Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Completed Sculpture: 'This S(c)eptic Isle' 'Childish Things 2 (Mistreated)'

All Images: 'Childish Things 2 (Mistreated)', Salvaged Toy, Spray Enamel, Salvaged
Cardboard Boxes, MDF, Acrylics, Paper Collage, Adhesive Tape, French Polish,
Salvaged Junk Mail, 58 cm x 91 cm x 61 cm, 2018

The summer recess is finally here, and with the long, uninterrupted days opening up before me (not to mention the spectacularly clement outdoor working conditions) – stuff’s suddenly starting to come together.

Here then, is the second of my newly completed ‘Childish Things’ sculptures (subtitled, ‘Mistreated’).  It follows the basic blueprint of the first, by combining a discarded sit-on toy with a supporting platform of cardboard boxes - the essential rationale of which is unchanged. However, this one’s designed as a floor-based piece, and intended to be looked down upon from above.

It will also be the slightly odd one out (of the four currently in production), in that the toy itself, being a rocking horse, is only nominally a vehicle - whilst the others all have (or had) wheels.  Indeed, whilst unmistakenly a resonant object, the lack of mechanical structure made any intervention suggestive of its practical dysfunction harder to envisage.  I considered various ways to tamper with what is essentially just a moulded plastic lump, until I realised that simply setting it at an angle was sufficient to suggest its expiry, and make it more formally satisfying to boot.  Recourse to an old cartoon shorthand  - in the form of painted crosses on the eyes, was sufficient to underline the idea that this horse has simply reached the end of the road and keeled over.

There’s little extra to tell from a formal/constructional point of view, other than to point out that the printed matter augmenting the supporting inclined platform is just a minute portion of the relentless avalanche of junk pushed through my letterbox (and diligently collected) during the few months these pieces have been in gestation.  Any messages, meanings or associations to be found therein are, as ever, for the viewer to decide upon.  For my own part (and bearing in mind my much-vaunted ‘State-of-the-Nation’ malarkey), a few possibly useful questions here might include…

  • Just what, exactly is being flogged here (apart from a selection of highly-processed food products, of course)?

  • Are we really all knackered, once and for all, this time?

  • Has anyone been secretly hoping for a champion to ride in on a white mount, and recue us all in our hour of need?  Anyone got a plan B?

  • What (if anything) is the significance of horses in the British psyche?  Is there anything special about the white ones?

  • Clearly, this horse is going nowhere – but was it ever?  Signs are - it was only ever really capable of oscillating back and forth in unstable(d) vacillation.

  • Was it ridden to death, or simply put out of its misery?

  • Has anyone bolted the stable door – even now?

  • What would be the chances of sorting out a few of those mixed messages –before shoveling them onto my doormat?

  • Who is going to sort out my funeral?  Also – is it really admissible for such a significant but over-generalised theme as ‘Death’ to just emerge, purely by chance, this late in a project or individual work’s development?

  • Need cash quick?

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Completed Sculpture: 'This S(c)eptic Isle': 'Childish Things 1 (Misled)'

All Images:  'Childish Things 1 (Misled)', Salvaged Toys, Spray Enamel, Salvaged Cardboard Boxes,
MDF, Acrylics,Paper Collage, Adhesive Tape, French Polish & Salvaged Gas Capsules,
78 cm X 52 cm X 88 cm, 2018

After what feels like a long, hard slog, and a couple of teasers on here along the way – I’ve finally completed the first of my sculptures under the ‘This S(c)eptic Isle’ banner.  It was always my intention that the project should be a multi-media enterprise, but I couldn’t have predicted at the outset – just how sculpture-heavy it would all become. 

In the past, I always regarded myself as a painter (or variety of), although I have also come to recognise how important photography (and latterly - screen printing) have also become within my overall practice.  Until now though, the third dimension appeared to have largely eluded me.  Actually, though, that’s all a slight delusion.  I’ve learned to accept that, regardless of which medium I might employ, my root instinct is probably that of the collagist.  I have an urge to construct, and my habitual process is an additive one, in which separate elements are fitted together, layered, or even just piled up.  Looking back, I realise how, periodically in the past - wall-based pieces have made the transition from something illusionistic – to something with materiality and physical heft.  At various points, I’ve had a tendency towards the collaging of physical or found materials – or to produce the kind of relief-based pieces that I’ve often thought of 2 ½ -dimensional.

However, this is the first time I’ve really tangled with fully three dimensional, free standing pieces, and with all the 360 degree thinking, constructional issues and submission to the laws of physics that implies.  True to form, none of my current efforts employ anything like the classic sculptural techniques of carving, moulding, etc, (or even much in the way of complex fabrication – truth to tell).  We’re definitely in the realm of salvaging, repurposing and juxtaposing the detritus of the street here, with Robert Rauschenberg, et al being an obvious referent (no surprise to any regular readers).  I suppose there is also a pull-able thread through Rauschenberg (and indeed, his compadre, Johns), back to the Duchampian Readymade, although my own impulse is to spruce-up and renovate my found items far more than Duchamp ever did.  My urge to intervene, to shape, and to refine, remains pretty strong - it seems.  Would it be too grand to even suggest a yearning for some degree of alchemy here?  What does seem evident is that my found elements act as carriers of more specific (and probably far shallower) potential meanings or interpretation than the more abstruse philosophy seemingly attached to Duchamp’s.

Anyway, ‘Childish Things 1 (Misled)’ is the first of my current abandoned toy pieces, all of which will combine discarded or abandoned sit-on toys with cardboard boxes (there are other wholly box-based pieces also currently in production).  As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, these are both key motifs within the overall ‘TSI’ project, as well as being plentiful and familiar components of the street trash strewn around my own neighbourhood (and possibly yours too?).

As implied, a certain amount of intervention has been applied to both the toys and the boxes, elevating them a little beyond their raw, found state – whilst hopefully retaining their core essence.  The scooter and trike frame were both found in a damaged, incomplete state, which is key to both their abandonment, and their relevance to me.  A little extra suggestive extra damage was also wrought upon the blue scooter.  Both were subsequently stripped down a little further, cleaned up, glued solid - then spray-painted in their uniform colours.  The boxes on which they sit, each contain a rigid MDF carcass, whilst their surfaces were treated with washes of acrylic, paper collage, gummed packing tape and French Polish.  The aim here was to inject an element of nuanced artifice, whilst hopefully retaining the recognisable essence of the boxes as they might be encountered in the wild.  I’m still debating with myself how much all this relatively subtle (but labour intensive) effort might actually be a form of ‘cheating’.  The top-dressing of discarded nitrous oxide capsules was a relatively late decision for this piece, although they do recur through the project as another recurring motif.

And the possible meanings of all this?  Despite my comments above, I do prefer to allow the viewer to find their own interpretations.  The work is also fresh enough, and the current events to which it might relate – fluid enough for my own thoughts about it to still be in some state of flux.  Here, however, are a few leading questions which may be of some use…

  • Is it really possible to look at toys, without reading them as symbols of childhood?  If that’s the case – what might their abandoned and damaged state suggest as we pick our way amongst so many wandering pavement orphans?  What does it imply about our regard for our dependents, or indeed – for the future they must inherit?  Has Youth really been abandoned or betrayed?

  • Might the toys also signify arrested development, an infantilised populace, or a society whose assumptions and aspirations rarely elevate themselves beyond the juvenile?

  • What do the rapidly fading colours, low-grade and U.V.- assaulted plastics, and shoddy manufacturing of such products, say about our consumerist priorities?  Were they ever really fit for purpose if they break so easily?  Could it be that built-in obsolescence is really a most appropriate condition - given the fleeting nature and novelty-fixation of youth?

  • If ‘This ‘S(c)eptic Isle’, as an overall project, constitutes some form of highly subjective ‘State  of the Nation’ survey - what insights into our current socio-political situation might be divined here?  How important is it that both of these vehicles lack sufficient wheels to carry them forward?  What impasse or hazard caused the blue scooter’s steering apparatus to bend so acutely? Is it significant that two vehicles so resolutely pointing in opposite directions have become so entangled in derelict immobility?  Where, if anywhere, could they even go, if forward motion was possible?  How deliberate is the choice of their colours?  Do they simply reflect the components of our national rag – or are they emblematic of something more tribal?

  • Is there any currency in the old hackneyed cliché of ‘Broken Britain’?  Who, if anyone, thinks it is broken – and what do they gain from the proposal?  If it is broken – who broke it?  Was it a cynical act, or merely childish neglect? 

  • Are the legends ‘Bankers’ and ‘E-lite Style’, printed on these boxes, deliberately selected, or a mere chance conjunction?  Do such things feed your appetite for political analysis or conspiracy theory – or do they strike you as merely trite?  How vital is serendipity to the creative process anyway?

  • If that all suggests more than a little disillusionment – maybe we could all do with a laugh.  But where might that be found at a time when news events and perceived reality deliver more terrifying absurdity than any satirist or professional humourist could ever muster?  Perhaps we can purchase or purloin our hollow giggles in capsule form.  The silver bullets littering our gutters suggest that many now do