Students have asked me over the years what quality I think is the most integral to success as an artist. Many ask if it is luck, and while luck is obviously important it is not the thing I think one needs most. I think what one needs is bull headed stubbornness, the kind of stubbornness that keeps you going no matter how bleak or impossible things seem.
Since my last diary entry my near disasters became actual disasters. Every problem I solved was followed by another until eventually it all fell apart.
In a speech to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia Neil Gaiman once said:
‘I hope you make mistakes. If you are making mistakes it means you’re out there doing something… Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get though, this is what you should do. Make good art… Make interesting, amazing, glorious, fantastic mistakes.’
Neils speech echoes the words of one of the greatest writers ever, Dr. Seuss in OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! …
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t…
You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
With many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with great care and great tact
And remember that Life’s
A Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
Andnevermix up your right foot with you left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ per cent guaranteed.)’
These words, and my own belief in the importance of stubbornness circled around my mind as everything went so horribly wrong, and they helped me pick myself up and start all over again. The problems lay in bad advice and meant that my intended scale was impossible. With that in mind I cleared a new space, scaled down and got to work on Akin for the second time. With a rapidly approaching deadline and no guarantee this would work I had a number of hugely stress filled days. I managed to push myself through, and I am beyond proud that I did, because the second time around is all came together and worked beautifully.
One of the incredible things about the National Sculpture Prize is that is provides an opportunity for emerging artists, artists who likely haven’t had many opportunities of this sort before. This isn’t only the opportunity to make new work and show it somewhere incredible as part of a renowned prize. It is also the opportunity to imagine big, stretch artistic muscles, make mistakes, start again and above all else, the opportunity to learn.
I have learnt more than I ever imagined I would. My glorious mistake is waiting for me to turn it into something brand new, and most importantly Akin is finally complete.
None of this would have been possible, particularly not picking myself up to start again, without the support of my family, friends, neighbours and local builders merchant. I cannot thank them enough. Nor can I thank Broomhill enough for giving me the chance to make Akin.
The only thing left to do now is to deliver and install Akin on Monday.
Having finished shaping my three large stones with the pneumatic chisel, I take them from the studio back to the cellar of my home, where I plan to spend many hours sanding them down to a smooth finish. I stand them upright on a desk to consider their composition, shuffling them left and right, forward and backward slightly, until I am happy with the way they interact with one another. I walk to the other side of the room to pick up my camera when I hear the almighty crash behind me.
I know immediately what has happened and my head is in my hands before I turn to look. It’s hard to describe that moment, those hot seconds of bubbling panic, anger, despair and desolation. My wife runs in to the room, eyes wide with worry, and hugs me. We look up to see everything on the floor, around twenty fragments of marble, crumbs and dust.
I don’t know how they fell. My best guess is that my last nudge of the largest stone pushed it onto a slightly uneven surface of the old desk, and a breeze from a broken window toppled it, forward on to the other two stones, like dominos. Shattered.
We need to leave in five minutes for drinks with friends in town. We’ve cancelled the date twice before and can’t back out again, so I leave the mess on the floor and walk out. I am not good company. I tell our friends what has happened and their moral support, sympathy and suggestions do nothing but twist my stomach. I see no other option than withdrawing from the exhibition. Three words cloud my mind all night; what a waste. I am embarrassed and I drink too much wine.
Home around midnight, I return to the cellar to confront with problem with dutch courage, and pick up the pieces. As I stack the fragments against the larger cracked stones, something happens. The varying size of the shards seems to add a sense of scale, and the multiple layers create intimate, shadowy spaces, and I start to smile.
An additional challenge for the Broomhill Prize is the long-term, outdoor specification, which opens up a new range of variables for my work, and increases the demands on different materials to pull their weight.
My choice of timber has to change for example, once factors like wind, infection and moisture are introduced. Taking strength out of the equation, it directs the value of timber toward how it visually represents itself, and how different surfaces might react to long-term exposure (over time, the colour palette of my final choice – Iroko – will shift from a range of bright yellows to a muted grey).
Impacts from this small change then ricochet around different aspects of the final piece. Some are by necessity; additional weight means extra thought has to be placed onto the materials joining different parts of the sculpture and its eventual concrete base. Others are aesthetic, or whimsical nudges: the japanned finish on screws and nuts completing the install are specified to share moisture resistance with the glossy black outlines of different panes, while a matte grey finish on floor-facing planes ‘renders’ the eventual UV exposure facing the rest of the sculpture.
While much of my work is deliberately ring-fenced on a computer program, sketching out and defining the material landscape of where my sculpture ‘lands’ from the digital realm is a significant part of my process, shifting the range of conceptual variables I have to play with, and locating the doors I can open or close.
This week has been a series of complications, difficulties and near disasters. I suppose it was going to happen eventually but it does seem unfair that it has happened all at once.
On Tuesday morning I tried to order materials only to find out the advice I had been given was incorrect meaning I had to spend hours planning entirely new ways to create Akin.
On Thursday I found out a vital component was out stock and the earliest they could delivery it to me is Monday. In between I have managed one more day in the wild making the mould, done the strangest washing up ever and assembled the pieces, all of which has inevitably taken far longer than expected
From little things to big my week has left me behind schedule, stressed and more than a little scared of my looming deadline.
Thankfully I have some wonderful people in my life, from the folks at the end of the phone at Jesmonite, Flints and Tiranti’s who have all helped solve my technical issues as best they could, to my neighbours and family who have helped without question or hesitation, giving up hours of their time to offer advice, ideas, transport and an extra pair of hands.
It is Saturday evening as I write this and I have done as much as I can without my final ingredient. I am losing a days work, which with the van coming at 10am on Thursday to collect Akin is freaky, but there it is. I likely won’t get much sleep between now and the delivery day, it is definitely going to take a village to complete this thing and I will need all the good luck and fingers crossed possible but I will get it done.
For now, and until I can keep going, my Mums garage looks like a horrendous crime is in the process of being committed.