From the Shoulders of Giants

November - December 2013

From the Shoulders of Giants

I am, like a lot of artists I suspect, interested in the way the work of other artists influences my development and practice. The more I think about this, the more I come to realise the ideal of the great, singular, heroic artist is something of a mythical construction. One mired in a messy tangle of romantic stories of muscular egos, struggle, deprivation and hard won achievement.

I have believed for a long time that all artists are collaborators whether they think so or not. We do not make art in a void. None of us are an untainted, unexplored island. As such a large part of what I do as an artist reflects and acknowledges ideas of collaboration and the blurring of what is original.

A question that I feel should be asked more is not what is truly original, but does originality actually exist? Art is the subject of influences. Isn’t everything simply a rearrangement, improvement or development? When we make art we are making it from the ideas, experiences and memories within us. Sometimes this is obvious, other times it is somewhat more subtle. But nothing is made that doesn’t build on what was there before us. In my mind, the last truly original artwork was the first one created, and that was probably a mouthful of pigment sprayed across a hand on a rock wall.

The idea of “Standing on the shoulders of giants” is ancient. Many of us know it from Sir Isaac Newton who once wrote in a letter, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.

The expression itself can be traced back to the Greek myth of Orion and Cedalion. Cedalion (or Kedalion) was a dwarf who sat on a blinded Orions shoulders as he guided him to meet Helios, the sun god, who restored Orion’s sight. To me as a visual artist, the metaphor of light curing blindness is particularly appealing. The expression seems to have come into western culture sometime in the 12th Century and is attributed to the French philosopher Bernard of Chartres who wrote that:

“... we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”.

Subsequently it has become a wide ranging device to describe collaborative process or advancement built upon previous works and is common in a broad range of fields.

Advancement is, as is reflected in the this works title, a story of imitation, developing, tearing down and building ideas and principles. From childhood we learn by a mixture of copying and experimentation. Sounds, social norms, behaviour, language, styles. All artists have seen work that they have used as a springboard. Whilst I cannot find the exact quote, Braque once said, I believe, that he used to hide his work when Picasso came to visit, as he would copy it, only better.

The figures presented here make reference to artists who I consider giants. For me there are many criteria for inclusion. Place in the canon, personal adoration, influence or just simple respect to name a few criteria.

We can only make better work by acknowledging, then moving on from our influences.

As mentioned above, an important part of my thinking, and practice, is the idea of collaboration. This series of images has been an example of this and I am particularly grateful to Evangelo Costadimas for his creative and technical expertise and work with me on this. Without his help and expertise this work would not exist in its current form.

Or there is the very short version

I am interested in where my art comes from and in the influences on it. These works are part of an ongoing series that looks at the ideas of collaboration and the myth of the iconoclastic individual artist.

The works in this series were made using a combination of magic and trickery and smoke and mirrors that involved, among other things, makeup, drawings, paint, silver, dye and projectors. And a camera.

I hope you enjoy them.

November - December 2013