The majority of artworks I make are documentary or participatory in nature – often about observing the real, whatever that might mean (see www.dialectograms.com to get an idea). So I initially saw this challenge as an opportunity to focus on some of the cartooning I don’t get to do so much of anymore – strange flights of fancy, grotesque faces, that sort of thing. And that is in here, although my ‘pro’ work bled into it, somewhat inevitably.
I set myself a simple material constraint – pencil only, and done in a single session. I broke the second rule plenty of times, but not the first. I would also try and make it a genuine record of what came to me, rather than something I planned.
That is not how it ended up. Projects like this are inevitably something of a show – this book is crossing the Atlantic to ‘live’ in New York until it crumbles, so there is no use pretending it can be done without awareness of a potential audience. So I did put in something – a small ‘dialectogram’ – that represented the blend of participatory art, ethnography and drawing which constitutes my professional practice. You’ll see bits of projects set in young offender’s homes, assisted living complexes, crumbling local shopping malls and the streets themselves. So, I did try to make the sketchbook a part of my everyday life, slipping it into my usual Black Moleskine. Every so often I would bring it out instead of my ‘core’ book. So it became something of a digest of what my workaday sketchbook would be, albeit a little focused towards showcasing what I do towards the imagined hordes of Brooklynites who might be picking it up.
My life and work is focused in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, and so is this book (there’s a bit of London and Edinburgh in it too, but please don’t hold that against it, nothing is perfect). Glasgow’s residents are simultaneously warm and belligerent, angry and hilarious, its culture and politics red socialist and ruthlessly neoliberal all at the same time. There are many things you can say about Glasgow, but dull - never. I live in the east end, which like most east ends, is the poorest district. It has yet to go the way of London’s east end (or Brooklyn for that matter), but it is changing. Its historically white Highland Scottish and Irish working class increasingly rubs shoulders with African, Kurdish and Chinese migrants. It’s the margin of Glasgow, itself the major Scottish city the tourists largely ignore – so on the margin of the margin. Scotland is of course, on the margin of the UK (and not entirely sure how it feels about that right now) so yep – margin on the margin of the margin. I’m laying it on thick now…
I also, incidentally, come from one of the east end’s oldest minority groups – that is, yes -a margin on the margin on the margin of the margin. I call myself a traveller, racists call me a gyppo or pikey, an American might mistake me for a carny, ethnographers a 'perpatetic nomad' and the government designates me a travelling showperson. We’ve been a large minority in Glasgow’s east end for over 200 years, using the city as a winter base and travelling Scotland and the north of England in the summer. Our lives are more complex now, but we continue to live in 50 or so yards or ‘grounds’ across the east end (I suppose you'd call them trailer parks in America, but they are very different to those – at least, to those depicted in American media). This aspect of myself is represented in the ‘dialectogram’ of ‘our place’, the egregious family portraits (as in, the extended family that I see every day), my decision to represent Scotland’s national animal as a screwed up carousel horse and the final image, where the Glasgow Giant has tripped over and destroyed all that I hold dear.
The ‘Glasgow Giant’ is, by the way, an occasional series of mine in which a balding, fat giant turns up in various parts of Glasgow to – unknowingly – wreak havoc. He’s probably a metaphor for the city council or something, or it could just be I have a deep-seated psychological need to draw balding heads and big bellies.
You’ll also findwitches (in and out of bottles), strange wee man-creatures bred for office life and a page of faces that gives my wife the creeps. She is, incidentally also featured quite a bit, a benefit/curse of having been wise/foolish enough to marry the artist which she deals with by being significantly cooler than I am (not only can I not play guitar like she can, I could never pull off a leopard print robe). There are also some nice, lovely heart-warming pictures based on the darker corners of Scottish and Persian folk-history because of course there are. I quite like all of it except for my sketch of Redmonds, a hipsterish east end bar with distractingly good food and beer.
All of which is an extremely long-winded explanation of why I called this book ‘Marginal’. I think we’ve established the marginality sufficiently–although I should say as a piece of illustration, the most marginal and ‘red-headed stepchild’ of all the arts this is therefore a marginal treatment of the margin on the margin on the margin of the margin. So there you go. Happy now?
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