Published on 2/11/2016
I was in Dunfermline delivering a talk on my work recently when, as is my custom, after line one of my carefully prepared notes I was already off piste. I continued on in what hopefully may be described as a coherent ramble, in the course of which I said something that genuinely surprised me.
I've been producing artwork, mainly for my brother David, for over 30 years now. I've greatly enjoyed working with and for him, making huge public installations and massive amounts of work for, at times, enormous exhibitions. However, even though these were and continue to be immensely stimulating and satisfying events I'd never really experienced the feeling I was to reveal at the talk.
Recently I've had the opportunity to focus increasingly on producing my own stuff and in particular I've been making more and more work using foil wrappings. Foil from biscuits, sweets, butter pats, medicine packets, from wherever I can find it. Last year, for the first time, I had a show that consisted only of foil based pictures and sculptures.
It was while describing this new work I made the revelation that surprised me so much. After so many years of industry and so many things made, for the first time I am now proud of the work I am making. Not just pleased, happy or content but proud. I think I repeated it just to make sure I'd heard it correctly.
I'm sure most folk are familiar with the joy of smoothing out a foil wrapper from a Tunnocks teacake. They become so like a sheet of gold leaf it seems only natural to use them to cover something else. That was the first wrapper I used and the first thing I covered with it was a cheap ornament depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It belonged to my mother and I was immediately struck by the transformation. The little plaster statue now seemed somehow more precious, a thing of value. I began to look for other objects to cover, for other wrappers to use. I now seek out 'found' objects, make objects specifically and also produce assemblages of objects to 'gild'. The sculptures continue to grow in scale and I'm currently working on a group of 4 foot high cherubs dancing in a spinning whirl of barbed wire.
I have also been using the foils to produce 2D work, the first of which was a portrait of Che Guevara. The star of a Teacake wrapper seemed obvious as the star in his beret. These foil pictures have begun to grow in scale and complexity too and I'm currently working on a large Klimt inspired piece.
The material and process seems to lend itself easily to a huge range of work and I have masses of ideas for a huge variety of things to make and cover — Ikons, massive Buddhas, public equestrian sculpture, park railings, altar pieces, and if they'll let me, the dome of St Paul's.
If anyone has any spare foil wrappers and you're passing Tolquhon at any time I'd be very grateful for any donations. I have eaten a dangerous amount of biscuits recently.