Notes on works
Artist’s notes on a selection of individual works. These are not intended to be interpretation notes, but rather more sharing a personal record of background information, a reminder of something which may have informed a particular piece, or occasionally some of the thought processes behind a work or group of works.
A drawing of a room, 47.244m3
Exploring the boundaries between two and three dimensions is a core element of my practice. At the time I had been experimenting with methodologies which integrate the fourth dimension into drawing; not just time taken, or the inevitable passage of time, but as a critical element.
I hypothesised that a housefly can define any enclosed space with absolute precision, given sufficient time: the height, the width, and length; as well as all nuances of contour and impediment, simply by continually flying back and forth and making random contact with the surfaces of that space. It will continue to do this until it leaves through an opening, or dies.
For three consecutive days, in July 2010, the external door to a room was left open during the morning and afternoon, allowing flies free passage. In the evening of each day the door was closed, and all the flies remaining within the room were killed and collected in a jar. At the end of the third day the process was stopped. The volume of flies in the jar was measured, and estimated at (coincidentally) approximately one cubic inch. The flies were then built up in layers, in a 2.5 cm x 2.5 cm rectangle, until all were incorporated.
The flies are a tangible record of the formation of an impression of the space, and therefore a drawing of it. The assembled shape is merely a clue.
This experimental drawing takes the notion of the transformation of an object from three dimensions to two, and then back into three dimensions (animal > hide > object). The drawing is suspended by the same thread which stitches the sides together. The work suggests a chrysalis, further alluding to stages of transformation and hinting at the passage of time, another recurring theme in my work.
The title ‘Frightening Albert’ comes from the notorious John B Watson experiments of 1920 in which a 9-month-old child, given the pseudonym Albert for the purposes of the exercise, was exposed to a series of experiments to support Watson’s hypothesis of stimulus response and conditioning.
This small work formed part of the eponymous solo exhibition at WW Gallery in Hatton Garden and the ideas behind it have continued to play a significant role in my practice.
One day when I was little (I think around age 8), I went to a friend’s house. It must have been a weekend, and it was sunny. His father was watching a cowboy film on a black and white TV, and he had the curtains drawn to cut the glare from the sun. That peculiar, particular, quality of light. However, the reason the incident stuck in my mind for such a long time is this:
There was a deep blue gel, similar to a photographic filter, covering the TV screen. I recall that it was a proprietary item rather than home-made, with rubber suckers at the corners to hold it in place. I remember being puzzled by this thing, and I asked my friend’s father what it was for: without turning his eyes from the TV, he answered “It makes it colour.” I didn’t say anything else after that. At first I assumed that by means of some technical miracle this device transformed the black-and-white image into Glorious Technicolor and I hadn’t noticed. But no. It was just bathed in blue. I remained puzzled.
I wondered about this often since. Did he ‘see’ a full colour image, or did he know it was blue? Had he been hoodwinked by some advertisement promising the earth?
This was the seed of the idea. I developed this further, and although I don’t want to give too much away, it became what I was hinting at when I mentioned invented principles and ideas, deception and illusion when talking about other areas within my work. For example, the early Hollywood presentation of ‘cowboys and indians’ and everything else the studios touched, how it was all manufactured and engineered, how this affected our perception, and how far removed it all was from reality. This extends out to almost all areas of that which informs our society.
I wanted to capture something of the strange ‘sense’ of that moment all those years ago. In some ways I can now see that this may have been a turning point in my personal development. Grown-ups aren’t infallible. So much of our world was (and still is) seen through a fug of misunderstanding and misinformation, intentional and otherwise.
Notions of ‘Truth’, and the parameters which define it, is a recurring theme in my work. I am interested in the notion that ‘truth’ can be arbitrary, or little more than the outcome of a series of agreed conventions. The more frequent and widespread this normalcy, the less it is likely to be questioned.
At the end of 2010 I found a tiny slip of paper which is the focus of this work. The paper, written in arabic, was washed up on the beach where I walk my dog.
I used social media – Facebook, Twitter etc. – to try to find out the meaning of what was contained in the message, and the title ‘Ghost’ is a reference to something in one of the responses I received. Some of the responses contradicted others, one even suggested that I should burn the paper.
It eventually transpired that the message was a form of prayer. For the original sender there is a profound emotional investment in the message, as well as for those who generously took the trouble to contact me. It was important to me not simply to acknowledge this, but to reflect it in the work.
The work partially involves the viewer being able to move around the piece and to view it from a constantly shifting point of view.
A reliquary of conceits (tape drawing)
I had searched – for a long, long time – for the perfect means of making the smallest possible gesture to create a drawing with greater significance than the mark itself.
Many years ago, during my previous incarnation as a graphic designer, I worked in Leeds. The Yorkshire Ripper was still at large at the time, and an extensive media campaign was being conducted, centred around the ‘Ripper Tape’ and letters.
This is a genuine original cassette tape of the radio ad for the campaign, given to me by a friend who worked at the agency that produced it. He had a drawer full of these, now redundant once Sutcliffe was caught and ‘Wearside Jack’ was found to be a hoaxer. Its sinister contents and the damage and delay caused by the false trail are now part of recent history. The work gives clues: the typewritten label naming the client and date, the astonishing incongruity of the studio logo.
I’m happy just to dance with you
A series of small drawings made from footage of 1955 US nuclear tests designed to assess the effects of the atomic bomb on domestic buildings.
‘Six degrees’ is a compilation of posts and comments, repeated verbatim, gathered from social media such as YouTube and Twitter.
These are hand-made facsimiles, in miniature, of some of my father’s tools. He was a carpenter and died some years ago. I made the tools to be as authentic as possible, using the same materials and construction methods as the full-sized article. The relationship between my father and I was much less straightforward than the artifacts might suggest, and this piece is a way of probing the variation between memories and reality. This is only partly reflected in the objects themselves; the dichotomy is drawn, in the air, with the thread from which the tools are suspended.
The piece is about many different kinds of obsession, but it is equally about a personal search for other approaches to drawing.
It hints of many things, including religious relics, osteomancy, astrological symbols, compulsive behaviours, tribal tattoos, obsessive relationships. The repetitive mark-making extends onto the unseen areas of the bones, and in the spirit of obsession I elected to turn granite into powder with a drill and a masonry bit.
The work represents an abstract series of metaphors, in which I sought to consider the process of drawing. Beyond the marks made on the bones, the bones themselves – and the dust – are also symbolic and graphic marks. To display the piece, first the dust must be placed, then the bones, to a precise plan. This repeated ritual emphasises the obsession, and also thus the drawing is partially re-made.
Message to a previous self (Time Machine)
Message to a previous self (Time Machine) contains a message in the form of a small drawing hidden inside one of the ‘controls’. I felt that if it were possible to build a time machine, ancient oak would be the perfect material.
Colin of Alaska
This is an experimental art project centred on the blog of the fictitious character Colin d’Alaska. Using the starting point of pre-existing reject family snapshots, brand new narratives transform these images into the basis for Colin’s story.
Colin’s everyday life is simultaneously mundane and surreal, and Colin clearly doesn’t quite understand the world. Whilst it is frequently comedic, ambiguity and commentary emerge from behind the humour.
“I recently expanded my practice into the internet with the creation of the fictitious character Colin d’Alaska. At once banal, surreal, and tragi-comic, his blog becomes a commentary on society writ small, voiced by someone who is resolutely but naively optimistic against the background of a burgeoning dystopia.”.
Colin of Alaska
‘Il voce’ uses the same processes and techniques used in religious sculpture, particularly Spanish, dating from the 16th century and still practiced today. The figures are hand carved from solid lime wood and painted (‘encarnaciones’) on a gesso ground.
‘Dust’ is a group of four works, presented as a single piece, which combines very small and detailed original pencil drawings with assemblages of sourced found objects.
The drawings are based on Hollywood publicity photographs and show former stars who, for various reasons, were dropped by the studios. In some cases the actors were huge stars in their time, but victim to the enormous power of the industry, fell into obscurity as quickly as they ascended to stardom. These great idols were never more than a commodity and could be made, or destroyed, on a whim. Many were blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunts; stars of silent movies did not survive the transition to talkies; some had a reputation of being ‘difficult to handle’ through ego, drugs or alcohol; some were carefully nurtured by a studio but never got the platform their abilities warranted; some were groomed simply to exploit a physical resemblance to another studio’s box-office pull.
The work is intended to be ambiguous. It aims to highlight parallels, not just with the contemporary celebrity, but with the everyday obstacles, events and external influences faced by ordinary people. The group could be a shrine to the celebrity or a handful of family snapshots. The objects over the eyes reflect, in part, the actor’s on-screen persona as well as something of the circumstances surrounding the end of their career. These objects also refer to the practice of placing coins over the eyes of the dead to prevent the corpse looking for souls to accompany the departing spirit into oblivion.