Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?
I had always drawn as far back as I can remember. At school, art was my best subject and I eventually realised I wanted to take it further and that meant art school. My parents wanted me to be an accountant or a policeman! I went to Grays School of Art in Aberdeen and luckily was given an academic skills-based training – life drawing, sculpting from Greek casts, anatomy etc. This grounding has been the bedrock of my art.
What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?
I come from a small rural village in Aberdeenshire Scotland and at the end of my time at art school, where I studied textiles and embroidery. I discovered during my time in fashion houses that I didn’t want to work in a design studio so went into teaching and worked in various art schools throughout England. At one of these art schools I acquired an old box of chisels which were going to be thrown out – I grabbed them and discovered carving. My work at this time included a series of construction so relief carving came as a natural follow on but I am a self-taught carver.
What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?
My work has always been about places and memories - places I have been, which have influenced and mean much to me, and these are overlaid with memories all the way back to childhood. My carving style, due to my varied artistic route (starting in textiles and embroidery and coming to carving much later), has developed outside the sculptural mainstream using, perhaps, the out of fashion sculptural practice going back over the centuries of stories told in relief.
The artist at art school
Ideas for the carvings come from exploring a journey which moves through past and present, with recurring themes such as the window as a frame for memories (but also an escape/route to another life); objects from my life are often presented on the black and white checkerboard marble floor of Aberdeen Art Gallery (which we had to draw as a perspective lesson in my first year at art school – and has become in my mind my own gallery/museum) The images are easily recognised, but what is the story they are telling? What is the relationship between these various images from different places, different times? The viewers task is to decipher them as they wish.
Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?
Three artists from various times. Masaccio whom I discovered at school and I was fascinated me by his use of perspective to give a flat surface so much depth. Then came the surrealist Rene Magritte whose paintings have a playful nature. And finally, Grinling Gibbons probably the most amazing relief carver there has ever been. All three in various ways influenced my thinking.
Where do you find inspiration?
My main inspiration is my life; however this is overlaid by what I see about me every day - an autumn leaf, a rain cloud, a shadow playing across a patio; all I see inspires me. The difficulty is selecting the inspirations which can become part of a piece of art.
One of the things I really like about Instagram is that it gives me the chance to share what inspires me with a wider audience, be that reflections in a puddle, empty car parks during the Covid 19 lockdowns or war graves.
Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?
My main direction at present is incorporating my Pictish stones heritage into my life stories from imagining them in my garden to exhibiting of them in a local art gallery. There is even one being delivered on the back of a lorry to the town in which I live.
General view of my studio
How did it begin? and how did it evolve?
About 6 years ago I moved from the north of England to the south where there are many standing stones including, not too far from where I live, Stonehenge. There are also many incised giant chalk figures on hillsides throughout southern England. This imagery brought me back to my childhood in north east Scotland where there are many Pictish standing stones, but, unlike the standing stones in the south of England, these are decorated with various symbols many of which we still do not know the meaning. One such stone stood in a churchyard 20 yards from where I lived as a child. So, last year I spent a period of time in north east Scotland exploring these stones which have become integral images in my most recent relief carvings.
Work in progress
What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?
With chiselling out pieces of wood to make a relief carving I have learnt to take my time, because once you chop a piece out you can’t put it back. I have been successful in this in that I’ve only made one irreparable wrong cut in over 30 years carving.
Leaving home - W 18ins / H 26ins / D 2ins
What are you working on now?
A carving of a Pictish stone set in an old run-down cemetery in the west coast of Scotland (which I visited about 15 years ago), where the old Pictish stone is in much better condition than the Victorian gravestones. On many of my walks through the countryside I seem to come across sheep, so there is one running through this graveyard. I’m just at the stage of working out whose names will I put on the gravestones. I don’t show many images of my work on Instagram as each piece takes about 2 months to complete – they are slow going.
The Picts at Passchendaele - W 16ins / H 13ins / D 3ins
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?
My first two years at art school were a bit of a party and it was only in my final two years that I really settled down to really making use of my time in college. I used to come in at 7.30 in the morning and worked through until they shut the college at 9 in the evening. If I’d only done this in my first two years, I would have made so much better use of the teaching.
Pictish Stones in my back garden - W 25ins / H 28ins / D 2ins
About the Artist
Based in Frome, Somerset, United Kingdom
I have an Art and Design Degree from Grays School of Art, Aberdeen at the end of which I won the Cinzano National Scholarship allowing me to work in fashion houses in Florence, Milan and Paris for a year. I then for 25 years I taught in various art schools in England finishing as a Head of School of Art In Burnley, Lancashire. I then, with my wife set up a national training company working in Local government for 17 years before retiring.
View Artist Profile