A view of the many display cases of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University
For a long period, I had a strange aversion to spending any time in art galleries. Of course, as a student, museums and galleries were an invaluable resource for learning your craft, helping you find your own language and direction in art. For me, many productive hours were spent in the National Galleries in Edinburgh, the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow and the numerous municipal city collections throughout Scotland.
Then for many years, the order was for time spent in the field, drawing, researching and collecting images and ideas to feed the work. Hours sketching coastal scenes, or often, just time spent watching the changing nature and colour of the landscape replaced the need for the galleries. I remember taking part in a radio interview with my friend and collaborator, the poet Valerie Gillies, and she described her practice at the time as being ‘just a pair of walking boots and a notebook’. After the foundations being laid in the student gallery visits, this time was the strengthening of the structure of your artistic language and skills, understanding and developing the themes and direction of your future work.
Well, now it has turned full circle!
The art galleries and museums are once more a valuable and important resource for me as an artist. But these days, the focus of my visits to collections is quite different. Rather than the emphasis being solely on the drawing and painting studies of art school days, my visits are to a very eclectic range of collections. Over the last few weeks, I’ve visited an interesting variety of galleries and museums and have been bowled over by the beautiful objects and artifacts on display.
The photographs above are from one of my favourite ‘recharge’ spots, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. For anyone who hasn’t visited this fabulous collection, it is home to the University of Oxford’s anthropological collection, and is a fantastic treasure trove of objects from all around the world. It has been a rich source of images and ideas for me for many years and I always look forward to visiting. In stark contrast to todays interactive and sanitised museums with perfect lighting, the Pitt Rivers, with its dark cluttered display cases and mysterious drawers to explore is heaven to the curious artist such as myself. It reminds me of the old junk shops I used to visit around Dundee as a child with my Dad, not knowing what fantastic or strange object you were going to come upon in the next box!
Hopefully these recent research and exploration trips to probably my favourite museum will inspire some new ideas in my work.
For more information on the Pitt Rivers Museum, click on this link.