Hopefully this blog post will act as a cautionary tale to any artists out there intending to lending their work to an exhibition. Some years ago I made, what I soon realised to be, one of the most basis errors of exhibiting artwork.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Hopefully this blog post will act as a cautionary tale to any artists out there intending to lending their work to an exhibition. Some years ago I made, what I soon realised to be, one of the most basis errors of exhibiting artwork.
Even if the institution or curator that you are working with sounds professional, never just presume that they are. Check with them beforehand that they have people that know how to handle artwork, will have insurance that covers your work whilst it is in their possession (and if they don't, which may be a bit of a warning sign, take out your own insurance), and that they are using transporters who know how to handle artwork - not just the transporter who collects it from you, but also the transport agent who is returning the work to you.
Obviously, for any artist just starting out you're more likely to be dealing with smaller and less experienced people and venues, but even so, you've put a lot of hard work into what you're exhibiting so don't under value it. Do everything you can to ensure that you are compensated should it get damaged or stolen (which is a lot more likely to happen when dealing with new, small venues or spaces where the exhibition of art is not their main activity).
So, back to my big art blunder. About six years ago I was asked by Charlie Levine (then curating for a gallery called Trove in Birmingham) and the photographer, MinnieWeisz, to take part in the group exhibition, The Event 2011, that they were both curating at the magnificent Curzon Street Station building in Birmingham. The piece that they wanted from me was my sculpture, 'The City'. As this was my favourite piece (although my giant model kit sculpture, 'And When I'm a Man', seems to get slightly more internet coverage), and the sculpture that has influenced the main direction of my sculptural work since its creation it in 1999, I was happy have it exhibited to the public.
Don't get me wrong it was a fantastic exhibition and it, and my piece, were featured on BBC2's arts program, The Culture Show - but I failed to ask Charlie or Minnie if they had insurance to cover the artworks in the show.
After the exhibition came down my sculpture was transported to Minnie's studio in London where I went to collect it. The day that I went to pick up my sculpture was the day before I had to head out to Miami for Art Basel, so what I saw when I got to Minnie's studio kinda put a downer on what should have been a fun time in Miami. Minnie wasn't at her studio when I arrived to pick up the sculpture - she'd left an assistant there, to not explain what had happened. Apparently Charlie, rather than use an art transport company to deliver my sculpture to London, had used her dad's furniture removal company to do it, as they were passing that way anyway. I don't know exactly what happened to my work as Charlie and Minnie refused to tell me, but when I got to Minnie's studio I was greeted with the sight of 'The City', smashed to pieces. From the degree of damage I can only surmise that if it wasn't done deliberately then it was probably dropped from a considerable height - most likely off the back of a lorry.
Initially Minnie told me that it would be covered by Michael Levine's (Charlie's dad's) company's insurance - which was a small consolation as it would at least allow me time off work (I was then working at the Victoria and Albert Museum) to build a new version of the sculpture. However, Minnie later contacted me to say that as Michael's company was a furniture removal company and not an art transportation company, it wasn't covered for any damage that they did to artwork.
So there you have it - hopefully this cautionary tale will help others avoid the same mistake I made.
Thursday, 15 June 2017
As my website, waynechisnall.com, is in the process of being redeveloped, it is currently rerouting viewers here to my blog. So, for the benefit of those trying to find out about my work through my site, now seems as good a time as any to have a mini retrospective on my blog. What follows is a small section of my work in roughly reverse chronological order (there are a few time jumps here and there), highlighting various themes, motifs, and developments in my work. To help keep it short I've chosen to focus predominantly on my sculptural work.
'Tattooed Tumour Box'
This sculpture evolved from my interest in applying organic-looking structural developments (that have gone awry) to very geometric forms. In this case I have taken as my inspiration the mechanism of a cancer cell, where growth has gone unchecked and produced an unstable-looking, asymmetrical form. The 'tattooed' element of the piece harks back to growing up with a tattooist father but the style of the drawings relate more to my early career as a technical illustrator. As for the subject of the drawings - the starting point was based upon found materials that I had collected for use in future sculptures, but which I chose to morph together or exaggerate beyond recognition.
Initially, I started off the drawing process by rendering elements of miscellaneous found objects, and morphing them together but once I got into the flow of it, and started to really develop a feel for the world that my drawings evolved from, I mostly abandoned the use of existing source materials, and opted for the freedom of simply making it all up.
There are lots of drawn elements of the piece that I've especially enjoyed creating, and one of them is the underside of the base section of the sculpture, and therefore probably the part that is least likely to be seen. So I thought that I'd give it an airing here. As the circular hole in the centre is for the insertion of the pole that makes up part of the work's metal stand, I thought that I'd make it a feature of the overall design, and incorporated a sphincter element to the drawing. The sigils which appear within to outer ring reference occult interests as well as being a tribute to the flamboyantly entertaining comic book writer, Grant Morrison.
'Crutch And Tumour Box'
With ‘Crutch & Tumour Box’ I was trying to apply organic principles to something that is obviously man-made and rectilinear. Taking the construct of the box as a starting point, this piece, like tattooed Tumour Box, pursues the biological anomaly of the cancerous cell as a mode of enquiry. Teetering like a top-heavy fraction, ‘Crutch & Tumour Box’s’ comical appearance is further heightened by the necessitation of its crutch section - a support that is deliberately undermined by the application of a wheel.
'Planetoid 210' is a realisation of one of a series of sketches that I've been working on for some time. These sketches all involve architectural structures or towers sitting atop planetoids or spherical bodies that are obviously too small to realistically support them. The original drawing was inspired by something that happened to me whilst I was in Goa, India. I was swimming in the sea and noticed an interesting seed pod floating towards me. And as I picked it up to investigate further a small colony of tiny crabs decided that they must have hit dry land and disembarked onto my hand.
Orifice Tower started out as a quick thumbnail sketch that I drew whilst waiting for a talk to commence at the Jerwood Space in Bankside. I can't remember now what the talk was about but at that time I was working on some small sculptures that were basically wooden boxes that incorporated carved apertures or orifices. By this stage I'd become aware of the fact that much of my work was getting smaller and smaller so I decided to remedy this by creating elevated versions of these new Orifice Box sculptures. This also tied in with my love of tower structures.
'Frankenstein's Orifice Box'
As well as the obvious sexual interpretation of the orifice element that has emerged in many of my recent works, my main interest in the device, lies in it being the portal between the internal and the external. My 'Frankenstein's Orifice Box' piece also incorporates another motif that has run through much of my work - that of the nail box (more on the this element further on in this blog post). If you peer in through the sculpture's orifice you will see an internal, illuminated, nail-encrusted wooden box on stilts.
'Horned God Orifice Box'
Evolving out of a long series of small, wheeled box sculptures (that were themselves a progression from my earlier box tower sculpture, The City), Horned Orifice God Box is the first of these small box pieces that dispensed with the magnified glass window, and adopted the carved wooden orifice.
'RCA Secret Postcards'
For the last fifteen years or so I've been taking part in the Royal College of Art's secret postcard exhibition that raises money to help support the college's students. The idea behind the annual event is that the college invites students and well known selected artists to contribute postcard-sized artworks to the sale, and all works remain anonymous until the point of sale.
Most exhibited postcards are two dimensional but on occasion I like to go that bit extra and produce sculptural postcards.
This long, thin, wall-mounted sculpture, simply titled 'Orifice', was the first of my orifice pieces, and there was quite a gap in time between this and the emergence of the later ones. Regardless of the obvious sexual connotations, as previously mentioned, the orifice form actually came about through a chance observation. Some years ago I had a small oval-shaped cut on my hand that had become slightly red and swollen. I hadn't paid it much attention until I noticed a large van that had some slight damage where something had pierced it's metal side, causing a similar curvature to the edge of the puncture's surface as to that of my own puncture. It was only a small observation but sometimes that's all it takes to trigger a train of creative thought.
'War of The Rosies'
I'm not sure that my sculptural work qualifies 100% as assemblage. It's true that most of my three dimensional pieces employ the use of found materials, but unlike traditional assemblage, where found objects are often merely stuck together (I'm in no way deriding assemblage – in fact many of my favourite sculptures are assemblages), in my work I feel the need to manipulate the materials to a certain degree, in order to make them my own. Even with my box/tower structures, I find it hard to just take existing boxes and use them as they are. I still feel the need to create them from scratch; from bits of old wood – which ironically makes it look like I've just used pre-existing boxes.
One of the problems with using found objects in artwork is that sometimes one comes across a piece of material that is just perfect as it is, and altering it in any way might even go as far as to lessen its artistic merit. And as an avid collector (read 'hoarder') of materials I often find bits of flotsam and jetsam that fit just this criteria.
One such piece, where I've hardly intervened is 'War of The Rosies', which I prefer to refer to as a Minimal Intervention Piece, rather than a sculpture proper. The work is composed of two separate elements; a vintage, leather and steel, child's baseball mask, and a pair of old horns – probably antelope. I'm not sure why I originally put the two items together, but to my mind, they produce something greater than the sum of their parts. And isn't that what art is about? (so maybe they are artworks after all). And the reason for the title you ask? Well, the horns and mask combo remind me of some bizarre warrior mask, and both elements were gifted to me by ex-girlfriends, Rose and Rosie.
‘The Pharos Cyclopes’
Although I have always had a love of fables and mythology, my recent interest in Cyclopes stems from a re-evaluation of my Box Sculpture series. Originally I saw the lone magnified lenses set into each of these box pieces as a window into an artificially constructed world – a world where the lens acts as a fairy tale or dream-like filter.
However, after being surrounded by these works for some time I started to get an uneasy feeling of being watched. And rather than just being things into which one could peer, I was starting to see the lens as a two-way device, with it also acting as an eye - allowing the internal narrative of the boxes to view the world outside. It is through this altered perception of the work that I started to imagine the collective resonances of certain gathered materials generating a subtle form of awareness of their own
One of the reasons that I love working in assemblage is that the more you work on a project, the more you see in it. Although you always start off with a set idea and plan, it is often through the construction process that other influences emerge and you become aware of underlying themes and thoughts that have been milling around in your head. Sometimes it is not until the work is finished that these aspects reveal themselves, or until someone points them out to you.And it is through this fluid mix of ideas that I came to produce these two chimerical figures – appearing part Victorian robot, part CCTV camera and part Cyclops. The materials that I chose to use exerted an influence of their own, giving the finished piece a naive retro-cybernetic feel as I try to integrate the organic and the mechanical.
The Pharos part of name is a reference to the great lighthouse of Pharos. I see the light that emanates from the heads of these sculptures as representing both an internal consciousness seeking to understand an external world and as the illumination by which to view this dark strange world.
‘Nail Box’ is a sculpture greatly indebted to and influenced by the minkisi artefacts of central Africa. Many of these ritualistic objects are carved wooden totems that have had nails and other metal items hammered into them. However, whereas the minkisi derive their power from their contents, with ‘Nail Box’ I was trying to create something that had a powerful presence derived purely from its adornment of carefully selected nails, screws and other various metal implements.
Whilst most of the nails and screws used in this piece were found in London, (anywhere from the streets of Hackney to the inside of the Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral) much of it was collected from the my travels around Britain and abroad, including Europe, Mexico, Cambodia, Thailand, Tunisia and India.
'Mutant Nail Heart'
As is the case with many of my sculptures, the found materials used in the construction of these three nail pieces were selected for their ‘resonance’ and collected over several years. By using so many metal items that had interacted with the elements and their specific environments I hoped to create pieces whose elements would cumulatively generate a magnified resonance.
Considering the obsessive nature behind the way I collect and hoard the materials that I use in my work, I see these sculptures as totems of the ritualistic side of everyday life - as physical embodiments of the personal belief systems we all create around us.
While much of my work centres on the theme of memory or its fallibility (this is more strongly evident in my pieces that incorporate or recreate childhood artefacts and toys) a continually re-occurring theme or motif that runs through much of the work is that of the wheeled box or tower. This theme developed through concerns with notions on containment and the urge to possess, and with the lack of mobility or freedom that material possessions bring.
'The City' (detail)
Being the most architectural and theatrical piece in a series of four tower sculptures, all of them on wheels, 'The City' is predominantly made up of fragments of found objects and curios. Yet through the use of tiny display cases and cabinets (themselves made from found materials) I intended to elevate these oddities to the status of artefacts, giving the sculpture the overall appearance of a nightmarish, mobile museum. The sculpture's title derives from the fact that in it, each compartmentalised environment plays out its own narrative, seemingly oblivious to that of its neighbour (much like the inhabitants of a real city).
Fetish is the last piece in a series of four wheeled sculptures that came about through my interest in our obsessions with materials and material possessions. After a friend commented upon how much my love of certain materials was similar to the intensity of feeling that a fetishist has for whatever it is that they fetishize, I decided to make a piece that represented that side of human nature. So I decided to use hair as it was one of the less clichéd of the fetish materials and also because it can also trigger the opposite response in some people – that of revulsion.
‘Book Tower’ is the smallest piece in a series of four wheeled tower sculptures. The series draws attention to our attitudes towards objects and materials – addressing our need to possess and how this can impact upon our sense of freedom and mobility. The disproportionately large wheels were originally intended to serve as a reminder of our overall loss of mobility and earlier nomadic life style. Although sadly, regarding the current state of refugee migrations, the wheels now act as a reminder of the opposite.
Being made of books, ‘Book Tower’ is already loaded with multiple readings. Especially when one realises that many of the books used are very old, beautifully leather bound bibles.
As well as being necessary for the construction of the sculpture, the deliberate (almost taboo) cutting up of these books provokes us to consider the relationship we have with them. Whether we regard books as sacred because of the knowledge they contain, the holiness of their religious text or because of the rarity and antiquity of old editions, there is little doubting the hold they have over us.
Magnet is the largest piece in this first series of tower sculptures (the others being The City, Book Tower, and Fetish) - a series that relates to our obsession with objects and material possessions. All four sculptures have aesthetically over-sized wheels, intended as a comment on the mobility restrictions that having so many possessions places upon us as a species.
Whereas the other works in the series dealt with revered or fetish materials, Magnet (being made of thousands of plastic toys) was initially supposed to represent the disposable and worthless aspect of consumer society. Yet, knowing the quirks of human nature, I turned this notion of worthlessness on its head by incorporating several prized and sort after ‘collectables’. Originally named Toy Tower the piece was re-named Magnet after its first public showing, when it became apparent that young children, and older toy enthusiasts, found it difficult to resist physically interacting with the sculpture. At its first exhibition four young boys actually managed to wheel Magnet out of the gallery before the invigilator spotted the piece was missing and hurriedly managed to retrieved it before it got too far down the street.
'Book Tower II (Nostalgia For a Childhood That Wasn't Mine)'
Book Tower II came about many years after my original Book Tower sculpture, and is constructed in a very different way. With this piece all the books sections have slits cut into them that match the exact thickness of the partner book that they slot into. This might not sound difficult but the problem with constructing the piece (working from the bottom up) is that in order to processed up the various levels, and to cut the dust jackets to match the slits, is that the work needs to be constantly assembled, unassembled, and then reassembled. And it quickly becomes very easy to lose track of which book is supposed to slot into which.
'And When I'm a Man, I'll Think as a Man'
Much of my work centres on the theme of memory and its fallibility. This is more strongly evident in pieces that incorporate or recreate childhood artefacts and toys. A prime example of this is ‘And When I’m a Man, I'll Think as a Man’, the life size sculpture of myself as a twelve piece, pre-assembly, model kit. An important aspect of the piece is its bright green colour, which was chosen to match my memory of that of a cheap, plastic, childhood toy - realizing that the memory would have mutated, and exaggerated the luridness of the colour.
As well as being made from 12 separate body casts of myself (a self portrait, I suppose) 'And When I'm A Man' is based on the type of model kit that I used to buy as a child. When creating the piece I was interested in childhood perceptions of adulthood and the role that toys played in this - realising that many figurative toys were that of adult characters, and therefore tools for adult role-play.
I created Baby Kit immediately after finishing my life-sized human model kit sculpture, 'And When I'm a Man' back in 1998. The piece was partly a reaction against the idea that all the parts of a standard model kit assembly should make a unified whole (if put together the components of Baby Kit would actually create two impossibly weird-limbed deformities). But in selecting the right dolls for the sculpture I soon realised that the doll makers themselves had also been creating disturbing hybrids. The largest doll that I used for the construction was actually a composite of different human developmental stages. The limbs and torso were a mixture of post and prepubescent, whilst the face was mostly that of a young child.
And the story of how I came across this larger doll is probably my most extreme case of serendipity to date (but I do generally seem to live a life of weird coincidences). At the planning stage for Baby Kit I'd been collecting second-hand dolls for a while and made an actual sized, rough charcoal drawing of how I envisaged the eventual sculpture. And that's where the project ground to a halt. For I quickly realised that I didn't have a doll big enough to provide three of the elements that I needed to make the sculpture. So, I decided to put the project on the back burner until something presented itself. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long. Within a few days I was walking back from college, and mulling the problem over in my head, when I had a sudden urge to change my route, and walk a different way home. As I did so I came across a black plastic bin bag at the side of the road, and sticking out of it was the lower half of a large plastic doll's leg. So I pulled on it and out came the whole doll, exactly the size that I needed to complete my sculpture. 'The Universe provides', as our hippier selves might say.
'Dreams of Being Batman'
Dreams of Being Batman is part of a small body of work that came about through an interest in childhood perceptions of adulthood.
The fibreglass head is made from a cast of my own head. The colour of the piece, and the way that the steel armature gives it the appearance of floating in mid air is intended to suggest the insubstantial nature of dreams and fantasies. The elongated ears (or horns) in the sculpture are a reference to Batman, one of my favourite super heroes from childhood. The fact that the head looks nothing like the actual costumed head of the Batman can be seen either as a celebration of the fact that imagination (especially the imagination of a child) is not held back by the obstacles of reality, or as a reminder of the chasm that exists between what we once wanted to be and what we eventually became.
I said that I was going to mostly concentrate on my sculptural work in this blog post but considering that drawing and painting is also an important part of my practice I've decided to add a few examples at the end here, just to give a taste of some of the stages in the course of my painterly pursuits.
Kitchen Blue and The Ambassadors are both from a series of paintings that play with the graphic line or with notions of the term ‘graphic’. Whereas the figures in The Ambassadors are all reduced down to the bare minimum needed to accurately convey the visual message of the drawing (a skill that was honed during my earlier career as a technical illustrator), The figure in Kitchen Blue is painted in a more realistic yet visceral manner – contrasting with the cold, clinical lines of the background.
Other pieces in the series are derived from acts that are often deemed graphic. With violence being one such act, The Ambassadors takes its figurative element from a photograph that appeared in many of the British tabloids some years ago. It shows a fight between some English and Turkish 'football fans'.
This photo of The Ambassadors shows the side view of the painting where you can see how the lines sheer off over the edge. The white line of the drawing is actually the primed surface showing through, so when you actually view the piece in the flesh, so to speak, your eye fluctuates slightly between the painted surface and the line drawing below. This can give the impression that the line of the drawing vibrates slightly.
The Spidey Pods piece came about through the merging of a few different ideas and interests. Part of it was to do with my interest in nostalgia, childhood perceptions of adulthood and childhood heroes (hence the elements of the 70s style Spiderman costume that cloth the pod sections). The work was also influenced by an interest in forms that reoccur within larger forms. Just prior to making the preparatory drawing for the Spidey Pods piece I had been peeling back the skin of a segment of orange and marvelling at the mass of smaller, tapered pod-like segments that it was made up of.
It was whilst sketching out the initial drawing that I also remembered a scene from the original 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', in which the main character from the movie finds himself in the back of a truck, on top of a pile of giant pods. So again, there is this reworking of elements from my childhood - with films having been another big influence on my early life.
This is an acrylic painting on a section of early/mid-20th Century plywood packing crate, sourced from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I chose to paint it in a flat Pop Art/cartoon style to heighten the contrast between the paint and the plywood's naturally aged surface. It is intended as a contemporary take on the traditional Shunga prints of Japan. In keeping with the Japanese theme, I incorporated the octopus tentacle (a heavily eroticised image in much of the material that comes out of Japan). However, here I've reversed the power balance of the usually dominant phallus metaphor by having the woman take control of the tentacle, and use it for her own sexual gratification.
'Sun Worshippers #1'
The Sun Worshippers series is taken a collection of fast drawings that I made of people viewing Eliasson's Weather Project when it featured in the Tate Modern's great Turbine Hall in 2003. Whereas these first draughts where all completed in under 10 or 20 seconds, the Sun Worshippers paintings (enamel on spray painted aluminium) were laboriously scaled up and painted to give the illusion of the same flow and immediacy of line that is evident in the original thumb nail sketches.