Sunday, 24 April 2016


Daedalus was an ancient Greek craftsman in mythology and is celebrated in the person of Stephen Daedalus in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a novel I read a very long time ago. I think it was the first thing I ever read which uses indirect speech and it made a serious impression upon me. As a young man, I had ambitions to be an Artist, although it is hardly a teaching manual.

We went on an all-day City art tour yesterday. I quite like art tours, we have been on a few around the region which is particularly rich in sculpture in the landscape. Not just the Angel but there is a lovely Goldsworthy sculpture hidden away behind overgrown shrubs by the river and of course we have Rolling Moon probably the single best piece of outdoor art anywhere.

So back to the artist as a young man. Yesterday the tour was led by sculptor Joseph Hillier who has a number of installations in buildings and university courtyards. In particular, Faith a metal artwork which hangs on a wall in the new QE Hospital atrium. It is excellent and he spoke about how he wanted to do something uplifting for sick people navigating the impersonal hospital wards. He had begun with a grid of a male body not particularly intending to make a grid-metal sculpture but when he looked at what he had on the screen, he saw straight away that that was the way to go. It works, it really works and you could see he was proud of it. He made it himself. Another sculpture, of a risen Christ [at Soutar Lighthouse] was awfully well executed with resin from again, a computerised image and made a strong impression. Dreadfully displayed by South Tyneside Council in a shipping container; not sure what was going on there, I think Joseph was a little bit ashamed of it.
Then we all trooped off to his beautifully lit studio to see his new commissions, still at sketching stage and he showed us his device for creating gridshell images home-made from an x-Box attached to a camera. Is it cheating? Sculpture from a gridshell screen . . . all the dimensions scaled up: all you have to do is measure up and bingo you have a bronze free-form sculpture. But you still have to be an artist to produce art from that. It’s a tool. Like the laptops, the anvil, the oxy-acetylene gear, the paint booth and 3-D printer.

I was disappointed thinking about it all when I got home with the way the works were displayed. I am forever singing the praises of our local councils, Gateshead and Kielder in particular for championing art in these times of austerity but the University courtyard seemed cluttered with inappropriate street furniture surrounding the sculptures and as I mentioned, the installation at South Shields was dire; as though they found it an embarrassment. Maybe it’s about vandalism; they are scared in case local hooligans damage it or scrawl graffiti on it. I suspect that is why the Goldsworthy is so hard to find.

I don’t have an answer, it completely unreasonable to expect the police to protect outdoor artwork.

Anyway, good day.

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