I’ve worked on and off in my capacity as an artist on and off over the last 30-35yrs. I grew up in Glasgow, surrounded by family connections to both the Art School and Glasgow Print Studio – I was always passionate. I was streamed into sciences at school, with no space in the curriculum for art, however, I went on to produce a body of watercolor miniatures which all sold locally back in the ’80s. At this time I had a back injury and was allowed to skip sports and sit in for all classes with the ALevel art students (5) for the next 2 yrs. My participation locally was well received, winning 2nd place in the under 15yrs category in a local exhibition. I also took private lessons at the local arts & crafts guild.
As a young child, I had the amazing experience of living in Nigeria for a while (the mid-70s) and met many traditional artist through my dad’s work out there, including the painter/sculptor Suzanne Wenger whose tribal Cubism and work as a priestess in the local Osun cult at Oshogbo left a resounding influence on me. I also was privileged to visit the studio of the Nigerian artist Túndé Ọdúnladé at that period, and even now I see elements of Yoruba art in my work. Returning to Europe, I was also immersed in European sacred art, having visited most of the great cathedrals, again in connection with my dad’s work, and also visiting many galleries and museums across Europe.
During the 90’s I studied at Edinburgh University (Soc.Anthropology and Archaeology MA Joint Hons1993-1997) where I focused on the Uses of Ritual for Transformation in Tribal Peoples (dissertation topic – Community Identity, the Arts and Rites in Neo-Rural Scotland). During this period I also participated voluntarily as technical crew, production manager(1999), and artistic director(2000-2001) with the internationally recognized Beltane Fire Society (BFS) Community Arts Project. During these years, I also worked largely on club decor and the graphics for flyers/publicity in and around Edinburgh. In 1999 I began an MSc in multimedia and quickly became fascinated by animation/digital media production, etc. I also produced a body of pen&ink graphic at this period. I left Edinburgh in 2001, to take up residence in the South of France, having been requested a small house when my mum died. This became my studio for the next couple of years, where I experimented with abstract oils, repeat-pattern prints, and a bit of etching. When my 1st child was born, we left the area, and I folded my studio due to the financial pressures of having a small family(2004/5) … we moved to a small village in Ariége at that time, and I turned my self towards wood working and building yurts ( with the occasional other work, including InDesign DTP for various people). My Art was very much in the background.
I came back to painting and printmaking after my separation from the mum of my kids in around 2012, again through reconnecting with my video work. I started re-scripting animations with After Effects/Premiere and playing local community events as a VJ, performing live-mix animation for festival and dance events. This led me back through a series of step to my work with surface pattern design, digital printmaking, and painting.
Over the years I have worked on installation pieces, private commissions and various other areas. As an independent artist, I have been exhibited in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Rennes les Bains, and Massat, although I feel that I am only just beginning to find my stride, a vision for the work, and a direction in which to take it.
I’m currently working on my web presence, and a series of digital prints (some of which are already in my web-gallery), and am learning my way around using CNC technology for a newly envisioned series of installation pieces. I am enjoying full emersion in my work, and really appreciate that the times where my work has not been at the forefront of my life have allowed for incubation and maturing of ideas. In short, I am stepping into my life-work, and am loving every minute of it. I have also come back to screen printing over the last year as a way to bring both my hand drawn, and digital work out of the IT environment. Much as I enjoy digital art, I’m also quite traditional and see the more hands on, crafty approach of printing lends a certain feel and artistic authenticity back to the work.
I’m currently investigating for a part-time MA Illustration at Falmouth Art School, UK.
Hi Dave! You say when you were a child you’ve had the amazing experience of living in Nigeria and met many traditional artists through your dad’s work. Tell me more about that, and was this the time when you’ve started doing art?
Dave: Going to Nigeria was super exciting to me as a child. I was 6 yrs old when we went in the mid-70s, and we were meant to be there for 3 yrs. We went to Ibadan, where my dad had got a teaching position in the University, while he was taking a sabbatical from his position at Glasgow. We were to be living on the University Campus.
It couldn’t have been more different than living in Glasgow. From the quiet, well-to-do suburbia of presbyterian Scotland, here I found myself in the tropical forest of West Africa, where even the tamed area thrived with a vigor
unimaginable. And the colors! Everybody wore the most amazing printed, batiked, and tie-dyed clothing; and everything that could be was recycled/upcycled and reused. From the rich, pungent ripeness of the town’s street market; the exotic botanical gardens to the trails through a tropical forest: everything seemed ablaze and interesting to my young senses. And there was art everywhere!
My dad worked as a Professor of Comparative Religion, and through his connections, we were invited to visit with the Austrian Cubist Suzanne Wenger at the Shrine in Oshogbo. She had become instrumental in a movement, later known as the Oshogbo School, which took on the task of revitalizing the Sacred Shrine at Oshogbo, near to Ifé. It has subsequently become a World Heritage Site. The area is rich with the proliferation of tribal sculpture, with deities and spirits being represented all around. When I met her, she had been honored a role as a priestess in the Yoruba Cult of Oshun, and it seemed to me as a child that she had a way of looking right into you, and beyond.
It was through this connection that I came in contact with Tunde Odunlade and Yinka Adeyemi, who were both quite well-known tribal/traditional artists working in the Oshogbo School. Seeing their work first hand, and then for years to come with the pieces that returned with us to the UK, lead me to a real interest in a more abstract representation of the richness and diversity that cultures harbor. Further, I believe that I started to understand, even back then, the importance of cultural motifs and themes that artwork can portray in the world. Years later, when reading about Performance theory, a phrase resonated deeply: “… that ritual play is less about representing who we are, and more about who we are not….”, and I reckon that this is equally poignant with art-making, where the artistic process becomes a kind of personal ritual of transformation.
Was there a specific moment when you’ve decided you want to pursue art?
Dave: Oh, so I don’t really know how to answer that. I suppose somewhere, I’ve always been an artist… like I’ve just known that and keep finding my way back to myself. I couldn’t say I definitely decide to pursue that only. Rather at points in my life, I’ve been really enthusiastic about making art, and at other times, I’ve become busy with something else. At School, I was deemed “too bright” and so became streamed into sciences – art didn’t fit into that timetable, so I had to drop it at 13 yrs old. Subsequently, I ended up attending a local under 16s art group at the Community Centre on a Saturday, and also learned watercolor as a hobby. Many of the watercolor miniature landscapes I painted back then got sold at a West End Café, and as I remember, I made more than 100 finished
pieces. Around that time I had a rugby injury at school, and so wasn’t allowed to do sports for a couple of years – the upside was that I got to sit in on the A-Level art class, with only 5-6 other students, and all the teaching staff available, so I had a great experience with quality tuition, without the pressure of having to be examined. Maybe I decided then? But it wasn’t for years that I really came back to it. In the mid-’90s, I became involved in a Community Arts and Performance group in Edinburgh, while at University. That opened many opportunities to
make “art”, from fire sculpture to costumes to club décor. Looking back on that time, it was in the club décor that I really started to find and enjoy painting again. And it was with this that I started developing images based in
the Celtic and Islamic world. It was the hay day of the Techno/Trance movement, and trippy repeat-pattern motifs seemed really apt to me. I was Studying Anthropology, Iron Age Archeology (Celtic World), and Celtic studies, and probably consuming more than my fair share of psychedelics. The work just came through, and many of the sketches for décor ended up becoming finished ink wash paintings in their own right. Again, I had a really productive period lasting over several years, and yes, at time I had truly decided to be an artist. I even left the UK then, when my mum had died, and came to France and had a studio for a few years, where I worked on digital graphics for various people (notably the Knochengorroch World Music Festivals), and began really exploring Oils, and beginning to make photo etching and other prints. I ended up putting the studio away when my then partner moved in with her two wee boys (3 and 5 at the time) and I realized that my house was a disaster zone for small children, with tubes of oil paints, a bath of acid (for my etching experiments), etc… not a place for little fingers.
I think perhaps, the latest reincarnation over the last 8-10 years is when I finally decided that I wanted to be an artist, and wasn’t going to allow myself to get sidetracked (lol!). I started back on my animation project that I’d begun back in 2000 while studying Multimedia Technology and began mixing video, building little loop clips, and remixing live with a local sound system for dance parties. The work always has revolved around sacred geometry, and tessellations, and I got into exploring fractals, and other techniques inside the digital environment. It didn’t take me very long before I got back into Photoshop, and taking images back out of the video environment to remix and elaborate. I suppose in it all, I just tend to follow what feels right. Over the past 4-5yrs I’ve been moving away from the video side, experimenting with surface pattern design, and this, in turn, has drawn me back to making prints. Some of them are rendered in the digital media, and lately, I’ve been getting back to printmaking by hand. I still paint regularly and try to work with different media so as to keep the creativity flowing.
Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter etc.
Dave: So, I feel that there’s a continuity of themes running through the work I produce. Evidently, I have different ways of seeing it at different times, and I make my work accordingly. Mostly I concentrate on working with my geometrical pieces which are inspired by the art of the Celtic, “Tribal” and Islamic World. I’m interested in what I see as a similarity in the roots of these cultures, and how they can transcend the limitations of national identity.
It’s about re-articulations, memory-scape, and cultural identities, on the whole, and also kind of ties into things I learned while studying anthropology. I had this idyllic idea at some point in which art could bypass our linguistic “cultural” conditioning and speak directly to one’s soul – the unique part of god/spirit/consciousness residing inside each one of us. From that, the use of sacred geometry and repeat patterns seems a natural progression, as in this context “art” becomes a language and expression from the divine muse to the viewer’s innate divinity. I’ve been looking for a way to present a mirror of the complex patterns we each live, and how those patterns make sense when we take the time to look carefully. This for me is where our personal healing can take place; when we look at the deeper patterns in which we live. In other moments, I paint abstract works, both in oils and acrylic; gaily adding paint and texture, and seeing how it comes out. When I am working on the pen and ink was material, the hours of masking and line making give way to very short windows of time when I add the inks in washes… There’s maybe a 5 minute period to put the pigments in place before the inks start to be absorbed and I have to leave it alone. My digital work takes it all in another direction, and here, I work differently depending on what I’m looking for. Sometimes it’s just an extension of the sketchbooks for generating ideas. Sometimes I have a specific direction I’m following and follow quite organized steps, and for example, this environment is proving such an amazing tool for working out the separations required for printing by hand. As to a style? I don’t really know how to answer that. Lol. Loosely, I feel that my work is drawing on the ideas of Optical Art or OpArt, though my
influences are very diverse ranging from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, Rennie Mackintosh, and 60s Psychedelia to the Great Cathedrals of Europe and the Mosques of the Orient. Working now, in the C21 st , I also have a strong resonance with the New Media Arts movement, although I’m very much enjoying bringing the work back out from that environment and making the finished pieces by hand. I’m also very interested in the idea of liminality* in ritual and performance theory, and the use of “threshold” or portholes as a transformative experience.
My muse and subject matter are diverse, although it is in my inner world that I find the most inspiration. At some point, I became really fascinated by the connection between sacred geometry, the golden section, and the hallucinogenic spheres of altered states of the botanical tryptamines. My interest as an anthropologist was sparked by the overwhelming conviction that the space opened up by plant medicine IS a huge intelligence from which we can learn from, and communicate. Its infinite, ever-changing geometrical fractal form is hypnotic … my art has been colored by this dimension ever since. Screen printing has become the recent sojourn into how to bring those images (of which I have an infinite quantity) to life in the ” world”, and also to find a very hands-on medium through which to build my momentary translations of “Other”; as an offering into the World. As I’ve looked for “descriptive” content/words, and a vocabulary to describe what it is that I'm interested to make, I came to a point where I started looking at art as “ritual technology” through which other World views could be communicated.
How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Dave: I just try to keep it moving, experimental, and as loose as possible. I flow with my intuition, largely, working on what feels right. So if I feel blocked, I make something in another medium, often abstract work, so as to free myself up again. Or I dive into a music project – I think the trick is to distract the “part” that’s feeling stuck through finding something else to do for a while. I have the luxury of a small vegetable garden, which I maintain. I spend time in the boundless forests where I live, looking at things, sketching rough ideas, taking photos, etc. I follow a lot of other artists’ work and love going to art shows and galleries. And I touch base with the plant medicine several times a year to renew the connection there. I also don’t hesitate to follow my natural rhythms – when I wake up at 2 am, I get up and work, if I’m inspired in another moment to work all day and then late in the night, I do – like I said, I keep it moving.
What is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Dave: Haha! Usually, it starts with clearing up. Seriously though, I have a rule not to go and work if I’ve got chores to do first: the dishes, firewood, etc… after that, I see where to pick up from where I finished before. Some projects require quite a lot of organized preparation just in order to get to mark-making. I don’t know that I have a “typical” day in the studio, really, though I always try to just go there early in the morning with a drink and sit and think a bit about the order things need to progress in. For me, each day is a gift, and I try to make it as fulfilling as I can, though evidently there are often hiccups along the way. As to rituals, I don’t know that I have any real thing put in place these days, although I’ve been practicing mindfulness and sitting meditation for years now, and often as I remember, I come to present moment awareness and breath – Anapana Sáti I think they call it in the Vipassana Schools. I’m also quite interested in the ideas presented in the works of Carlos Casteneda, with such concepts as Inner Silence, the Tonal, or 3D world, and the Nagual, the Infinite unfolding Intent of Spirit – I’ve spent years working on the idea that when you can get yourself out of the way, a flow state comes through from higher intelligence.
You say after your 1st child was born you’ve had to focus on more lucrative jobs like woodworking and building yurts, and your art was in the background for the time being. Tell me more about that, and your comeback in 2012.
Dave: Yes, I started making Yurts (and Tipis) maybe 13 or 14 years ago. My partner then, Jeni (mother of my kids) was already an experienced Tipi maker, and we started a venture together, adding yurts to her portfolio, and mine. So we built ourselves 2 yurts here on the land, and within a few weeks, and with the help of some dear friends, started to get orders. It is really enjoyable to work, and the clientele was mainly delightful. To me, somehow it was a continuity of my previous work with the circle and sacred geometry. And we made some beautiful tents together. It was also really interesting learning for me. I’d helped make a yurt before back in Britain, but here we self-taught and refined our technique, learned a craft as we went on, and provided low-impact shelters for many people. We ran it as a small cottage industry, making 3-4 yurts a year, and several tipis (with poles, etc). Initially, we were 1 of only 8 companies in France, so it was relatively easy, but as the modern interest grew over the last decade, more and more other companies emerged, making the competition difficult. Our Yurts and other tents are now dotted all over Europe. When we separated in 2012, we continued our work together, both with the structures, the kids, and the inner work. Then about 5 years ago, I had an accident in the forest while making a rough-hewn beam for my house, and after another year or so of continuing, I realized that I shouldn’t be moving around such heavy materials. I’ve gradually been putting it on the back burner since. I loved living in a circle space, close to the natural world. As an experience, it really brought home the connection of the seasons in nature, and the seasons or moods in oneself. I think it helped me a lot to open up to myself and my healing journey, and the simplicity we can enjoy, should we choose. The land here is at about 800m and is surrounded by forest, so there is no real way to escape the environment, and over the years I’ve found myself becoming more attuned to that, and at peace in myself. Very often in the busy world, we run around with a huge sense of urgency and self-importance, and I believe that this level of distraction keeps us from dealing with our hurts and existential pain. Coming back to a more balanced and integrated connection to our environment, and our internal weather systems is a journey so worth taking.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Dave: My most challenging areas change over the year, but there are definitely constant themes. One thing I really struggle with is how the external world assumes that it can engage without an appointment. Whether that be the
phone ringing, the email demanding a response, or the form to fill in, my more introverted parts find it incredibly distracting and invasive. I find that quite difficult to reconcile. Indeed I grew up before all the information tech,
when you used the phone briefly to organize going to the Café, or Bar … now it’s assumed that I have a phone with internet in my pocket at all moments and am completely accessible. On a more artistic note, I suppose that I find an expectation to perform in a given window of time quite hard. Like how can there be a time limit on the creative process? It’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. These two areas are as many “blocks” to creativity as being uninspired is. We touched on overcoming that previously. This said, in terms of phones, etc, I leave mine on mute, nearly all the time. And when it comes to time, again it’s about intuition, feeling what’s right, and how much energy I’ve got for a project.
What is your favorite artwork so far, and why?
Dave: Wow! What a hard question to address! I don’t know that I have a particular favorite as such. I’m really enjoying the screen printing, and am loving the results. I equally like painting, and digital work, though they feel somehow less dynamic as a process. Then again, when I was building a show for the video project, and doing live events that too was exciting and extremely creative. I probably think that each new piece is a momentary favorite – certainly the process.
If I had to choose I might say “Ceridwn’s Cauldron” which is an abstract oil painting I made when I was first in France. I was experimenting with the medium, and really enjoying that it had such a long time “open” before it dried out. Layer by layer, and with a real abandon, it just kind of materialized until I knew that it was finished. Its name comes from the Myth of Ceridwn, the Welsh Goddess and the picture is her turning into a Salmon and diving into a Pool after Gwion, as he flees. He had just taken 3 drops of her magic potion, and so could shape-shift etc. In the story, Ceridwn eventually swallows him, and 9 months later she gives birth to Taliesin (the Shining Brow) who becomes a Seer, Mystic, and prototypical Druid.
What’s the coolest art tip you’ve ever received?
Dave: Four jewels of wisdom spring to mind: Stop talking about it, and start being it Creativity is not a competition Keep doing what you love, and realize your purpose here on the planet Don’t take yourself too seriously.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists on how to think out-of-the-box and grow?
Dave: Follow your muse. Like really just get into it. Everything else is a distraction, and only by being passionate (to the point of being bloody-minded) will your skills and inspiration grow. Trust in the process, and show up consistently for yourself. I think it’s probably a good idea to develop a spiritual practice, certainly to develop discipline, but also as a tool to really go into your “stuff” and see what makes you tick. Personally, over the years between meditation, yoga, silence and the plants, I’ve begun to align with what matters to me, and what I have to share in the World. I reckon that there has to be a certain ability to deconstruct oneself, and one’s work, and an awareness that each element is also a seed for new potentials: the ones that grow are the ones we choose to
water and give attention to.
What’s next on the horizon for Dave?
Dave: OMG! I don’t know. I’m quite happy exploring printmaking at the moment and focusing on more the commercial side of things. I’m also working on my Calendar 2022, and a Diary version too, doing all the DTP myself, and have been systematically adding new cards and prints to the website shop. This said, I have various ideas where to take it all, and am designing some installation pieces for a show in 2022 where I’m looking to combine elements on woodwork, structure making, and print. It all feels a bit up in the air after the last 18 mths of craziness on the planet.