I was born in Scotland, have a Masters of Arts degree from Glasgow University and studied fine art in Northern Ireland. I have lived in a bunch of places and am now based in Malmö: the comicville of the Nordic countries. “Making” intrigues me, whether that is knitting a jumper or building a whale out of wire.
I couldn’t decide between working with form and colour or language and stories, or whether to work alone in the studio or outside with other people.
So I didn’t decide and I do all of it. Just not at the same time.
What is art? Is it something only a genius can do? Are you born an artist? Or can you become one, the same way that Simone de Beauvoir said that women are not born but made? “On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.” Are we all artists like Joseph Beuys thought “Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler.” Is art something you do? Or something you say? Or something you make? Or something you love? Or something you sell?
What about James Baldwin’s take: “The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
My art practice is all about these questions.
I started off with Beryl the Peril. And of course the ubiquitous Broons and Our Wullie. One boy drew an X-rated version of The Broons in maths class and got into big trouble. But the comic was hilarious. And I read 2000 AD that my brother bought every week. Studying in France I discovered À Suivre and Asterix en français.
And then … years later … I read Perspolis by Marjane Satrapi. Definitely not the male gaze and a humdinger of a graphic novel. So I finally got it. There are stories to be told and this a genre for doing it. It is not easy to get the interplay between text and image right. At the same time, anyone can pick up a pen. So I did.
The question of learning is probably as fraught as the question of art. Maria Montessori wanted to foster independence and a love for learning from an early age. Paolo’s Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was concerned with dialogue, community, social capital and power. And so on. A great many people have reflected a great deal on what, how and why we learn.
Place-based Learning does not have to be in nature; it does not even have to be outdoors. It is, however, experiential and it does require reflection. But when we do go outside – to the park, the street, the forest, the sea – a whole new world opens up. Personally I use the process of art – not right or wrong, not subject or object – to learn about the world around me. And I am certainly not the only one!
I love Neil Gaiman‘s story of how he was a feral child brought up by librarians. I can’t remember not being able to read. I used to visit friends, read all their books and then go home without actually playing with them. I drew and wrote and made stuff as well, but mostly I read stories.
“So why did you study languages and literature?” people ask sometimes. “Because I wanted to read lots of books, travel and actually be able to talk to people”. I ended up with an old-fashioned humanities degree. And work as a translator.
And I still like reading and writing stories.