Interview – Snakes & Ladders 2013
SA1. Your work has a very clear style; it has a sense of traditional sculpture in using figuration and landscape, so in some sense, surface and form, which, references the old and modern masters. What is the most important element in you work?
RM Probably reflection, my work reflects how I perceive natural things. In my earlier work I tried to control materials, but now I try to use materials to reflect broader issues and surrounds. That’s partly why I like the reflective materials; you are utilising what is already available. It takes a while but it is a huge realisation that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Once you get past that and realise that you just need to look around and comment on what is there.
The Location is more than 50% of the decision making around the work, as to what I make or how I make it. With all outdoor work, especially with the figures, it is the location. You have to find the right place, and the right time or it will not work. With the ‘Vestiges’ piece it took several days, even though I knew the piece of woodland well, it was quiet, glade. The space was almost like an amphitheatre in the final choice.
SA I really like the big reflective monoliths, the ‘Cloud’ work
RM That was a follow on from the series of reflective figures. I was interested in creating a large, solid shape, which, would capture the surroundings. Currently I am building a large sculpture with steel rods, twisted to resemble wood or willow, and warped into a tower about 6 meters high. It looks as if it has been blasted apart and the explosion, captured in an instant photo. The similarity of the works I think is the context, and imagining how Nature will impact upon them and their environment. I like working in different materials and with this piece I wanted it to appear as if it was really happening in front of the viewers eyes.
SA2 When you make, work, could you describe the process?
RM I like working with different mediums, physical and kinetic. Sometimes you happen to see it working, with this particular piece it’s like watching it in slow motion, or paused motion or on a disaster movie. It is observing how nature has this force of anarchy. The steel willow tower is a very man made structure and it is as if this invisible natural hand affects it.
Its coming on well, another week or two and it will be complete, it’s located in central Scotland as part of a very interesting commission from the Forestry Commission. They have taken a piece of waste land that used to be a factory site, planted 750,000 trees and created a new 40 Hectare sight, re-planting from scratch. My piece is a landmark or catalyst marker for the place. It will be ten to fifteen years before it fully starts to take shape.
SA3 Does the environment figure in your thinking?
The environment is a natural part of my thinking but I am politically and socially aware. I am observing changes and making a reflection, of and on them. That is what interests me. I don’t pretend to be totally ecological; I have the house and the cars, I am just observing the changes going on. I reflect on what is going on about me, that’s what interests me, the interaction between humans and the environment. I like the idea of nature being so unpredictable.
SA It is always changing, is overly powerful and has its cycles, but dominates and frees you at the same time
RM I think that’s also something I notice about history.
This inter-action between humans and their environment; it has notes of a traditional sense of ancestry and belonging in it too, these are more difficult to put into words; ‘History and Resonance’. One thing informs the other. The world is constantly expanding and contracting. We see it here locally as there is much more flooding, and every time you make a change there is an effect. This is because the local authorities have built on flood plains to generate more money.
SA4 Do you allow for accident in your work?
RM All the time; it is really important, if it is good I run with it, if it’s a bad accident then I will burn it or cut it up and use it again! I have done this many a time.
SA5 Do you work in any other media?
RM I used to paint; I have always crossed borders between allsorts of disciplines. Creativity is not a single language or practice, my mind works best in 3D.
I have been invited to create a permanent four metre high sculpture in Russia. It’s a great opportunity and looking forward to the challenge. It’s part of an arts festival, in the town of Vyksa It has a population of 50/60,000 people; and presents a very different environ and process from the forestry work; and very fascinating. The rest of Europe is very familiar, but Russia is still a wee bit of a dark horse, so I will let you know how my trip works out.
SA6 I am interested in the thematic and intellectual/philosophical approaches you take, no matter how subtle.
RM I think… I cant quote off the top of my head, but some of the questions raised in the past 100 years by the Universe and Science, around how religion and societies interact stimulate me. I am very interested in History, which, mirrors the same questions asked and discussed by the Greeks and Romans. Some of the debates and conversations which are documented then are still the same 3000 years later. Slightly different, but they are essentially asking the same questions and it will be fascinating to see how Religion responds to scientific advance. Where do we fit into the scheme of things? Maybe there will be a massive resurgence of religion because scientists will get to a point where they can’t explain everything!
SA Or the two things meet?
RM I don’t want to know everything…I don’t want to know what my sculpture will look like, Ok, I have an idea and I convince the people that are commissioning me, but I don’t really want to know, or that I will be able to do it. It is a bit scary, but that’s where you get the buzz, to overcome the obstacles from an engineering point of view, with a difficult piece of work, but that’s the challenge there’s no point in doing it if it’s too easy!
SA12 Have Poetry and Literature have been an influence? Who/What are your strongest literary influences?
RM A couple of writers, Steinbeck’s’ ‘Of Mice and Men,’ I read years ago and it stuck with me, and probably more but I cant think now, if I was at home I could go into the library and look. Another one; a book about a Comanche Tribe in the USA, the history of how their lives have changed, I identified with their story of the loss of the land. That struck a chord. I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, at the moment on the French Revolution, but lots of History. A real mixture; Tom Holland comes to mind.
SA13 What are your strongest artistic influences?
RM Oh lots and lots. If I had to pin point it down to a few artists, Giacometti, I have always loved his work, his spatial awareness, his two dimensional works and his sculpture, Mark Rothko’s sense of space. Some can be more predictable and I struggle, like Anthony Gormley, people always draw comparisons with my work and Gormley’s, but whenever you use a figure in a landscape it is inevitable that people will do so. Anish Kapoor, not the London Olympics piece, but when I was young I liked a lot of his work, and I worked with David Mach on a project in Glasgow and appreciate some of his work. But I just love the way Giacometti draws.
SA14 Do you meditate?
RM. No! My brain doesn’t work that wa; sorry I thought you said levitate! I don’t think I could do it for more than ten minutes – my wife is laughing! If I was on my own I would give you so much waffle, but she will rip me afterwards! She is keeping me well grounded!
SA15 Some of the images you create could all be interpreted as religious or scientific in their symbolism. Does your work have a religious aspect?
RM It does in a broader sense. The titles give hints sometimes. Implying vessels and journeys, so they are non specifically religious! Or raise hints of religious questions, this is me searching…I tend to do that in a visual way. So, no, not in an orthodox way, but in a wider way. I do believe in something guiding and omnipresent, whether it be ‘Mother Nature’ or an unseen entity, I don’t know. But I want this presence to be seen or felt in the work. I do delve into it, works like ‘Broken Vessel’, give a sense that the body is a container or a vessel to a journey or a path, and quite often there is a connection.
SA16 Does your work have a scientific aspect?
RM Another piece I am working just now on now could be considered scientific. It is for a festival in France [Envies Rhonements] for the 2013 Marseilles EU City of Culture Festival It launches on May 15th. I proposed building a giant external infinity mirror in the Carmargue in a woodland area. It uses large blocks of mirror to create an ‘Infinity space’; it is in production as we speak. It has a scientific aspect too, it relates to physics and psychology. It’s going to be an interesting one, it is not something I have invented, lots of artists have done it, but inside. This is the first time it has been done externally; usually they are made in internal spaces. It relates to and alters perception.
SA I cant express how excited I am to see it, I have been buying kaleidoscopes and glass objects and painting on mirrors for months so I think its bloody brilliant! Are you very open with your personal beliefs and experiences in your work? Are you comfortable to show the real you or is there a more detached presence/interface in your work?
RM Yes, pretty much so.
SA17 How has your gender impacted upon your work?
RM I suppose quite often I have had a few people say that my work can be quite masculine, my wife says that people comment on it. I’m not open enough to dissect that, but I suppose being masculine has impacted on it. I like a solidity, I like robust stuff and the work I have been producing over the last few weeks is hugely physical, stereotypically so. A lot of lifting and force is required; it’s a lot of physical work.
SA18 Aside from this, as an informal question. What would you do if you couldn’t do this?
RM I would be a pilot, I always wanted to fly aircraft and used to spend all my wages on flying lessons. Partly, because it is such a three dimensional experience, and partly because of the freedom. The great thing about flying is the up, down, and sideways freedom.
SA19 Again informally, do you have any OCD tendencies?
RM Yes… Especially when I am involved with a project, I am completely focussed. I live in a bubble. But I don’t think you could do a job like this without some autistic tendencies, or without some weird twists in your mind or behaviour. What keeps you going is the ego, a narcissism which drives this need to communicate. My wife is laughing very loudly again!
SA I think all of us, [artists/creative] male and female, need to do something mentally and physically active, do you feel that need too?
RM I couldn’t do a regimental job, I take my hat off to people who can, but don’t understand how. I have experience of it. People who have come from creative backgrounds will develop new processes and solve problems, come up with other solutions.
© Snakes and Ladders