Monday, 22 September 2014

Sculpture Workshop

Spent the day happy as Larry, assembling pieces of glass and wood with body filler to make a Peter Lanyon-style landscape sculpture, and getting to grips with some welding.

Here's the fabulous workshop space, hidden away in a tenement back court.  Apparently the building used to be a bakery in Victorian times.

 
Indeed, so busy was I welding away, that I was completely unaware of the police siege outside, looking for a dangerous escaped prisoner...!

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Bit of A Clear Out

I thought that today would be a good time to have a bit of a clear out in the studio.

Over the 25 years that I've been attending Glasgow School of Art for CPD, I've accumulated quite a considerable amount of work, and it's all quite large.  So I've decided it's time to take it to the tip, as it's piled as high as an elephant's eye.

I reckon that there must be at least 10,000 items of life drawings, paintings, sketches, collages and so on - probably more.  So that's going to be a whole lot of shredding!


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Well, it's a funny old day...

...and it feels like it's taken a lifetime to get here.  It's Referendum Day.

I was at the polling station before 7am this morning to join the queue to vote.  Everyone was very quiet and orderly.  I took my son with me to the polling station so we could make the marks together in the poll booth, because This is History.  Not many days are History.

Yesterday, I'd actually got quite upset thinking about finally going in to vote today.  After all that's gone before, it was a weird day, like a breath exhaled, no more to be said, the day before something huge that you couldn't quite describe - a funeral or a birth.  Two years of thinking about it, reading everything, listening to every debate on television, talking about it, speaking to people both north and south of the border, reading reports, ploughing through EU directives, pamphlets, literature, everything I could get my hands on or find to test my initial gut-reaction hypothesis.  Because it's very, very important to be sure and to question, to examine your own ideas and vision of what independence means, of what living the status quo means for everyone.  All the shouting and the haranging, and the relentless negative onslaught of the press and politicians, first threatening and chastising, then pleading and cajolling, to the extent where you felt like some sort of domestic violence victim.  It's been very, very intense, very personal.

What I have been very very struck with is how dedicated everyone has been to taking this process seriously, to informing themselves.  I've heard it said that the referendum was all a terrible waste of money which could be better spent on other things.  But this process has empowered people.  It has moved Scots away from blindly accepting the word of politicians, and voting simply because something has a one word label such as 'Labour' or 'Conservative' or whatever.  It has empowered and included pretty much everyone, people who have never been involved in the political process before.  It has asked them to think about what they want for themselves, their future, what kind of a society they want, to question and discuss not merely everyday money or corporate finance, but much much bigger ideas and values of democracy and social justice, and everyone has been equal in that questioning and that process.  That's an amazing thing to have given a nation.  You can't buy that kind of empowerment or political self-education.  It's made me proud to see it in action.

It's been such a learning curve, and that's why people have found it so very, very hard.  It hasn't happened before.  It's hard to put a finger on the point at which you realised it had begin to happen.  

How on earth did anyone make a considered choice before, with no internet or mass communication or televisions?  Because then, party politics came with neat labels.  Left and right, all parcelled up, disseminated from the top down, ready to consume. 

But this referendum is unlike anything else.  It's made me feel physically sick with the stress of it all.  You have to identify and choose your own values and parameters, and weigh it all up, become informed, set yourself your own course of study, your own journey.  Where do you want the journey to take you?  

That's why it's so personal, why you can't tell anyone else what to choose and you must respect their opinion.  I personally feel that it is a moral decision which I must be able to justify theoretically to my descendents in generations to come.  "So let's get this straight grandma - you chose to keep the weapons of mass destruction for what reason exactly?"  So any concerns over my pensions, money or my personal gain or loss or the difficulties or hardships I may personally face are irrelevant, because no-one will give a hoot about that in a hundred or two hundred years time.  It's only money and it's merely time.  This decision is long term, far far longer than me, so it has to be about big ideas of ambition and vision and goals and ideas, things bigger and more permanent than intransigent politicians or my bank account.  A concept and an ideal lasts longer than an individual.  If I considered it to be about myself, I would feel I was being myopic and solopsistically selfish.  So I have to say that after all the questioning and testing of my initial gut-reaction hypothesis, my decision still resoundingly stands.

And in the end,  it all boils down to two marks on a slip of paper.  Out of all the marks you ever make as an artist, those two are the most meaningful, and carry with them huge possibilities and consequences.

Today, it's very very quiet, as if no-one quite knows what to do.  All the sound and the noise and the argument has suddenly become a big, palpable silence, like the silence in the poll booth.  It's very odd. 




Wednesday, 17 September 2014

..and the answer is....

...Bernini, of course.

Here's his 1622 masterpiece from the Borghese Gallery in Rome, The Rape of Proserpina.



Do you know how old he was when he made this?  24.  Twenty blinking four!!  Yes, here's the young whipper-snapper himself, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in a self-portrait done the year after this statue.
 

Here's a guy who cranked sculpting up to 11 and added psycholigical tension, drama, reality and theatre into a mind-blowing baroque experience unlike anything that had gone before.  Before, satuary was usually flat in niches, upright saints, two dimensional representations lacking in life and movement.  Bernini lit the fuse and stood well back. 

Here's his Ecstacy of Saint Teresa of 1651.  Itr's theatre in the round.

When you go to the Cornaro Chapel, you are faced with a piece of statuary unlike any other religious statue before or probably since.  
Saint Teresa writhes about on a convulsing, sensual cloud, her heart about to be pierced by a real golden arrow.  Gold beams shoots down from above, lit by a real light source of coloured light from a small stained glass window above.  Three dimensional painted statues of the Cornaro family strain out from opera boxes at the side to look at the scene, in the same space as you, the viewer are, whilst below, mosaic skeletons dance on the floor on which you stand.  
It's a multi-sensory, multi-media overload, as Bernini throws everything he had into the mix - sculpted light, real hidden light, colour, 20 different sorts of marble, gilt, metal, recessive space...and then he messes with your head as to what is real, what is divine, what is the sacred space or the ordinary world, what is sculpted, what is illusion, what is profane, what is heaven or earth, and where does one end and the other begin?  It's mind-bogglingly modern stuff.
In The Rape of Proserpina, the marble has a surface so finely modelled that it looks like real, living skin.  Proserpina even has tears rolling down her cheek..  The ringlets of her hair fly outwards, as if you could run your fingers through them, and the dog's open mouth is hollowed so deeply that it's dark shadows seem to exude dog-breath from deep within it.  It seems to be a huge mass of different weights, textures, and substances in motion, with a living core.  And yet it's all just one piece of marble.

A marble like this is, of course, made by chipping away at a large block.  You have to imagine what is within and then take away material to reveal what is inside, thinking in three dimensions, in the round.

Yesterday's images were life-size models for Bernini's statues of angles, and he made these models from objects such as bundles of hay and sticks, bound to a metal armiture and covered with plaster.  The plaster could be added to, or cut back.This 'adding' technique allows you to build and to feel the inside of a figure, and you can move it about and twist it and change it, seeing the way the light plays on it, the chiaroscuro that it throws up.  It's a very visceral way of sculpting, as you are playing around with the guts of a figure, learning how it works and letting it dictate to you how it can become its own object.

Once you've understood the model, then you look for the piece of marble within which that figure lies, and the process then starts of releasing it.  No room for mistakes....

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Name That Sculptor


 

Have a look a bit more closely as to the way it's put together, with its array of found objects.  What's in there - sticks, plaster, concrete, wire, stone, rope?  It's exciting and tactile and visceral.

Who makes sculpture like this?


Monday, 15 September 2014

Aurora Borealis over Northern Ireland

There have been some amazing photos taken this weekend of the Northern Lights over the skies of some places which are very, very familiar to me - the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland. (I've been lucky enough to see the aurora borealis myself twice - once in a flight over Greenland, and once on the M8 coming back from Edinburgh - slightly less romantic!)

Here's one, of the colours in the night sky over the teashop at the harbour at Ballintoy on the Antrim Coast - I was there only the other week!

(c) Stephen Wallace

And here is Dunluce Castle - doesn't it look amazing?  When you're there looking out along the Antrim coast, you can see down to the right towards the tip of Southern Ireland, and then out over the sea towards mainland Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre, and the islands of Islay and Jura (on a clear day).

(c) Alastair Hamill

Coincidentally, I've been working today on some paintings of Fair Head, which is a little further along the coast at Ballycastle.  When I was there, the hedgerows were full of flowering fuschia, which is peculiar to that part of the coastline.


I'll let you see the painting when I've finished!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Today on the Streets of Glasgow

At the start of what will be a defining week in the history of our country, I decided to take my son into town to see democracy in action on the streets.  Always best to see history for yourself.

On the bus on the way in to town, we looked out for Yes and No posters in windows.  We saw only 5 No posters.  We saw a large Yes group at Queens Park, being tooted at by passing cars, plus a Yes volunteers shop.

In town, we walked down Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, George Square and Sauchiehall Street.  Not having met a No supporter yet, I was keen to find someone to talk to and get some of their leaflets, and hopefully some sort of more detailed book or pamphlet of information which went beyond the leaflet which had come through my door saying 'we'll have the best of both worlds' accompanied by a graphs with dramatic plunging lines but no numbers on the x and y axis.  Surely, with something this important, that wasn't too much to ask.

But even looking keenly, it was hard to find anyone from the No side at all.

There were any number of stands with various groups - Radical Independence, Greens for Yes, Yes groups for the NHS, women, anti-nuclear, business and so on.  There were saltires flying, people wearing saltires, and everyone, but everyone, had Yes badges.  

No-one was pushy or accosted me with anything, but everyone was friendly when I approached and spoke to them.  I saw some people having quite animated debates in the street, but certainly no raised voices or shouting.  There were pens, badges, hats, loads of literature from a leaflet to a book, and plenty of people willing to engage and discuss the contents.  It was actually very heartening and uplifting to see so many people out on the streets, actually fired up with enthusiasm, speaking passionately about their beliefs.

Wish Tree, Buchanan Street, Glasgow (c) Photograph Libby Brooks

Eventually, I did find a No person.  "Madam, can I put this on you?" offered the young man tentatively, trying to put a No Thanks sticker on my left breast.  The right one already had a Yes sticker.  Presumably that implied my cleavage was undecided.  I asked if he had any booklets or information he could give me.  He didn't, and then gave up with the sticker and walked off.

Now, in the polls, the No's are slightly ahead.  There are around 10% undecided,  So one in 10 of everyone - theoretically - walking past in Buchanan Street of voting age is a potential new vote for your side, whatever side that is, and every vote counts.

So I was actually genuinely taken aback that there wasn't an equal number of Yes's and No's.  Where on earth are the No's?  Why weren't you out there wearing your T-shirts, with booklets and badges and Union Jacks, shouting the pride in the UK from the rooftops?  Why aren't you out there fighting with the same passion and enthusiasm as the Yes folk?  Why weren't there huge numbers of groups, fired up with their years of being Better Together, out there singing the praises of the Union on the streets?  Bankers Together, Capitalists for the Union, Pensioners for the Empire... I've no idea what, but being serious, why weren't there any sort of groups like the Yes groups?   On the television it always looks like the No folk are packing the streets, fighting one on one with the Yes.  The reality is very very different.

I did see, on close inspection, a handful of people with No badges.  They weren't getting abuse or being intimidated, and neither were the No people with the stickers that I did manage to find.  In fact, contrary to what you might read, I haven't heard abuse of any sort in the 2 years or so of the campaign.  

So if it's 50-50, where is all the No stuff??  Why weren't you out there fighting for the votes?  Why weren't you giving me your vision of the future?

There were a number of tourists excitedly taking photos, and people with suitcases who had obviously just arrived in Glasgow.  If it was me arriving as a stranger, I would draw the conclusion that it looked like a 90% pro-independence win.  It was a complete eye-opener.

Now, I guess the explanation for this is that Buchanan Street isn't a representative sample of the voting population.  The ones out there on the street are the youngest, most energetic and enthused voters for change, whilst the elderly conservative No's are the invisible ones putting their feet up at home with a nice cup of tea.  And that's it's easier to get fired up for a vision of future which has a goal, whether it be a greener, fairer, nuclear-free or socially more just goal, rather than a vision of the future where everything is just the same, thank you.  But what kind of stagnant backwater is that for our grandchildren?

Now, I don't know what's going to happen on the 18th of September  And I certainly don't know what the 19th is going to be like.  Because that's all in the future, and the future, whether Yes or No, is chocablock full of risks, the unknown, the uncertain, and the totally unexpected.  

No-one ever knows all the answers or all the risks or all the facts, so there comes a point where you can't actually base your decision on facts, because the facts simply aren't there.  Most of the facts haven't even happened yet.  They're in the future.  One path is as risky as the other.

So there comes a point where you can't go with logic and your head, you just have to go with your instinct and your heart.  That's what it's there for.  Trust it.

So that's my eyewitness on history, happening on my doorstep.  Our fate, it seems, is in the hands of the silent - very, very silent - majority.  

Or is it?