Working on the latest piece in my Rekindle Series, I became aware that machine like references were presenting themselves to me and coming to mind as I worked, so I allowed these thoughts and references to settle into the painting and as I worked, I began to ponder why this should be.
I have long had a seemingly random fascination for machines, all those tubes and pipes, wires and cogs, and the hypnotic sounds of machines toiling away on endless repeat. This interest seems incongruent with my love of organic fragility and nature, but I see that I do somehow hold space for both these opposing qualities as being of equal fascination and value to me.
Looking at my work, you might wonder perhaps how any concept of industrialisation fits with the theme. But let me take you on a trip down memory lane for a moment......
I grew up in the Yorkshire Dales in England, not too far from the town of Bradford. I have clearly defined memories of being taken several times as a child, to visit the Bradford Industrial Museum which was housed in a Victorian building called Moorside Mills in Eccleshill. In the mid 1800's Bradford became internationally renowned for it's production of fine worsted cloth. The introduction of machine processes for combing wool for cloth making, changed the face of the industry in 1825. Much of this machinery had been preserved in its original state since the closure of the factories, some of them could even be switched on so you could watch them labour away in all their clanking glory. I remember being amazed by the sheer number of machines in one room and being struck by the size, solidity and complicated nature of these manufacturing monoliths and the smell of iron and grease. Those visceral experiences seemed so simple, strong and immediate at the time, and really just about the physicality of those machines and being in their presence (probably heightened by the accompanying woeful tales of children my own age, as I was then, having to work 16 hours a day scampering beneath the machines to collect wool scraps and often being left injured or worse).
So how then should I reconcile the remembered experiences of being among those hulking concoctions of precision engineered metal and the truly organic nature of my approach to art making and my personal passion for all things nature inspired? Are there common threads that link these diverse aspects, and if so, what could they possibly be? This is something I have been wondering about.
It's with the benefit of hindsight that I can now reflect upon and articulate an answer to these questions, in a way that I could never have conceived of as a child. I think I was perhaps subconsciously captivated by the creativity required of the inventors and engineers involved in building such 'marvelous' machines and the notion they had dared to imagine building such things. Standing before these physical manifestations of human ingenuity was perhaps what sparked my own curiosity about making things and quietly instilling a sense of wonder about our ability to invent, create, to problem solve and to envision new things.
Looking back at my child self, I can see that I would probably have been pestering the man, who pressed the buttons and pulled the levers, with all sorts of questions during the machinery demonstrations:
How does it work?
Why is that there?
What does that bit do?
Why does it do that?
How does that happen?
What happens next?
All my life, questions have been my thing. My quest for answers and solutions seems eternal! As I make my artwork in the studio I'm constantly asking questions, of myself and my process and about what is happening in front of me. This inherent and persistent inquisitiveness and the need to understand how elements and components fit together to make a working whole is what has sustained me along my creative pathway for as long as I can remember.
But these days, I'm not pestering the nice man in charge of the levers and buttons with my curiosity. I'm questioning myself and my own understanding of what I am doing and pushing myself constantly to figure out what works and what doesn't and why, the relationship between cause and effect the importance of finely balanced and interconnected components that must work together for success, not in a wool combing machine, but in a painting.
It seems to me then, that these are the 'threads' that exist between then and now, which reveal a profound connection between exposure to products of human ingenuity as a child and my working practice today. I am energised by the fact that invention is within my capacity to realise. I know I can bring inventiveness to bear on the challenge of solving a problem or moving an idea forward, though through visual means rather than with iron. It's a powerful concept to harness. The tangible manifestation of which, is in the visual references to machine like elements that emerge in my paintings.
By allowing my constantly clanking imagination and incessant curiosity the freedom to roam and explore potential solutions, I see that anything is possible and available to me when I tune into the gift of human ingenuity as I walk through the studio door.
Image Credit: Bradford Industrial Museum website