part of it, that we are shaped by it?
I think the only way I’ve been able to successfully combine the two is not to paint the human form alongside architecture but to leave evidence of human activity. For example: the red balloons or the mattress. I think including the human form takes away the still, snapshot like quality of the paintings which I like.
Are we shaped by our environment? I don’t paint typical scenes from Yorkshire; streams, woodland and so on but I do remember being fascinated by light falling on chimney pots, the gable end of a house or reflected sunshine on a skirting board. So yes, I’m influenced by my current, urban environment, it’s what I paint but I think the real influence comes from much further back.
Your painting of Boathouse 2 is reminiscent of Ben McLaughlin’s work and Inside Out has a touch of Patrick Caulfield. Can you tell us about your influences and artists you admire?
I admire both McLaughlin and Caulfield and both have been an inspiration. McLaughlin’s work puts me in mind of Edward Hopper who I admired enormously as a young girl. I began looking at Caulfield’s work whilst studying and researching Pop artists like Richard Hamilton, Warhol and Lichtenstein. More recently, Emilio Sanchez’s architectural paintings full of light and shadow.
You also work as an artist in residence at a primary school. There are some wonderful pieces in the online gallery for the Cloud 9 project. Can you tell us a bit about the work you create with children and how does this influence your own artistic practise?
I don’t know that what I teach children influences my own work but I get plenty of opportunity to practice my skills. I constantly demonstrate how to draw to the children and make plans for back drops and wall murals.
I have to follow the curriculum so there are all the usual projects; Greek papier mache pots, Egyptian pyramids, African masks and so on but I try, where I can, to really focus on drawing and painting skills. Because children are impatient they make a drawing or a painting in 20 minutes and they’re done. For the past few years I’ve been running projects where they learn to sustain a piece of work over several weeks. They use mixed media to build up layers in their work, they have sketchbooks in which to plan and develop their ideas. It’s very satisfying when that look of enlightenment appears on their faces when they realise they’ve created something wonderful.
Many artists, have other jobs as well as being artists. It’s a real joy when your ‘other job’ is an artistic, creative one, but there is a balance required to allow you to still create your own work. How do you manage this balance?
For me, a huge part of making art is simply thinking about it, planning it out in your head beforehand. Teaching art to children is pretty full on and certainly doesn’t give you much time to think about your own practice.
I try to treat studio time as ‘real job’ time. I set goals, have a ‘to do’ list, break off for lunch etc. However, more often than not, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just turn on the creative button just because it fits snugly into your Thursday afternoon. There are times when I’m hitting a brick wall and decide to walk away from it for a day or two but I think you have to practice a certain amount of self-discipline or nothing would ever get done.
What are you working on now / next?
I’m still feeling very excited about my life drawings and mono prints. I’ve also made a series of mono prints based on the urban paintings, this is ongoing. I think the next step is to start working with one or two models that I can build a working relationship with. You’re limited to what you can do in class as people have different ideas about what they want.
As for the paintings, I’m having a bit of a love affair with white paint. I’m blocking out sections of work from existing paintings with white paint. It doesn’t feel like I’m painting, it feels more like I’m shaping something, sculpting it. I’m not sure if it’s going to work for me. I don’t think you can decide that until you have a body of work together with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps it’s the beginning of some new 3-D work.
I’m working towards this year’s Open Studios event at Euroart Studios on the 6th June where all artists, including myself, open their doors to the public for the weekend.
You can see more of Sally's work on her website and look out for the Euroart Studios Open Day on 6th June 2015.
Anna Barlow's Delicious Ceramics
Anna Barlow, a ceramicist based in Tottenham, London, creates the most fantastic ceramic ice-cream. Her artwork is both representational, with glazes made to match strawberry sauce and sculptural, with scoops of ice-cream piled impossibly high.
Anna took some time to talk to Redbird about her work and we are so pleased she did!
You have an amazing technical ability with glazes. As I understand it, glazes are a completely different colour when they are applied to how they turn out after firing. Can you tell us a bit about how you work with glazes and how much experimentation work you have gone into to achieve the results you have?
My first year out of university was spent purely experimenting with textures, materials and glazes. It was great to have that time to really push my knowledge to the limit and it has given me a great knowledge base to refer to. It was also a case of using methods that were achievable without using a lot of facilities so I started to apply the glaze in similar ways that you would treat food. The chocolate and strawberry sauce is squirted on as if out of a sauce bottle and I use the firing process to really melt the ice cream glaze down- most ice creams have at least 3 glaze firings to get a very edible melty effect.
Working with clay is a very tactile experience. Can you tell us about the emotional reward of your work?
The best time for me is opening the kiln after a glaze firing- it’s when I get to see if the idea in my head has become an object in reality- or sometimes even better than I hoped it to be!
Another side of the process that I find extremely rewarding is mould making. I find it so fascinating to make a mould of a biscuit and then to use that mould for the first time, it is amazing to see all the detail of crumbs and pattern capture for ever in clay.
The final sculpture is made up of lots of small detailed components like the cherries and fondant flowers, it’s great to spend hours producing these bits. I can get lost in the love of repetition!
Its beautiful the way you have combined shoes and cushions into your ice-cream work in a statement about consuming. It’s reminiscent of Sebastian Errazuriz’s 3D Printed Shoes (12 shoes for 12 lovers.) Our relationship with domestic objects like cushions, shoes and even ice-cream is really quite fleeting and often connected to trying to comfort ourselves. Can you tell us about your plans to develop this theme in your work and what other foods you would consider using?
Yes, I am fascinated by the many roles of consumerism, how it is used for comfort, celebration and indulgence, but it isn't a lasting or a particularly wholesome activity. I am starting a new range that features mirrors. It looks at perceived identities through the consumer choices we make. Often people we know will judge who we are through what we like to buy/wear/eat - phrases like "It's so you" are expressed and, although it can be touching to think that someone has engaged with our taste, it can also be stifling to be categorised by what we have rather than all the other things that make up our personality. It is becoming more of a theme in our lives now that companies like Facebook and Amazon target us with recommendations of what we might next like to buy and they clearly build up a picture of our identities and sell them back to us which I find slightly sinister....
Absolutely, it creates a silo of our tastes, preventing the very thing that made the internet so great in the first place, organic discovery of new things. What do you think about the work of Michelle Wibowo? Her work does rather the opposite of what you do, using consumable produce to replicate an object.
I love this! My other passion is also baking (that is probably obvious!) I have a feeling that the best way to engage with a beautiful object or significant event is to be able to consume it. I think there is something deep within us all that feels that to truly own something is to either destroy it or eat it- a destructive desire - a bit like the need to kick a sand castle... I love her Kate and William cake, to truly experience their marriage I guess you have to eat them as a cake!!
The super gloss finish and rich colours in your work is also reminiscent of the painter Ralph Goings and the food marketing airbrush art of 70’s and 80’s America. Can you tell us about your own artistic influences?
My first influence to make the work that I produce now was Morgan Hall- she made a huge lidded pot with a long fork that fitted inside and called it a marshmallow pot. Apparently the client that bought it actually filled it with marshmallows; it's that sense of fantasy fulfillment that I find so compelling.
I am inspired by beautifully crafted tableware, from old Sevres porcelain to contemporary potters like Sue Binns and Louisa Taylor. I find that a beautifully crafted cup or bowl really celebrates precious everyday moments - I find this attention to detail so important and I hope to bring a similar spirit to my own work.
I have worked alongside Kate Malone for many years. Her ceramics caught my attention when I first started to work with clay at school. Her bright colours and generous forms were (and still are) exciting and engaging to my un-trained eye. I have continued to be increasingly influenced by her approach to clay; to not over handle a form and to let the clay's qualities come through. Also her glaze knowledge and experimentation really influence me to continue the research side of my work and engage with new uses of materials.
Other major inluences are Dirk Stascke, Dale Chihuly, Guiseppe Arcimboldo and Tjalf Sparnaay
For a long time art was used as an avenue for political satire and social commentary, but, considering all the things happening in the world today, I’m not sure how much that is still the case. What do you think? Have artists become less political?
I do agree that there is a lot of decorative, trendy art at the moment- I think this is influenced by the level of consumerism in the art market at present.
On the other hand I believe it is almost impossible to create an object without it being political in some way. It may not reflect world politics but I feel that it is also important to comment on the politics of domestic, family or personal everyday life which reflects the way we live. It is important to me to produce work that is relevant and engaging to everyone whether you are a child or an art expert to raise questions and thoughts on what we have come to accept as the norm.
Your work shows a real understanding of the texture and enjoyment / messiness of ice-cream. So how do you eat your ice-cream? (ie, do you bite the bottom off the cone?)
I used to! But now I eat it like a grown-up; very neatly and carefully, trying not to make a mess...
What is your first food memory from growing up?
My mum used to work in a show home when I was about 3 years old. I remember falling in love with the fake fruit in the kitchen- especially the peaches. When the house was sold my mum brought the fruit home for me and I still have it- and still love it!!
Ewing Paddock - Contemporary Commuter Art
Ewing Paddock is a graphic designer, sculptor, furniture maker and painter. He is probably most well-known for his paintings of people on the London Underground. We had a chance to catch up with him about his work.
You set up an underground set in your studio and invite commuters to model for you, which gets around a number of problems with taking equipment on a crowded tube! Can you tell us a bit about this and how you approached people to ask them to take part?
Making the replica Tube seats was essential for the way I wanted to do the project. It made people understand how serious I was but there was also an element of fun about it. Also, the seats were comfortable and relaxing so my passengers didn’t feel they were posing.
The idea of inviting strangers was essential (ideally I would have included every possible combination of ethnicities, ages, sub-cultures, etc), but as you say a bit daunting. So the first paintings were of people I knew well. When I’d completed a few paintings I made a small folder to give to people I wanted to invite. Nobody was ever offended by being approached – I think most were quite flattered – but not everyone responded.
Were people who you really would’ve liked to have painted who refused?
Memorable ‘escapees’ were a very amorous couple, slightly smashed, and a full-dress Admiral reading a Kindle. But getting recruits was never a problem. Some who got to hear about the project would even invite themselves, which was difficult if I’d never met them.
Each of the underground paintings have their own narrative, the people in your paintings are both models and actors and each painting is like a scene. Did you have a clear idea about what you wanted / who you wanted to have in your paintings before you started making them?
A few of the paintings were deliberate constructions (Adam, Eve, and Grace, Grace, Grace) but mostly they seemed to invent themselves. A good example is Alex, Natasha, Peter. I spotted Peter on the tube one evening in his bowler hat and pinstripes, a normal sight 50 years ago but very unusual nowadays. Luckily he accepted my invitation, and for a several weeks his image sat alone on the canvas waiting for someone to join him. I’d originally intended to include two Australian girls who had been collecting for charity dressed in mad costumes, but they never showed. Some weeks later, as a result of an attempted burglary at the studio, I met Alex (the police officer who came to take statements) and she more or less recruited herself. The gap between Alex and Peter stayed empty for a few more weeks until Natasha, who regularly modelled at the studio between acting jobs, offered herself in her wedding dress, just because it was such a contrast. The image of this wild-but-lost-looking girl caught between the two authority figures seems to demand explanations – has she been rescued, arrested, saved or summoned? – make up your own story.
As time went on I started to use the images in the carriage window – posters, exteriors etc – as a way of adding extra layers of interest. In David, Joe the windows reflect what’s going on in their heads rather than the seats opposite.
What kind of preparation (pre-drawing, iterations, research etc.) do you do for one painting?
At my passenger’s initial visit to the studio I’d photograph some poses and we would agree on one they’d be comfortable with, also what to wear and what stuff to bring – bags, phones etc.
Typically, people could only sit for three sessions of three hours or so, which isn’t long. So my method was to work on the difficult parts first, the portrait and hands, without any preliminary drawing, and also establish overall outline. More reference photos were necessary to make corrections and complete complex bits of clothing when the sittings had finished. The fixed points of the seats, armrests and floor helped a lot with getting proportions right. I often borrowed the sitters’ bags and shoes as I enjoyed painting them from ‘life’ later. In Paul, Janet, Paul I strung up the Financial Times in mid-air to re-create its position in the reference photo.
How much of an influence on your own creative development was the work of your Grandfather, William Paddock?
My Grandfather, William Paddock, died in 1925, so I only know him through the paintings and drawings that remain in the family. He was a genuinely accomplished artist, and although he exhibited at the RA and other places, he worked for most of his life as the senior art master at University College School in Hampstead. I have always been able to draw reasonably well but when I retired from graphics I started life-classes to see if I could somehow develop my talent, sort of in William’s memory. It doesn’t actually make sense! But I hope he’d approve anyway.
What is your first memory of creating art?
Nothing to do with art, but I was one of those kids who’s always making things out of cardboard or match-sticks (we had to make our own fun in those days) – I’ve still got a little knife-scar on my thumb as a souvenir. I have continued making things on and off, pieces of furniture with wood inlay, and window panels of sandblasted glass. So I enjoyed researching and building the Tube seats replica and it definitely added to everyone’s enjoyment of the project.
As well as the underground paintings you have also been working on figurative sculpture. Both the painting and the sculpture work are quite a departure from graduating as a Graphic Designer in 1967, just as the Photorealist Movement was taking shape. How much did photorealism influence how you have developed as an artist?
I remember those Photorealist shows, and the techniques were and are seductive, but I’ve always really preferred ‘painterly’ painters. It’s in my nature to be meticulous, so I feel I have to guard against trying for too much perfection. I’d love to know how someone like Sargent achieved his portraits so quickly, just a sort of genius I guess. Stanley Spencer is another favourite, especially his exceptionally raw self-portrait with Patricia Preece, which seems to anticipate Freud’s work by 20 years. Of course I admire Freud a lot – I was introduced to him and Bacon one evening in Soho in 1968, one of my ‘name-drop’ memories.
The sign of a good portrait is forgetting that what you’re looking at is a painting of a person and instead finding yourself starting to wonder about the sitter. Something enjoyable about your paintings is that they do not appear to be posed and that there is an element of serendipity to them. What is it you enjoy about figurative painting?
Thank you for appreciation of the portraits in the Underground paintings, I worked hard to make them look natural. I think it’s mostly to do with the lack of eye-contact with the figures, they keep their privacy. I began to see that the way people sat, what they did with their hands and feet, was as individual as their features, and that the accidental combinations of hands and limbs made their own visual rhythms within the paintings. This is most obvious in On, Bianca, Charlotte, three friends on a Girl’s Night Out. I found out later that of the three, the two on the left were actually closest, and in retrospect you can see this by their body-language.
There is a touch of Uglow in your life paintings, in respect of using block colours to define shadow and form.
I’m flattered by your Euan Uglow comparison with my life-paintings. They were made at a class at the Working Men’s College in Camden, where speed was of the essence.
I tried to use my experience at the life-class in the Underground paintings, but inevitably the technique got less broad when rendering all the textures of fabrics, leather, plastic etc.
Is the Underground painting project ongoing? What are you working on now?
I’d love a new project but haven’t yet found anything that enthuses me as much as Painting London Underground. I haven’t ruled anything out, even a return underground at some point, but the practical issue of finding an affordable studio has to be resolved first. In the meantime I’m keeping my hand in at life-classes and waiting for something to turn up.
Europeana Fashion Project
The European Fashion network consists of 22 partners from 12 European countries, which represent leading museums, archives, libraries and collections in the fashion domain. The Victoria & Albert Museum is one of these 22 partners, contributing 8,000 digital images and associated catalogue records of post 1900 fashion.
Fashion pieces can be searched by provider, designer, colour, type and technique! Check out the fantastic fashion resource for yourself, you will not be disappointed.
Jerry Gretzinger - The Man on The Map
In December 2013 Jerry Gretzinger travelled from his farm in Michigan to display his life’s work in Summerhall Edinburgh. When I first saw the video on Vimeo of Jerry making his map I was blown away. Here is a man who had spent over 50 years creating his artwork and it isn’t just his life, its his world, one that he calls Ukrania.
Ukrania is a map of a parallel universe piece of artwork, a made up of over 3050 8x10cm panels, each one with its own set of co-ordinates according to where it belongs “otherwise how would I find them?” he said. Due to the size of the map, there are some interesting challenges when it comes to displaying all the panels of it together. There are few venues which would have the wall space to accommodate a piece of work at this scale and so the next suggestion would of course be to put it on the floor.
The last time the map was displayed at MASS MoCA in October 2012 it was laid out on the floor with a walkway around it so that people could explore it from the outside. The problem with that of course is that something with this level of detail needs the viewer to get up close to it in order to appreciate the amount of time and skill that has gone into creating it. Maps especially, are things which we need to really get up close to, so we can understand where we fit in. The ‘You Are Here’ spot.
So Summerhall rather ingeniously not only installed the map panels on the floor but laid sheets of Perspex over the top so that you can walk safely on top of the map. The panels which couldn’t be fitted on the floor spill up the walls instead and from the outside, on first glance, it was like a room sized world had been dropped on the floor and splashed up the walls.
When I arrived at the door of the gallery Jerry and his assistant were discussing how to encourage people to remove their shoes before entering the gallery. I shook his hand while removing my boots and Jerry took me into the middle of the room so we are surrounded by the map. We sat on the floor and examined the panels beneath us, some are checked with ½ inch squares drawn in a grid some have ¼ inch triangles in a similar style. Jerry explained it was an idea he had, to sort of pixelate the map, he planned to lay the grids over each panel, however it was an idea he had tried and then abandoned in preference for retaining the original process. He never removed these grids from any of the panels though.
This is an example of how Jerry uses layering in his work. He is layering up past with present, continually layering ideas, colours and towns on top of one another. He will try a new idea out and even if it doesn’t work he leaves it to become part of the map’s history. Every change is recorded and dated on the back of the panel, ones which have been displayed in exhibitions will be rubber stamped on the back with the gallery name and date. Which means of course that all the panels we were sitting on during the interview, will have been duly stamped with ‘Summerhall’ and Edinburgh will become a physical part of its history.
It’s a kind of artistic archaeology and I told him that. He was pleased, a wry smile broke across his face and he rubbed his chin, “Archaeology! You must be one of if not, the first person to ever have said that to me. I like it. Normally people use that computer game little boys play, Minecraft, I don’t like that comparison, this isn’t a game to me. But Archaeology…” he paused to think about it. “It s a very personal kind of archaeology, I use collage in my panels, old family photographs, personal things to me.” He pointed at a dark panel behind him, “This one has in it a drawing my son did when he was only little. I also ask other artists sometimes to contribute a print to work into the map. It gradually gets covered up with things but that’s just how it works.” The affection Jerry has for his work, the emotional reward he gets from creating his map is obvious as his eyes light up recalling what lies beneath the layers on each panel. It gives another depth to the map, a beautiful reminder that this is not ordinary 2D artwork, its dimensions are more metaphysical, they encapsulate memories, and life experiences, it is a true labour of love.
“You know its funny you should use the term archaeology, I actually worked as an architect on an archaeological dig in the late 60s early 70s.” he told me.
I asked him if his architectural background played a part in the making of the map, did he get excited by advancement in new building techniques, designs and new technology?
“Not the buildings, I don’t really think too much about that, but the advancement in technology has had a massive impact on my art. I mean back in the 80’s the results from photocopying were…” he pauses to screw up his face in disgust before sighing, “…not great.” He laughs. “I keep a log of all my work, scanners have helped me a great deal.” He showed me a piece of A1 poster sized paper, which has scanned colour images of every single panel shrunk down and put in to order, so it’s the whole map on one handy sheet of paper, which without today’s technology would’ve been impossible to see before.
Jerry gave up architecture in 1973, when he moved to a loft in New York, “I wasn’t enjoying my work, I just wanted to make things, so I moved to New York to be a maker, y’know, I wanted to make things and sell them. At the time the only way you could get one of these lofts was if you were an artist. The way to prove you were an artist was to submit your portfolio, or photographs of your work to the Culture Council and they judged whether or not you were creative enough to stay there. So I got the map out and laid it on the floor, there were 800 panels at the time. I got up on a ladder and took photographs and sent them in. At the time I didn’t think of myself as an artist” The Council obviously recognised what he hadn’t realised yet! “I just thought I was getting one over on the council and getting in a loft!” he laughed and a bright glint of mischief sparked in his eyes.
He started his first creation by putting some pieces of material together to make a bag. “I was interested in fabrics. My friends came over and took a look at it, they said, you need to refine it a little, so I did and I made a couple and gave it to a friend of mine who had a shop in Soho, Broadway. Well they just went immediately! So I ended up making bags and selling them for 10 years. The next thing I made was architectural clothing but it was a disaster, you couldn’t wear them! It was like a shirt for a small building.” he laughed, recalling. “But then I started reworking second hand clothes, I gave them to a friend of mine at the time, now my wife, Meg Staley to sell. They sold really well. It was only around 10 years ago I started thinking about the map as art.”
With over 3050 panels, choosing which one to work on would take a day in itself. This is where Jerry’s special stack of playing cards comes in handy. “I first started the map in 1963, just a way of passing the time, doodling with it. I actually put it away in the attic for 20 years before I started working on it again and when I pulled it out there were 800 panels. I would work on one, then put it to the bottom of the pile, work on another, and so forth.” He paused looking suddenly really tired before saying, “It took a long time!”
“So I worked out this system with a deck of playing cards, to help me choose which panel to work on and then gradually I added other directions to the cards, whether to add a river, farm, roads and the number of the suit, say 9 of diamonds, would determine how many of the ½ inch squares the new work would take up, which direction it should go in, clockwise or anticlockwise, what shape and all of these are done from the central point in the panel, the red circles like this one.” He tapped the Perspex to where a tiny red circle on a panel is beneath his finger. “The red circles make it easier to see, because my eyesight isn’t getting any better!” he laughs.
Jerry will shuffle the cards, get his directions and then spend 5 or 6 hours made up of 30 minute intervals broken up by chores and the bits and pieces of everyday normal life, working on the map, “I go back and forth like that all day. I’ve always wondered if maybe I have ADHD or something!” He laughs.
I asked him about emotional reward for creating the panels, he said it brings him great joy and it’s a real blessing. “Sometimes its frustrating because I like to see the towns and cities grown and evolve, I never like to see something get destroyed.” He was talking about the voids.
The void is an instruction for the cards to wipe a space in a panel out, these can and have happened over some of his best loved panels. “I had a hard time recently when a town he had named for a friend of mine, Penfold, had been chosen by the cards to have a void. I called her up and said, I’m so sorry I have to destroy your town!” He started a new town nearby and named it after her instead. “I never cheat though, it has to be organic. The moment you start worrying or preconceiving ideas about what to make is when it gets lost. I sometimes feel like maybe I should do something specific but I stay true to the cards.” Looking around the room I found it so hard to imagine being able to paint over any of it. He assures me that when a void does come up he copies and then archives the original so as not to lose it entirely.
Jerry told me he enjoys the painting aspect of the work the most these days, from mixing the paint to putting it onto the panel. It was hard for him to be away from his studio for the two weeks he spent in Edinburgh setting up the exhibition. “I do feel a little frustrated to be away from my studio. The last exhibition at MASS MoCA they moved my studio to beside that gallery, the idea being that people could see me working. Of course people wanted to talk to me and I loved that but it meant I didn’t get a lot of work done, I got some done but not a lot.”
As I got up to leave Jerry talked about the change in colours over the years, from quite bright to garish palette, to now more these roses, mauves, more muted tones.” Another part of the layers of personal history encased within his map. I took his photograph beside his then current favourite part of the map and as I’m pulling my boots back on I ask him, so does he now feel like he’s an artist? He answers in his dry American accent, “I think of myself as more of a designer.”
Hidden Door Festival, 22nd - 30th May, Edinburgh
Coming soon to Edinburgh's catacombs, the alternative art festival, Hidden Door. The festival that began as a one off maverick art festival is now just about to celebrate its 5th birthday. It will feature performance art, installations and there will be a giant illustration mural being created during the festival by the Too Much Fun Club. And that's not the only reason to go, its worth checking it out for the innovative use of the city's underground catacombs and tunnels. Redbird will be interviewing, Michele Marcoux, one of the installation artists featured at Hidden Door and this will be posted here soon. In the meantime, for more information on Hidden Door, please check out their blog: http://hiddendoorblog.org/
We catch up with Michele Marcoux, one of the featured artists at the Hidden Door Festival.