Saturday, 14 June 2008

Artistic Influences

One of the difficult elements in practicing craft relates to influences vs. copying. The statement that "nothing under the sun is new" is clearly not true, or there would be no advances. Each advance is built on earlier work, of course (with the occasional brilliant exception). I have often seen people claim a particular way of working as theirs, as in "no one else is allowed to do this". It seems to me that techniques, unless patented, are free for others to make use of in their expression. However their expression is their own, can be copyrighted, and should not be copied.
To make these ramblings specific, I need to give you my response to a visit to Joe Smith's garden during the Spring Fling Festival. Joe has a beautiful garden that is well tended and has some of his wonderful slate sculptures in it.

Although this photograph does not do justice to the house, you can see a few of the sculptures at the front and in the gable end of the house.

The garden has a number of the classical shapes as well as other sculptures. This picture shows a view of part of the garden, as well as what a nice day it was.

Joe had a tent at the back of the garden with information about his work, the Spring Fling, and a little set up showing the tools, materials, and beginnings of a sculpture. Now the relevance of this to artistic influence is how you take an idea into another medium. When I saw the work method, my immediate reaction was that I have a lot of glass shards, called cullet. These could be used in a similar way to Joe's work with the slate.

So I saw a technique that has a long lineage. As far as I can see, Joe is using a dry stone walling technique that is ancient. But he is creating a sculptural object, rather than a wall or fence. So I thought about things for a while, maybe trying to justify my desire to try out the building up of a shape from thin pieces. For me, the translucency that could be achieved from using glass was an attraction. It has the appeal of sculptural depth that I cannot normally achieve with fusing. It could have a different feel (both visual and tactile) than cast glass. It is not a single piece and yet it is a whole.

So I began work. As I continued up several layers, I began to think of the brochs in Glenelg (Images 13-18 especially). There are of course brochs all over the north west of Scotland and Orkney and Shetland have the most famous and best preserved. But Glenelg was the place I first experienced these amazing iron age structures. Their excellent construction is shown by the fact that after thousands of years they still stand. They speak to me of a completely different kind of life than I normally think of for Britons of the time of Christ.

So this object began to be an exploration of history and antiquity. This is not normally an area that I investigate, although my university degree is in History. This object became a comment on how through looking at history we are searching for an identity. We look at the past to compare ourselves and in looking reflect ourselves onto the past. So when we look into the past do we just see ourselves?

This led to building a small broch-like shape with a mirrored top. The piece will have an intensely coloured shape in the bottom that will glow faintly through the glass shards, inviting the viewer to look within the piece and so have their face reflected in facets.

I trust that Joe Smith will not be insulted, or feel copied. He certainly needs acknowledgement in this development though.

Spring Fling

This year we decided to visit the "Spring Fling" properly and stay for a few days in the area. Spring Fling is a three day event organised for studios in the south west of Scotland. The studios are selected by the organisers. A very professional brochure is published to guide you round the studios and sights of the area. We visited a number of studios during our two day stay in Kirkcudbright.

We visited a number of studios, but one or two we missed as the directions assume you are traveling the marked routes and in a particular direction. I suppose some assumptions have to be made, and it would be difficult to provide a map in addition to the directions for each studio without making the publication cluttered and pedestrian. I should have printed off maps from the mapping sites, as each studio gives its full postal address. We did find quite a few, and did enjoy the countryside.

Among the studios we visited were: Judith Gregson who does delightful carvings of plant forms into and on sandstone. The scale ranges from table top to monumental. For those of you who like to have multimedia presentations and demonstrations, Adam Booth at Piper's Forge is a treat. As his work is so large (generally) most of the time spent with him is viewing a well presented show of his work in progress and installed. At the end of the visuals, he demonstrates the way he works by producing a leaf. If you are lucky you can walk away with one of these as a gift.

We went to Glencaple to visit two artists, one of whom I came into contact through "Cutting Edge" a travelling exhibition organised by the National Museums of Scotland in which we were both represented. Mark Devlin is a furniture maker of significant inventiveness. We saw a piece of furniture and are now in the process of commissioning a similar one. At the same venue was William Spurway whose landscapes captivated us. So much that we bought a painting of two winter oaks. He also had displayed a large lively drawing of a bull that showed a very different side to his work.

Among other studios we visited there were more highlights: Lizzie Farey produces sculptural work in basketry. The forms and shapes she uses are very attractive to me, and I bought one wall piece. If I could have afforded it, I would have bought a group of three. Her studio is in a farmstead, using, along with other artists, the barns and sheds converted to studios with wood burning stoves for warmth. Among those working there is Hanna McAndrew who works with an amber to black range of glazes. Again a purchase could not be resisted.

Another significant visit for me was to Joe Smith's garden. The range of slate sculptures just in his garden is amazing. I will tell more about this visit and influence later.

Of course I did have to visit some glass studios. The first of these that I visited was Amanda Simmons. The front rooms of her house were turned into a bright open exhibition space showing a wide range of her work and descriptions with photographs of various community projects. Her studio was open too. This showed just how much work is required to prepare for these three days. Going round her studio made me think of how messy my studio is, because everything was neatly tidied away. Work surfaces were clean and uncluttered, materials were stored and labeled, the floor was almost spotless.

One of the reasons for going to the studios was to get ideas of how I might deal with my studio for the WASPS Open Studios in the Autumn (first weekend of October, if you are planning to come). There is a lot of work needed to get the studio into shape if you are going to use it as a display place. Some people we went to see had a separate permanent display area or place, but others just had to clean up. Some had spent the whole of the week preparing for the weekend - clearing up, finding other storage places, painting, etc. So I have to do something more than deciding on Friday night how things will be displayed on Saturday and Sunday. This was good for me.

The other glass studio I visited is a must for entertainment and education. Ed Igelhart is a showman, philosopher and entertainer in addition to his skills as a lamp worker. If you are in the area, you must make contact to see if you can visit. He sat in his big open tepee-like tent making objects and talking to the audience. When there were no questions, he would begin on a subject that came to mind whether it might be the current primaries for the USA presidential election, or his explanation of the periodical table for elements through a kind of sex education programme. He was always entertaining and informative. You could spend more time at his studio than all the others put together.

You can see I had a great time at the spring fling, and the hotel in Kirkcubright wasn't bad either. If you look at the Kirkcubright site, you will see that there is an Autumn crafts trail around the town.

Monday, 2 June 2008

SGS exhibition

The Scottish Glass Society annual exhibition is to be held from 18 August to 11 September this year at the Peter Potter Gallery, Haddington, near Edinburgh. The submission date has come and I submitted three pieces for consideration:

"Australian Bloom" Sifted glass powders on a fused disk of 400mm, slumped.

"Briar Rose" 200mm bowl with sifted powders and frit fused and slumped.

"Broch I" Cold bonded glass and mirror, 230mm dia, 200mm high

I await the selection process to learn which, if any of these will be accepted. Whether I get in or not, the exhibition is always a good one to visit to see the range of work being done by glass artists in Scotland.

Bullseye glass delivery

I came back from Perth and the Future Focus conference to collect a shipment of glass from Bullseye.

It had been a while since I ordered glass from Bullseye so this delivery was one ton in weight. I collected the van from the car hire place and went to the airport freight terminal. The delivery charge by DHL or any other company is very high - in this case £150 for a four mile trip.

My first shock was how much the delivery charges have risen with the rise in jet fuel costs. The second shock came only after I opened the top of the first case. Much of the glass was broken.

The part of the case revealed here was against the pallet truck when I signed for it. I did not inspect the cases further until I began to unload the glass. It is clear that the forks have impacted the bottom of the crate rather than going under it.

The force of impact can be seen by how much the wood has been moved inward. The impact left only 26 out of 66 sheets intact. This is disappointing, as I have had no previous difficulty with DHL in air freighting glass from Oregon to Glasgow. The company so far seems to be dealing with the insurance, with me providing the evidence. I guess I will have to see how things progress.

Growing audiences for craft

As soon As I got back from London, I went to the Birnham Institue near Perth, to attend a day conference on developing audiences for craft. This was organised by The Audience Business who have put some of the information from the meeting on their website under the title Future Focus.

Among the models for developing craft promotion and sales is the one for the fine art market. This relies on scarcity. The scarcity is created by the gallery system of creating an environment where the prospective purchasers buy in or subscribe to the values promoted by the galleries, educationalists and critics. It seems to me that crafts are a bit more democratic than this model. I admit that there is more chaos than system in the current craft market, but it is distinctly different from another proposed model - the antiques market.

The art market may be considered elitist. I don't think I would like to see the craft market move in that direction. But I don't see why a populist art form has to be unorganised. I would like to see some one develop a research project to develop a model for crafts in an electronic age. We do need much more critical writing about craft and more galleries that devote some of their energies toward promoting and selling craft.

Of course, I should admit an interest. I attended this conference both as a maker and in my other guise as chairman of craftscotland. This is currently a web-site devoted to the promotion of quality Scottish craft. It is open to all working in Scotland to become members of this site, and everyone can use it to get information about artists, events, and resources. You can sign up to receive monthly e-mails on current news and developments in craft.

Visit to glass exhibition

After the WASPS studios show, I packed up and went to London the next day to babysit for my daughter who came to Nairn for a birthday celebration and pampering with friends.

While there I went to the London Glassblowing Studio in the Leathermarket near Blackfriars train station. If you are passing there is always a display of glass in the gallery and often you can view people blowing glass. I went to see the Cohesion show called Blast!2008. This is a show of kiln formed work, which is unusal for the LGBS as they mostly show blown glass. It was also a bit odd. The Cohesion network is based in north east England, and I went from Glasgow to London to see it! Have a look at the items in the show. There is a lot of interesting stuff being done.

Mahler Symphony no.6

This is the painting that I spent the money I didn't earn as the WASPS studio sale. It is presently hanging in a temporary space in the spare bedroom.

Studio Sale

It has been a busy few weeks, so I haven't met my schedule for writing. I have been on three visits/conferences (more later) , done one sale, completed first part of a large installation and got things ready for the Scottish Glass Society exhibition.

First things first. The Parade Artists show was held on the second weekend of May. About 25 artists participated in this first co-operative show. We have learned a number of lessons about marketing and making the show and event that people enjoy and want to come back to. We are committed to about 4 shows a year and are beginning to do the marketing work for the next one.

As you can guess from this, the show was not really well attended, but we all had a number of interesting conversations with various visitors which may lead on to other things. In my case, I got into a discussion about providing in service training for art teacher in a neighbouring local authority. This could lead to a continuing relationship with the schools that are outfitted for glass work of various kinds. I also talked to a few people about workshops. In one case, there is the possibility of one orgnised specially for a small group of people.

Although the show was not a great financial success for me, I did get good comments on a range of daffodil coasters (100mm square). These were made by using glass powders and firing a number of times to build up the colours and shading. I made them in a variety of shades as you can see from the photos below.

Of course, I spent more money that I took in by being so attracted to a painting by Lin Lee that I bought it.