February 16th, 2008 Doug
Where does it all begin? With my thinking process it all starts, as usual, in the little black Moleskine notebooks. Never far from my side, and always at the ready for ideas, notes and sketches.
The contents of the books varies, depending on what I am working on at the time; lists of materials needed, quotes from books I have been reading, or working notes for the next stage of a project.
Sometimes it’s the first sketches of an idea which can spring to mind at any time, as with the notebook pages below, that were drawn at 21,000 feet on a flight back from Shetland. And the locality of where the drawings were done can bear no relationship to the images, as with the bottom pages, exploring an idea first started after a trip to the Western Isles, and drawn on the steps of the V&A in London while taking a tea-break from working with the weaver Sue Lawty.
At the moment I am in the studio spending time unravelling and editing the notebooks, choosing the important elements and developing them further in my sketchbooks. I am constantly collecting ideas and images and the working notes in my books are often in a shorthand form that only I can decipher (sometimes I even find it difficult to untangle my own witings!)
February 14th, 2008 Doug
As a child I was fascinated by the skeleton of the Great Tay Whale, which at the time hung from the ceiling of the Dundee Museum and Art Galleries in Albert Square. Often, out of the sight of the attendants, I would lie on the floor looking up at the great skull of the creature, positioning myself within its massive jaws.
Once, a traveling exhibit visited an area in the city called Gussie Park, not a traditional park in the true sense, but a gap site in an location that included jute mills and the cities two football grounds. I pestered my father to go and see this amazing sight, the carcass of a Humpbacked Whale, the same species as my Tay Whale, being paraded around the country on the back of a lorry trailer come mobile museum.
Ironically, the mills which surrounded this ‘monster of the deep’ owed their existence to the demise of this and similar magnificent species. The two industries prospered in the city in the nineteenth century, and were heavily reliant on each other for the maintenance of their wealth. At that time the city was one of the largest whaling ports in Europe.
Everyone in the modern world would be quick to condemn such commercial hunting of these magnificent and peaceful creatures, but I still admire and look in wonder at the bravery and spirit of adventure of the men of the Arctic whaling fleet which once operated out of my home town.
I am working on a series of assemblages based on the theme of the whales and the human aspects of the Dundee’s whaling and industrial history. I have taken the names of several of the ships as the start point of the works, with the definition and meaning of the names playing a part in the interpretation and production of the images.
Endeavour; Resolute; Endurance; Hope; Enterprise; and River Tay
( an assemblage named ‘Balaena’ is already in the collection of The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther)
The first assemblages developed were Endeavour and River Tay. Endeavour, as the notebook page below shows, features whales tied to the side of a ship, waiting to be processed. I had the image in mind for this piece of work for quite some time, and the catalyst for the work came from research and collecting notes at the Pitt Rivers Museum, at Oxford University. A Native America artifact of split carved teeth, bound to a stick with a leather thong was just the visual stimulus I needed to tie my ideas for this piece together. The work has an abstract form to it, though I wanted the final image to look almost like a native necklace.
River Tay is a piece that was inspired by William McGonagall’s poem, ‘The Famous Tay Whale’, written in 1884. McGonagall is often dubbed the worlds worst poet, but despite this I am a big fan of his quirky works.. Remember my childhood whale skeleton? McGonagalls’ poem tells the tale of how the unfortunate Humpbacked Whale came to be in the Dundee city museum.
It could not have chosen a worse river estuary to ’sport and play’ in! It’s interesting that I recently watched a similar situation of a Humpback that had decided to play in the Clyde Estuary, and entertained the locals on the coasts of Greenock and Gourock. The only hunting with this whale was with cameras.
You can read part of McGonagall’s poem below.
February 14th, 2008 Doug
Sitting in the studio during these long February nights, I will often turn to the bookcase and thumb through my collection of guidebooks on the Scottish islands.
While talking to a group of students about my work recently, I was asked if I had any hobbies? Normally, the answer would be that due to the all-consuming nature of producing art, you have little time for what can be described as ‘hobbies’.
Then I thought, “yes, I do have a hobby. Island Hopping!
One of the great pleasures I get from doing my work is the opportunity to travel and visit some of the beautiful islands off the Scottish coasts. I like nothing more than boarding a ferry or aircraft to make the crossing, and add a new island to my collection.
What’s interesting about them? All the islands have their own distinctive sights, colour and culture. I am currently reading through some of my favorite books, such as Hamish Haswell-Smith’s ‘The Scottish Islands’, or volumes from the David and Charles ‘Islands’ series from the sixties and seventies to whet my appetite for the trips to come.
I love finding old, well used books on my favorite subject when searching second-hand bookshops. A recent trip uncovered ‘Tramping In Arran’ and ‘The Road To Rannoch and the Summer Isles’. I particularly like to find fragments of paper or postcards written by the previous owner during their own island hop.
So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be spending some spare time planning for my next trip to the islands, revisiting a few old favorites and hopefully adding some new ones to my collection.