East Market Street / Cranston Street: Edinburgh

Photography by David Cass & Ken Gray

Written on 1 April 2014, after completion: For a long time I’ve wanted to create one of my seascapes outdoors: to create an artwork larger than myself and larger than its audience, to position the viewer within the piece. The 2014 Hidden Door (HD) Arts Festival was the ideal opportunity to try something like this. The artists that form Hidden Door’s 2014 line-up have taken temporary ownership of Edinburgh’s East Market Street vaults: twenty-four derelict arches by Edinburgh’s Waverly Station have become a series of twenty-four diverse pop-up exhibitions, created by an assortment of selected/invited artists, directed by Hidden Door’s founder, artist David Martin.

I wanted to work on a scale that far exceeded anything I’d previously created: this piece being easily eight times larger than anything I’ve worked on before. I so often work upon dismantled objects/surfaces/planes (including doors) in my studios - this time I was working on doors that were still in function. I was unable, for example, to rotate my canvas or approach from a more manageable angle: I most often paint upon surfaces laid out flat. The sheer size of these vault doors made scaffolding and ladders a necessity. Nor was it possible (for the most part) to work on each side of the double-doors together – throughout the festival’s installation, these courtyard doors were in constant use. As the piece progressed, and now, in it’s ‘final’ state, this constant function has added to the piece – as doors swing to and fro – by the public, by the wind – different parts of the painting line-up, at times seamlessly, as if designed to do so. The audience are forced to move around the piece in order to read it, in addition to having to look up and to the sides to understand the piece as a whole. This further enforces the notion that the audience are standing within this artwork. It begins at ground level, and ends above head height.

The act of applying the paint – the creation process – was more important to me than the end result. The decision to use only a dirt-brown oil paint came from my studio practice at the time. I was looking into the Florence Flood of 1966, at the aftermath, and tide-marks left by the contaminated floodwaters. I treated the creation as a kind of performance, and in turn, those that came to visit the site during the festival’s installation, regarded me as a spectacle, my progress was thoroughly documented. This single layer mural over eight doors, took thirteen full days to create: through sun, rain, fog, night and cold. Work was slow - at times painstaking, at others therapeutic – sometimes mindless, and always repetitive. I fought a daily battle with freezing hands & fingers, in three coats and under makeshift canopies.

As I worked day-in, day-out, sounds from the vicinity seemed to become engrained into the paintwork: the muffled tannoy from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station, announcing arrivals and departures; the slowing, grinding and clattering of approaching trains; workmen, pneumatic drills; traffic and the general hustle of the site.

In the early mornings tourists, travellers and commuters would cut down Cranston street from the Royal Mile, heading for the station entrance, trundling suitcases whilst I painted. Usually the recurring motif of the sea in my work refers to my travels. I use the image of the sea to describe a sense of time passing, of journeying, movement and distance. The sounds from Waverly Station and the indiscernible loudspeaker announcements reminded me of other train stations in other places: times when I too have been journeying.

I don't yet know what will happen next to these doors. The vaults have been purchased by developers, and so my painting will remain on location until the vaults are renovated - it will continue to exist after the closure of the festival.