You refer to surfaces, but for those unfamiliar with this body of work, or who might not be fully aware of the sheer range of supports that you have used in Rising Horizon, how would you sum those up?
Motorway signs, tins, advertisement plaques… items that aren’t fragile, built to stand up to time and the elements. Then there are the recycled plastic panels used in four seascapes, which are everyday items: yogurt pots, food packaging, etc., reformed into incredibly durable surfaces. The plastic panels can be treated as wood and sanded, drilled…
…and one in particular that attracted a lot of attention, although it would perhaps be wrong to extract it from the wider body of work as a whole, was a copper boiler on which you had painted… so the sculptural element, or perhaps the two-dimensional writ large on such an unlikely support made quite an impact. Is it possible, yet, for you to get a sense of what all these different dimensions became, as a singular presentation in the form of an exhibition?
It’s tricky for me to objectively analyse the outcome of the show. I can tell you that I am pleased, but I can’t elaborate much more than that. I’m not sure about that yet. Overall, I feel mostly confident in stating that the exhibition has achieved what it set out to. Public engagement has been high, and feedback from those who have visited is that, being in the gallery is an immersive experience, not only because of the sheer volume of paintings (there’s around one hundred and fifty in all) but because of the curation too, and the blue painted gallery wall at the back which seems to move with you as you span the gallery space.
I notice that the exhibition attracted quite a bit of press interest, and it was The Herald’s critics choice show. There was also some focus on the fact that you find objects in flea markets, salvage yards, antique fairs, and the show was also summed up as, “a new departure for an artist who has made much of his previous work of, on and from found wood.” Obviously recycling or repurposing is an aspect that is central to the exhibition, but there are so many dimensions to address, aren’t there? Not just about process, but theoretically, too. As one article notes, the exhibition is not just about the surface upon which you paint, but your reuse of the objects themselves. Do you get a sense that visitors to the show understood the sheer multiplicity of interests and dimensions that Rising Horizon encompasses?
On a personal level? It’s one thing to research the facts of sea-rise, and more broadly, environmental change, but it’s quite another to present that research to the public. Almost every gallery visitor I have spoken with has engaged with the topic. Understanding the facts behind something you care about is one thing but passing the message on in a coherent way is quite another.
The power that art has to convey such messages is surprising. Entry points have been key, and certainly the most discussed piece in the show has been the painted copper boiler that you mentioned, ‘Horizon 42%’. That piece directly references the warming of sea water. This same percentage is the proportion which thermal expansion contributes to overall sea rise… It was also Scotland’s target: a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 – which was achieved six years ago – and a 100% reduction by 2050. Perhaps it is apt that the boiler itself came from a Scottish home… a tenement flat boiler from Edinburgh.
I’ve been asked several times now whether this exhibition makes me an environmental activist, a notion I hadn’t before considered. And my answer is no: I’m an environmentally aware artist, just as we all should be environmentally aware citizens, at whichever level is most achievable for us. Every step counts. In fact, I’ve just launched a petition, seeking signatures to assess interest as to whether there is public appetite for more regular Environment News updates.
Perhaps that’s a good point to end on, then. It’s certainly a stunning exhibition, beautifully and thoughtfully hung, but there is a further dimension here that is also apt in terms of public engagement.