Map Jacket

Map Jacket is a jacket made from paper maps, with objects relating to walks and journeys stowed in its pockets. It is an ongoing artwork, with no final finished state in mind; it will continue to accrete and change for as long as I’m able to go out for walks. Conceptually, it will continue to change as well. I began the piece in Spring 2016. My initial idea was to make a wearable jacket out of Ordnance Survey maps, patterned on a corduroy jacket of mine, and perhaps use it in some kind of performance. It quickly became apparent that the jacket was much too fragile and inflexible to wear. I wore it once before I added the sleeves, but once the sleeves were on it became impossible to wear it without destroying it. The jacket took about three years to complete, because I abandoned it as hopeless for long periods of time. Gluing the sleeves on was particularly vexing, because paper does not stretch and form compound curves like fabric will. 

Me wearing Map Jacket before the sleeves were glued on.
Me wearing Map Jacket in 2016, before the sleeves were attached.

Some time in 2019 I revived the piece and conceived of the idea of using it as a repository for objects found on walks. The jacket would stay at home, but conceptually travel with me. Since then, I have secreted objects in the jacket, adding a new pocket for each object, or group of objects. Some objects and natural materials are attached directly to the jacket. The objects function as mementos of particular walks or places, but most of them are artworks in their own rights, being altered from the form in which they were when found. Sometimes, things found at one place and time are combined with those found at other places and times (nothing is wasted), but each object has one principal association. 

Finding things for Map Jacket is a gentle art, which I’m not sure I have come close to perfecting. It requires walking with the right sort of attentiveness. I usually bring back more things than I can use. Sometimes I make the object shortly after the walk; sometimes it takes weeks or months for an idea to form itself of what to do with the assortment of things I’ve collected. Many of the objects I make involve words – they often have words written or inscribed on them – and collecting words is also a part of my walking practice. I carry a notebook and more often write than draw (though I do both). Both practices (collecting objects and words) are about treasuring and memory. 

Most of the walks commemorated in Map Jacket took place on the North York Moors, Yorkshire coast, Cheviot Hills and a small number of other places. These are the places that have been accessible to me, particularly in the years of the pandemic. They are places that I go to find solitude and often have associations with landmarks of one sort or another (churches, stone crosses, standing stones, tumuli, crossroads etc.) They are also often places where death is close to the surface, where bones lie to be picked up. The walks themselves are a kind of melancholy ritual, because they are fragments pointing to an elusive wholeness snatched from a life embedded in routines which, while not devoid of their own meaning or rewards, are nevertheless characterised by frenetic striving. I have the feeling that Map Jacket is a work that is only in its infancy and that its strength will lie in engendering inner dialogues.

This page documents the progress of Map Jacket and all of the objects in it. I’ll keep it up to date with new objects. Scroll down for images and descriptions of all the objects in Map Jacket.

Map Jacket, June 2021
Attaching a pocket to Map Jacket, using magnets to hold it in place while the glue dries.
Detail of one of the buttons, made from a vehicle number plate.

Objects in Map Jacket

Buttons

Main buttons, top to bottom: 

  1. Made from a plastic buoy found at the coast
  2. Lead button from a baptismal gown
  3. Made from a broken vehicle number plate found on Rudland Rigg 17 June 2021

Bearing roller and glass bead

54°34’55.9″N 2°28’54.9″W

A slightly squashed car bearing roller and a small black and white glass bead sat on an envelope made out of a map.
Bearing roller and glass bead on the pocket I attached to Map Jacket.

Bearing roller from my car, which I picked up beside the A66 near Appleby-in-Westmorland when the back bearing collapsed on the way back from Scotland, September 2018. The RAC man took the wheel off and several slightly flattened rollers dropped out. I picked up three but lost the other two. Afterwards, I was often paranoid that it would happen again and to this day listen out for the odd sound of a collapsed bearing whenever I drive. The roller is sealed into a small map paper pouch with a small glass replica Anglo Saxon bead near the left collar of Map Jacket. The bead symbolises hope. The pouch has the word ‘ruin’ on it in two places.

Fat Betty Cross

54°24’35.7″N 0°57’29.1″W

Wax candle in the shape of the medieval moorland cross known as Fat Betty Cross, on a small pouch made of green fabric
Fat Betty Cross

Cross-shaped candle, modelled after the medieval moorland cross known as Fat Betty Cross, North York Moors, made from two wax tea lights found at the nearby Young Ralph Cross. Wax has earth from Howl Moor and white pigment incorporated. Contained in a small drawstring bag made from a baseball hat found beside the Lyke Wake Walk path on Wheeldale Moor. 

Candles and hat found on a walk from Goathland to Rosedale Head and back, 2nd July 2019. Earth collected on Howl Moor, near Goathland on 5th July 2019.

Young Ralph Cross

54°25’03.5″N 0°41’08.8″W

Steel cross in my hand.
Young Ralph Cross

Cross cut from a piece of thick rusty steel found on the road near Goathland during a circular walk which took in Lilla Howe and Goathland, 1st July 2019. Modelled after Young Ralph Cross. The shiny metal edges have dulled since it was made.

Ana Cross Jaw

54°19’59.7″N 0°52’34.9″W

Sheep jawbone with a cross-shaped hole cut in the bottom edge.
Ana Cross Jaw (with Young Ralph Cross)

Lower mandible from a sheep with the shape of Ana Cross, North York Moors, cut out of it. Mandible was found close to Ana Cross during a walk on Spaunton Moor, 5th July 2019.

Book of Spurn

53°35’25.3″N 0°08’09.6″E

Book made of odd materials sat on a sundial.
Book of Spurn

Book made from materials gathered on a trip to Spurn Point, 17th August 2019. Materials are: aluminium (from a wrecked aeroplane?); painted plywood from a hoarding which was painted with waves and sea creatures; rubber from a seaman’s glove; plastic; seaweed attached to a stone. Bound with copper wire found elsewhere.

Väinämöinen’s Boat

55°31’56.0″N 2°12’26.0″W and 55°35’09.7″N 1°39’44.3″W

Tiny boat made of two pieces of blue plastic sewn together with wire, on a white plastic base.
Väinämöinen’s Boat

Boat made from fragment of a blue plastic sheep feed bucket found on top of the Cheviot Hills during a figure-of-eight shaped walk starting at Town Yetholm and following sections of the Pennine Way and St Cuthbert’s Way, early September 2019. (It was found on the St. Cuthbert path close to where those two paths cross). The boat is attached to a sea-worn piece of plastic found on the beach at Seahouses, early September 2019. I was reading the Kalavala during the holiday during which both objects were found and also visited Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta garden, so boats were on my mind. You can see the sea from a point close to where I found the blue plastic and it is also very close to the England/Scotland border. The St. Cuthbert Way ends at the sea and also unites the two countries. Both objects were found in England.

Rigg

54°22’06.9″N 1°00’55.6″W

Plastic vehicle trim inscribed with a map of part of Rudland Rigg.
Rigg

Piece of scuffed plastic vehicle trim picked up on a linear walk along Westside Road, Rudland Rigg, 16th November 2019. I inscribed a short section of the trim with a map of the route, including contour lines and tumuli. The long piece of trim reminded me of the linear nature of the walk. I did the walk on a misty day and walking through the group of large round barrows was eerie and stayed in my mind. The tumuli are represented by small drill holes. I made the piece on the 8th April 2020. 

Tees Mouth Cage

54°37’56.9″N 1°10’35.9″W

Small plastic cage-like object with scrap of barbed wire in it.
Tees Mouth Cage

Plastic cage (possibly intended for suspending solid disinfectant inside the rim of a toilet bowl) containing a short length of barbed wire. Both objects picked up during a walk on the north bank of the Tees estuary, 16th January 2020.

Ravenscar Thorns

54°37’56.9″N 1°10’35.9″W

Small piece of barbed wire next to three pouches, made from different materials.
Ravenscar Thorns

Barbed wire barb found next to a freshly cut thorn hedge on Station Road, Ravenscar, during a walk along the Cinder Track from Scarborough to Robin Hood’s Bay, 7th March 2020. Contained in a series of nested pouches. The inner pouch is made from cigarette papers found left as an offering on top of Fat Betty Cross, 5th July 2019. The middle pouch is made from a recycled cashmere wrist warmer found on the Cinder Track on the same day as the barbed wire and the outer pouch is made from a cover for an equestrian helmet, also found on the same day.

Kirkdale Roll

54°15’47.5″N 0°57’42.0″W

Cigarette papers with names of places in Kirdale on them in black ink.
Kirkdale Roll

Pack of RAW brand cigarette papers with topographic and farm names from Kirkdale inked onto the individual papers. The cigarette papers were picked up at Fat Betty Cross, 2nd July 2019. The names relate to a walk in Kirkdale, 14th August 2020. The pack also has some tear-off gummed paper strips, which have words gathered on my walk written on in pencil. The coordinates are those of the spot on the dry section of the Hodge Beck where I sat writing in my notebook (I may actually have written the words on the gummed paper at that point, I can’t remember. I did definitely make a couple of small drawings on cigarette papers on the spot). I inked the names on the papers in September 2020.

Kirkdale Bone

54°19’55.1″N 1°03’03.4″W

Sheep bone with words written on in black ink.
Kirkdale bone

Sheep bone picked up on Pockley Moor during my walk in Kirkdale 14th August 2020, with words inked on it from my notebook of the day’s walk. The bone has an inked line round it half way along its length, because I intended to cut it in half and take half back to the moors. I never did this.

Orm Stone

54°15’47.5″N 0°57’42.0″W

Small flat piece of stone with 'Orm' inscribed on it.
Orm Stone

Third object relating to my walk in Kirkdale 14th August 2020. It is a flat stone picked up from the dry river bed near St. Gregory’s Minster. It has the name Orm engraved on it. Orm is the Anglo-Scandinavian landowner who restored St. Gregory’s Minster in the 11th century and who is commemorated in the rare Anglo-Saxon inscription above the door of the church. Orm son of Gamel is known from other historical sources and is connected to the feud discussed in Richard Fletcher’s book Bloodfeud. (Richard Fletcher lived in Kirkdale at some point in his life).

Bone for Azazel

54°23’37.2″N 0°59’18.4″W

Bone for Azazel
Bone for Azazel

Rabbit bone and a piece of dried melancholy thistle found on a walk on 22nd September 2020 around the top of Farndale (from Blakey Ridge carpark to the junction of the track up Rudland Rigg, along the top). They are tied together with red embroidery thread and live in a small metal tin. Piece was made in May 2021. Azazel is a demon associated with desert places in Jewish mythology. The ‘scapegoat’ mentioned in the Bible (Leviticus 16) is actually the ‘goat for Azazel’ – not an offering to appease Azazel, but a symbolic taking of the sin of the people to Azazel in the wilderness/underworld, where it belongs. The piece probably belongs back out in the wilderness, but, for now, it is in Map Jacket. It perhaps represents the melancholy holding onto of the memory of sin, rather than sin itself.

Joined Ribs

55°32’09.1″N 2°10’40.6″W   

Two fragments of sheep rib joined together.
Joined Ribs

Two ends of sheep rib cut off and joined together. The ribs were found on a walk along College Valley in the Cheviots some time between 5th and 8th September 2020. The piece was made May 2021. Piece lives in the same tin as Bone for Azazel.

Cinder Track Tool and Cinder Track Object

54°27’18.0″N 0°33’03.1″W

Cinder Track Tool, Cinder Track Object and another associated object made from hawthorn berries and hazel shells.

Cinder Track Tool is three hawthorn thorns mounted in the end of a cut-off sheep’s rib, with three dried harebell flowers inserted in a hollowed out cavity in the rib. The thorns and harebells were found on a circular walk from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby along the Cleveland Way and then back along the Cinder Track, 8th October, 2020. The rib came from the College Valley (it’s the same rib as used in Joined Ribs). The Cinder Track is not all that far from the famous Mesolithic site of Starr Carr and Cinder Track Tool reminds me of an archaeological find of unknown purpose.

Cinder Track Object is made from four dried hawthorn berries collected on the same walk as Cinder Track Tool, set into holes in a piece of sheep’s rib found in College Valley. Both pieces were made May 2021.

Hallelujah Stone

54°23’29.1″N 1°02’13.3″W

Piece of ironstone with the word ‘hallelujah’ painted on it in white oil paint. I picked the stone near the Cammon Stone on Rudland Rigg. The Cammon Stone is a prehistoric standing stone and it has the word ‘hallelujah’ carved into it in Hebrew characters, reputedly by the nineteenth century clergyman Rev. W. Strickland, vicar of Ingleby. The walk was from Blakey Ridge along the top of Farndale, across to Urra Moor and then back down Rudland Rigg and finally across Farndale back to Blakey Ridge, 17th June 2021. I made the piece a few days afterwards. The stone is heavy for its size.

Hallelujah Stone - a piece of ironstone with the word 'Hallujah' painted on it - in my hand.
Hallelujah Stone

Encyclopaedia Ball – an interview with myself.

This is about a project I’m working on, called Encyclopaedia Ball. The project is to turn a set of 1950’s Encyclopaedia Britannicas into a solid ball of papier mache. I thought I’d write this blog in the form of an interview with myself.

Q. How did you start on this project?

A. The ball form came first. My wife was experimenting with pulped egg cartons as a sculpting material and ended up making a series of small paper pulp balls, about the size of golf balls. I liked them. They reminded me of David Nash’s Nine Cracked Balls. I have a large stash of academic journals I originally got for making papier mache with, so I tried pulping the paper from one of them. I found it didn’t pulp well, but I started layering the pages over a core of pulp, with wall paper paste. I got the idea of continuing until I’d used the entire journal. It was a rather thick conference proceedings volume published by the ACM [Association for Computing Machinery] and this became the first of my ball pieces, ACM Ball. After that I made a ball out of a copy of the Bible. I kind of had a vision of a really huge paper ball, like a boulder, so using the encyclopaedias suggested itself.

Q. I understand that the encyclopaedias are a family heirloom. 

A. They were bought in the 1950s by my grandfather for my father. My grandfather was worried that my father wasn’t doing well academically, and hoped the encyclopaedias would help. Naturally, my father never read them, and nor did my grandfather, who had them in his house until his death. Then my parents had them in their house for a few years and never read them. Then I got them and put them in my attic. And didn’t read them. In the 1950s, a set of encyclopaedias was the equivalent of the internet, it was where you went to answer random questions. A set of encyclopaedias can also take you on rabbit trails and open up new things to you. But it’s easy to leave them unopened on the shelf. There’s something closed, or a bit forbidding about them. The irony is that, if I’d had them as a child, I would have read them. I loved the Encyclopaedia Britannicas at school.

Q. What does your father think of you turning them into a ball?

A. He doesn’t know. He would probably think it was stupid.

Q. How do you conceptualise the project? I mean, you’re taking all of this knowledge and sort of locking it shut. Is it a comment on information overload, the burden of knowledge…?

A. I haven’t tended to conceptualise it much, but I guess there are a number of strands. My understanding of the piece has developed through the act of making it. It’s true that I’m locking information up and it could be seen as disrespectful of knowledge – like screwing it up into a big ball. There’s something precious or even sacred about the form of the book and a corresponding sense of sacrilege about destroying them. On the other hand, those encyclopaedias were locked shut for decades and I will be the only person who will ever see every single page. In a sense, I’m also opening them up. It has been heartbreaking at times, to see some of the beautiful images in there – hand drawn images and photographs – just to hide them again under layers. I started taking photos of the ball as it progressed, particularly of images and things I found interesting. That set of images is part of the work, a companion to it.

Q. There’s something performative about it, then?

A. Yes, I think so. I’m finding that more so. It’s quite a physical process. At one point, I thought it would make a nice evening project for when I’m too tired to do other work, but it’s actually hard work. It’s reached the point where I have to stand up to do it and there’s a certain choreography of how I need to move it around as I work on it. And of course, I’m seeing all of these images and reading snatches of text. I’m living through all that knowledge. It’s bringing different things into my mind as I work, changing me. 

Another touchstone for this project has been Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone. This was a ball of plasticine, weighing the same as the artist, which took on the form of the environment as it was rolled and moved about. He rolled it to the gallery and it picked up imprints of grates on the street etc. My ball has a similar set of constraints – if I ever finish it, the size will be determined by the encyclopaedias – and it’s something that will continue to evolve over time. Orozco’s ball changes every time it gets handled and mine will take years, probably, to complete. I could see it being exhibited and then continued to be worked on. 

I also think a lot about another of David Nash’s pieces, Wooden Boulder. Again a large ball, much bigger than mine, made of wood. It got trapped in a stream when the artist was trying to move it, and spent years being moved by the force of water down the stream, to the river and out into the sea. There’s something about the form of a rough sphere that appeals to me.

Q. How far into the project are you? You say you might not even finish it?

A. I’m up to volume 6 and I think the set has 24 volumes. So I’m about a fifth the way through. But I’ve been working on it for two years. Not constantly of course. It’s pretty boring work and I don’t know if I’ll complete it. I might just stop. It might get too big to fit through the door. I might drop it on my foot and decide enough’s enough!

Q. How big do you think it will get? Bigger than a doorway?

A. I don’t know. Probably not that big. The bigger it gets, the slower it grows, because the surface area to cover gets bigger all the time.

Q. Describe the process of making it.

A. It’s not complicated. I use wallpaper paste, like you do when you do papier mache at school. I just layer on page after page. For some reason, it tends towards being a rounded cube, rather than a sphere. I don’t know why that is – something to do with how the paper overlaps. I’ve tried various strategies to avoid it, but it doesn’t work. A mathematician could probably tell me the optimum way of doing it. I end up tearing the paper into smaller pieces in order to ‘correct’ the shape – I’m not sure if that is cheating or not, but I make the rules! I have a theory that it’ll become less of a problem the bigger it gets, because each page will cover a smaller proportion of the surface. When it was small, each page completely covered the ball. If it is a problem. I don’t know!

Q. There’s something quite aggressive about it, as an object. It’s like a wrecking ball!

A. It is! It’s fallen off the table with a crash before and it’s a wonder it didn’t break the floor. I suppose you could say it’s quite masculine, if you want. It’s quite a perverse thing to do to a book. I like heavy, solid compact things. It’s like a bomb. A knowledge bomb! It’s got all this trapped knowledge buzzing away like nuclear energy. I was also responding to the work of Jukhee Kwon, who’s work I saw in the 2018 Aesthetica Prize in York. Her work with books is very light and the books are quite literally opened up as she cuts into the pages and creates these cascades. I wanted to take the opposite path. Jukhee Kwon’s work seems to turn knowledge into spirit, whereas my balls turn it into matter. 

Q. Is there also something about knowledge being a burden, or obsolete knowledge?

A. Certainly, there’s something around obsolescence. Printed encyclopaedias are obsolete things. Knowledge becomes dated – these encyclopaedias are from the 1950s and a lot of the knowledge in them will have been superseded. And so with our knowledge today. And with the internet or whatever. I worked in a bookshop for a while, and one of the things I learned was that old sets of encyclopaedias don’t have financial value. Having lots of books can be oppressive. In the Bible it says about there being no end to the making of books and with much knowledge comes much misery. Knowledge ends up forming archaeological strata and it’s only the surface you see.

Q. I believe you have a party each time you reach a new letter?

A. Yes! I started doing that. Each party involves food and drink beginning with the new letter. I’ve only done it twice, as I’m still in ‘C’ and I didn’t do ‘A’. They haven’t involved many people – just my family – but maybe I should make them into more of a thing. I like the idea of art having a social aspect. Although I’m not particularly social…!

Q. What will you have when you get to ‘X’?

A. My head examined, probably.

B for Ballistics.

Japanese block printing (my version)

Here are some experiments I did with a bastardised version of Japanese woodblock printing. Instead of using oil based ink, this technique uses water-based drawing ink and starch paste. The starch paste slows the drying of the ink and allows it to be printed. This was just a dipping of the toe in the water, but I might do some more. There are some great videos on YouTube of Japanese masters doing this properly; I’m just seeing if I can use it in my own way.

In the two pictures above, you can see the tools I used. In the cup is a mixture of acrylic drawing ink and starch paste (I used Japanese Jin Shofu paste, which I normally use as a paper glue). I tried various brushes, including a watercolour wash brush and a house painting brush, but I found that a large makeup brush worked best. You brush the ink on. You don’t need very much, but it’s best if it’s even. In the other picture, you can see the results. Top left: I didn’t wet the paper. Top right: paper too wet and too much ink/starch. Bottom left: still too much ink/starch and paper possibly still too wet – the block took a lot of the paper surface with it. Bottom right: better, but it still took some of the paper surface off. Might be bad paper (it was cheap paper). I printed them with a Floplast 110mm press (= a piece of 110mm soil pipe filled with concrete).

Photos of the Erskine Bridge

I’ve been sifting through some photos I took back in 1996 when I was at Glasgow School of Art. They came out of a project I was doing related to the Antonine Wall, the Roman construction which spanned the Forth-Clyde isthmus. I made a series of cycle trips to locations along the wall. The sequence of photos I’m presenting here are of the Erskine Bridge, which crosses the Clyde near the western end of the Antonine Wall, within sight of the fort at Old Kilpatrick. Suspension bridges have been another of my obsessions. There is somehow a connection between the miraculously thin concrete span of the bridge and the Antonine Wall, which was also a structure extruded beyond what one would think possible.

 

Monoprinting in the cold

© Matthew Herring 2018. Prints on floor in studio
© Matthew Herring 2018.

Today I finished working on a monoprinted text piece. It’s the third I’ve completed out of a series of them. It was freezing in my studio – the ‘Beast from the East’ brought snow and storm Emma contributed wind – and I had a job to get the ink fluid enough! I put it on the heater until it steamed and probably nearly caught fire. 

An almanack out of the attic

Whilst sorting out stuff in my attic recently, I came across an almanack I made for a project at Glasgow School of Art in 1996 or 1997. This thing is made of paper mounted on mounting board in a concertina-style book: 13 ‘pages’. It lives in a box made of mounting board. Box and almanack are decorated with orange acrylic paint (unmixed orange and a peach-coloured tint) and graphite. I’m far enough away from the person I was when I made it that I think I can start to unlock some of its meanings.

(Images © Matthew Herring)

My first year supposedly on the illustration course at Glasgow was frustrating. Neither of our two tutors were practicing illustrators – one was a packaging designer and the other I think had been a commercial artist (i.e. graphic designer) in the days before computers – and neither had any interest in teaching illustration. Most of the projects they set were either idiotic (“design a planet”) or basically graphic design briefs. Into this context came: “Make an almanack”. It had to use two colours only, as if it were to be printed using a two colour process. One of our tutors, remember, harked back to the days when artists made colour separations by hand. Peculiar thing to teach, on the brink of the digital/internet/multi-media age.

An almanack is usually heavy on type. For a computer-phobe who went to art school to learn to illustrate, almost nothing could be more calculated to turn me off a brief. Either: learn Adobe QuarkXpress (and how to use a computer in general), or do the whole thing by hand. This was in the days when computers lived in a special room guarded by a technician more unhelpful than any librarian; crashed if you breathed on them; and had to be fought over tooth and nail. In 1996/7 I was a frustrated fine artist pretending to myself I wanted to be an illustrator while being extra frustrated at not even being taught that. (The 40 year-old me wonders why I didn’t leave and go to a different art school).

To top it all, a suggestion: why not do something about Charles Rennie Mackintosh? Saint Mack of the Dollars. Into this plays the tension of Glasgow School of Art in those days and hopefully not still: be a Mackintosh theme park for tourists, or a working art school. The fine artists in the Mackintosh shared their space with tourists. For the illustrators and graphic designers in the leaky Foulis building over the road, since demolished, it was this: do something Mackintosh and it might get produced for the gift shop. Our tutors were in cahoots with the gift shop.

So. My almanack was an anti-Mackintosh, anti-graphic design, anti-commercial, anti-sense, anti-almanack. On one side of the concertina: a front cover and twelve images. On the other side, a jumble of calendars, mad handwriting and scribbled drawings. Nowhere does it say which year it is for and it is utterly unusable, as intended. I barely remember what my tutors said to it. I think they were more-or-less indifferent to it. If they realised it was a deliberate and frustrated attempt at a riposte to their project and whole approach to teaching, they didn’t care.

This is what is going on in it:

 

‘Images side’

 

Page 1: front cover

Has the following hand-drawn text in smudgy graphite on a pale-orange ellipse on an orange ground: “The This Almanack Was DesiGNED by Me for Me And is DeDICATD TO ME”. Orange was my colour of the apocalypse: the colour of a nuclear sunset. A pale ellipse surrounded by a ‘burnt’ black border on an orange ground was a nihilistic gesture: a vacuous “that’s all folks!” portal at the end of everything. A burnt out tunnel to nothing (not even Bugs Bunny).

Page 2

On top of a C.R. Mackintosh motif of four squares sits a sack with eye holes and ‘z’s coming from it, some backwards, as something is asleep in the sack. Behind it, a distraught girl I copied from the Beano says in a large speech bubble: “Charles Rennie Mackintosh ate my hamster!!”. This, in a puerile way, closed the door on it being sold in the school shop.

Page 3

A Bold washing powder box label copied in mirror image. My attack on packaging design? A landscape intrudes on the design, in the middle ground of which is a strange hand motif that will feature in many of the other motifs. What does the hand mean? Self pleasing? The manual process of making the almanack opposed to the coming onslaught of the computer? Drowning, not waving? I didn’t know at the time.

Page 4

An image copied from a Polish painting I knew: “Zdzisiek jumps of the Palace of Culture & Science every morning”. I was interested in the Polish Poster School and anti-communist Polish art from the 1980s. Did I see myself as having to engage in irony against an unsympathetic regime? The city in the background could be Glasgow.

Page 5

A fat man with no eyes and a fish for an arm. In his stomach: a knife, an Avro Anson aircraft, a bolt, a WC sign, a mouse, a star in a circle, a Polish flag, a can of Old English cider, and several hands. The knife: murder? The aircraft: I had started to rekindle my childhood interest in aeroplanes as a refuge from what I hated about my course. The cider: probably what I would have drunk. The rest:? I was probably the fat man with the fish hand ingesting all of these.

Page 6

A flying anvil with the insignia of the hand in a sky shot with orange clouds. It has a propellor and flimsy wings. The left-hand third of the page is a flat orange ground with a scalloped edge, pushing the anvil image almost off the page. A picture of absurdity flung back at my tutors? Being an artist as impossible as a flying anvil?

Page 7

In the top half: three hand motifs and an assortment of symbols: hearts, gunsight, stars in circles, knife and fork, ladies’ toilet sign. One of the hands has an eye and fork-arm, with which he menaces the other two. They also look like wild-west cacti. In the bottom half a Royal Canadian Air Force Grumman Avenger. Aircraft formed part of my personal surreal at this stage. Aircraft are extremely specific (to those in the know) and bring with them such specific associations that to juxtapose them is very pungent. Part of the poignancy of aircraft, particularly military ones, is their ephemerality: advances in technology make them quickly obsolete, and scrappage and destruction in war make them extinct as types. I discovered the work of Guy Johnson at this time.

Page 8

A sort of strange hand-tree-thing with part of a B17 bomber behind it. A Christmas tree and a cedar from the Lebanese flag.

Page 9

The British Rail logo in a mocking sort of cartouche and the words: “Happy Birthday BR 1st Jan 1948”. Three hand logos and birthday candles. My dad worked for BR. It was a cynical and I guess ironical thing to wish BR happy birthday (it wasn’t because I cared about BR, though I kind of did). Again it is a symbol with very specific resonances: personal, national, nostalgic. The BR logo had, by that time, become a sort of generic sign for a railway in the UK. BR was already dead. The BR sign is as ubiquitous and unremarked as a WC sign and, hence, intrinsically comic. BR would have been 48 or 49 – I discovered the offbeat anniversary at least a year before the first Google Doodle.

Page 10

An orange egg shape with a lion logo from something or other and the ‘CE marking’. A hand emerges from the egg, like a hermit crab. In the background, drawn in graphite: spheres and stars in circles.

Page 11

WG Grace with an orange beard with a childishly-drawn floral border which invades the picture-space, threatening WG’s eyes. WG Grace looks like Engels, who appears later. I was aware of Terry Gilliam’s use of WG Grace’s image a Monty Python animation. Big beards hiding stiff upper lips: the afterglow of the twentieth century’s dismemberment of the nineteenth, before the current century’s rediscovery of it as a comfort bolt-hole for hipsters.

Page 12

The Mcdonald’s logo with three arches and the words: “McSwindle”. A thumbs-down symbol. I worked in Mcdonald’s just before going to art school and didn’t like it. An obvious candidate for a bonfire of the symbols.

Page 13

Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in profile on top of some walking hands and a leaf-litter of stars in circles. The commie leaders came from a  film still from a book on Polish art. I didn’t care that much about capitalism or communism; they were just grist for the same mill. I developed the star-in-the-circle further in other work. It is a symbol of optimism and power (and American imperialism – it is the US air force insignia), but I piled it up like discarded aircraft parts at the corner of a field in one drawing.

The ‘calendar side’

 

The other side of the almanack is all painted orange and most of the drawing is in graphite. The calendars are muddled and jumbled together on three only of the 13 pages, again like discarded things. There are some crudely drawn monsters, like those from the margins of a child’s schoolbook. There are more apocalypse-ellipse-voids and some black holes. There are some piled up circles (without stars). Various texts, some of them swiping at commercial entities: “Sweet nothings”; “Oblivion wellcomes [sic] Graham Kendrick [a Christian singer]”; “Pizza Hut says: Never go with stranglers”; “Metsa Serla [paper company] says: 1999 has been cancelled”; “Christmas has been cancelled”; “No Yom Kippur”. One page has: “17 Historic Wednesdays. 17 things invented on a Wednesday: 1 Snakes + ladders, 2 Snakes + ladders […] 17 Snakes + ladders”. Presiding over the whole are the words, in white in carefully traced Octopus typeface: “Everythin ends here” (around it, in white, in my handwriting: “The World ends”; “Party’s over folks!”; “All change!”. Octopus was my favourite way of kicking back at graphic design (now it’s Times New Roman).

I’m not really quite sure what to say in conclusion to all this! As a thorough negation of the brief it barely raised an eyebrow (I doubt I got a good mark, though). The frustration of youth. Funny that in a setting where one is taught ‘visual communication’ nobody thought to even attempt to discern what I was communicating. Including me. I don’t know really….

Oh, the box is titled: “aHistor y O th world”, and it does actually have the year – 1998 – crossed out (in letraset).