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Interview: Adam Boyd's Ray Trace

Interview: Adam Boyd's Ray Trace

Lives and works in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, UK

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I have been really fortunate to have parents with a keen interest in the arts, both of them went to art school, my mum was a Ceramic Designer and my dad was a Fine Art Lecturer at Staffordshire University. Some of my earliest memories involve me getting carried around degree shows as a baby, and then racing around them once I was old enough to run, collecting all the artist’s business cards like they were Pokémon cards. So I’ve never really known anything other than going to see art, and was always encouraged to draw growing up - as an only child it kept me entertained making up my own little worlds. Pursuing art as a career only started to form in my mind when I was leaving school and sneakily went to the Venice Biennale for “work experience”. I loved seeing international art at that scale and chose to do a foundation soon after. Although torn between fine art and fashion (my dream job at the time was to design Nike football kits), I was offered a place on the Painting & Printmaking course at Glasgow School of Art, and have maintained a studio practice ever since.

Issue n°03 Adam BoydAndrei Tarkovsky, Polaroid, San Gregorio 1983

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

Although my family is from Scotland, I was born and raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffordshire, England). My parents settled here after my mum became a designer for Wedgwood. Staffordshire (or ‘The Potteries’) was the centre for the UK’s ceramic industry at the time. In a way, this sense of dislocation from my roots was something that I had always been questioning growing up in England, especially as The Potteries’ industrial glory faded (my mum subsequently retraining as a nurse after she had me). Growing up amongst an abundance of derelict industrial architecture, I became really engaged with photography as a way to reframe & reanimate these surroundings whilst at sixth form college. Having moved back to live in my childhood home at the beginning of the pandemic (for the first time in seven years), I’ve found that the work produced here once again favours photographic processes as the starting point to respond to these well-trodden environs.

Studio, 2021


What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

I have always been interested in the existential questions that science-fiction often deals with. In the past, my work harvested imagery directly from sci-fi cinema, which perhaps feels less genuine to me now as a sustainable form of inquiry. As my research became more autobiographical / responsive to my own subjective experience, the tension between knowledge and faith remained as a key driver, if not more centered on my own agnosticism. The body of work produced over the pandemic seems to work as a sort of taxonomy, recording and ordering material responses to otherwise inconsequential, fleeting moments captured with photography. These images often centre on refracted light, a motif with a traditionally devotional register. There is a certain amount of pictorial balancing that takes place when making these works, which, to me, feels akin to the consideration of opposing modes of thought.

Glyph, Faux leather, hand-felted wool, felt, thread and photo-transfer on canvas, 2021, 55.5 x 94 x 5 cm

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

In film, Andrei Tarkovsky, Denis Villeneuve & Alex Garland. In art, Wade Guyton, Stanley Whitney, Robert Morris, Danh Võ, Howard Hodgkin, Franz Erhard Walther, Do Ho Suh, William Eggleston, Rose Marcus, Lucas Dupuy, to name a few. I read a lot of fiction (favourites include William Gibson, Haruki Murakami, Frank Herbert), but most recently Jeff VanderMeer’s eco-horrors have really struck a chord with me. Reading Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space” during lockdown allowed me to see the otherwise inconsequential, domestic phenomena I had been capturing as potentially significant going forward.

Alex Garland, 'Devs', 2020

Where do you find inspiration?

Pre-Covid, Cinema was a weekly, productive ritual for me, I’ve always been drawn to film as a medium that can disperse philosophical questions to the general public in the guise of entertainment. I’ve been watching a lot less in the past year since their initial closure, but have enjoyed using the time to read more. I’ve been enjoying a lot of sci-fi that all seems to deal with ideas of determinism vs free will (e.g. Devs, Dune) - perhaps fitting in a year of restricted liberties. I’ve found that a lot of stimulus for my work has come from a heightened awareness and appreciation of nature, which seems to have collectively developed in the past year. Artist’s catalogues took the place of seeing physical shows for a long time, but I’ve been really enjoying seeing work in the flesh again, as materially there’s no substitute. My dissatisfaction with viewing art digitally definitely influenced the decision to adopt various hands-on, craft disciplines as starting points for my recent work. 

Ghola, Hand-felted wool, felt, thread, cotton webbing and photo-transfer on canvas, 2021, 56 x 95.5 x 5 cm

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

The work titled ‘Ray Trace’ (after the term used in computer graphics for generating and tracing the path of simulated light) was the first time a lot of the disparate processes I currently use (such as hand-wrought felting, image-transfer photography and industrially produced fabrics) found a way to coexist in one artwork.

Untitled, 2021, photograph of 3D scan in AR

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

One of the last works I made at The Slade before Covid was a vivid blue, soft-sculptural version of my grandmother’s mantelpiece, made in industrially produced felt ('Mantle', 2020). In lockdown, as a change of pace, I spent a long period of time making watercolours; a series of works that began as geometric colour studies, loosely resembling the same skeletal structure of a fireplace ('Available Paths', 2020). Eventually, I wanted to scale up some of these colour arrangements as wall-based textile work once more; setting out to find a fabric equivalent for the saturation of gouache and its nature to bleed and blend.

I picked out colour gradients from a photograph I had taken - light refracting through stained glass in the hallway of my childhood home. Using dyed, layered wool fibres, I hand-made samples of felt that mimicked these tonal shifts. By printing the original photograph onto canvas tiles using heat-transfer, I could scale up from an A4 inkjet, sewing each piece together as a patchwork. It is a method I have expanded upon in recent works, where felted forms and colour bars act as qualifiers for a central printed image, alluding to established conventions of abstract painting whilst rejecting any dependency on the autographic mark.

'Mantle', 2020, felt, 190 x 150 x 30 cm

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

I found out early on that unprotected transfer prints can be very reactive to UV. Ironic, that in trying to hold onto a fleeting moment of changing light, it was light itself that attempted to destroy the work. All my subsequent work now has the equivalent of factor 50 sun cream smothered all over it.

Qanat, Felt, thread, acrylic, ink and photo-transfer on canvas, 2021, 57 x 95 x 5 cm

What are you working on now?

I recently upgraded my phone to one with Lidar capabilities, which has led to me 3d scanning everything in sight. Aside from it being a neat toy to have at my disposal, I can see a real correlation between the uncanny wireframe forms and digital aberrations it produces; and the element of chance involved when transcribing an image (as a hand-made textile for example). I’m currently working on incorporating it into my output.

'Available Paths 36', 2020, ink, gouache and watercolour on Hahnemühle watercolour paper, 30 x 40 cm

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

It sounds really cringey, but just enjoy what you are making and don’t compare your own trajectory to that of your peers. In my experience, sticking with it and creating out of your own need to do so leads to far better work, mental health and more genuine opportunities in the long term.

Precarious Security, Bleached cotton duct, hand-felted wool, felt, faux leather, cotton webbing, thread and photo-transfer on canvas, 2021, 81.5 x 105 x 5 cm

About the Artist

Based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, UK

Born 1993, Newcastle-under-Lyme, UK. I graduated in 2016 from Glasgow School of Art’s Painting and Printmaking award. I am currently studying an MFA at The Slade School of Fine Art.
I have generated two solo exhibitions in Glasgow, 'Solaristics' (2018) & 'Synthespians' (2019) and have shown work in several group exhibitions in the UK and abroad (Tokyo, New York). I was selected for the Euan Uglow Scholarship and the George & Cordelia Oliver Scholarship. My work has been featured in a number of publications including ‘Myth/Reality: Contemporary Artists from Scotland’ (Fabrica). In 2021, I was selected for the SÌM Residency (Reykjavik).

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