Andy McIntosh insists he is not an artist with a mission but if you ask, he will happily tell you what he thinks â€“ about rubbish, recycling and found art. Or better still, go along to the Gladstone Gallery betweenÂ the 4th and 10th of August 2008 and see for yourself.
The term ‘Found Art’ (objet trouvÃ©) or ‘readymade’ came about when Marcel Duchamp and others began to create works of art from existing materials in the early 20th century. Duchamp thought of the objects he was producing as toys rather than sculptures â€“ but the art world took him seriously. The materials used are generally utilitarian and not associated with art, until adapted by a painterly eye and placed in a context which forces the viewer to see it differently â€“ as Art. The style was taken up by the Dada movement, being used by Man Ray and Francis Picabia â€“ and Picasso also dabbled with it. In the 1980s, a variation called commodity sculpture developed with everyday items being arranged in the art gallery as sculpture. Throughout the 1990s, the Young British Artists (YBAs) such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin made controversial use of found “objects”, to mixed reviews. Over the last 3 years, the Edinburgh art world has seen Andy McIntosh break into this genre.
I ask, so he explains. “What turned me on to recycled materials? I had a job in Granton 15 or 16 years ago next to a scrapyard. One day I saw a piece of metal that just appealed to me. I asked myself, why does that appeal to me? and began to explore possibilities. I dragged it around for years, still exploring. It moved house with me several times â€“ in fact my Dad cut himself on it and had to get a tetanus injection.
“I find that I get inspiration from scrapyards in the same way as some people go to the woods. Painting doesn’t need a paintbrush. Of course it does strike a chord now, the need to recycle things. It’s affecting everything we do, you can’t ignore it. I’m not on a mission but if you ask, I’ll tell you what I think. Some of the best landscapes are social comment but most don’t give you a slice of life in the way this does.” (He holds up a block of compressed drinks cans from a recycling facility â€“ cut in half it is amazingly fascinating)Â “I am passionate about sustainability but I don’t go on about it. It doesn’t matter what I use or how I assemble it, it puts across my message.”
All of Andy’s family have been artistic and his father says he had a sketchbook on the go from the age of 5. Andy is the only one, however, to go the whole hog and commit to living (or starving) as an artist. “I had a couple of good teachers at Perth Academy, in particular an art teacher who asked me if I had considered going to Art School and said, “If you haven’t, you should.”
Every young person who knows he or she has a talent has then to decide whether to develop that talent fully, making sacrifices all the way. Andy knew that a career in Art isn’t like computer programming or business marketing. The extent of his success in terms of ability to earn a living would depend greatly on the quality of his talent â€“ and then some luck in finding a paying audience. Andy’s first exhibition as a schoolboy in Perth was at The Railings, where he sold about half of his work. “So the seed was planted right there.”
So Andy compromised at Edinburgh Art School by studying Graphic Design, and dropping the painting he loved. Qualifying in 1991, he began work as a graphic designer although “I always thought I’d go back to fine art,” he says. If truth be told, he never left it and painted occasionally when he had time. “I had been working mostly in watercolour and felt I had perfected the translucency of water, light and dark, which is what watercolour painting is all about, so it was time to try something more expressive, more modern.”
There was still the question of whether Andy’s talent was enough to keep him comfortably but the itch wouldn’t go away. “I always criticise people who say ‘what if’ so in the spirit of that, I decided to do an exhibition. Even snooker players and tennis players when they turn pro, have to practice 3-4 hours a day. That doesn’t mean you’re going to make it. It just means you can. You never hear of a semi pro making it. I had to make the leap.”
Moving with his fiancÃ©e to his new house in Davidson’s Mains last year enabled Andy to make that leap. Upstairs is a traditional office where he works on the computer while downstairs is a basement which operates as a store for his various materials and a workshop where he can design and assemble them. Graphic design still plays a part in paying the bills so he still has one foot on that side of safety, but since February this year, Andy’s work has been seen in three exhibitions with a fourth coming up at Gladstone’s Land.
“I still haven’t got away from the computer,” he says. “A lot of the planning is done on the computer. I don’t want to do overly commercial work â€“ I’ve nothing against it but it’s not what I want.”
Andy has always concentrated on landscapes and that hasn’t changed. “What I’m doing is more abstract, I’m still painting but with no canvas, no brush and no paint. Those are my only rules. What appeals to me is this other aspect, the actual materials.”
That first piece of metal which intrigued Andy was eventually made into a piece called Muse. His future sister-in-law has it now because he couldn’t bear to sell it outwith the family. A painterly eye is certainly what is needed to pick out materials which can be adapted and engineered and the intrinsic qualities of these scrapped metals is another factor in their appeal. Where you might see ducting from a central heating system â€“ Andy sees silver ripples on a seashore.
One of his favourite pieces is Bird of Prey which features some pretty hefty metal with a groove for a lever. “As soon as I saw it, I saw an owl’s beak,” he says.
“What happens is that these materials have already had a life. Duchamp pioneered this thinking with his readymade art. You put things with other things and create new life, finding or making a previously undiscovered character. There’s lots more to come.”
This ability to give new life to old requires another aspect of the creative eye. A palette and a paintbrush are there to be used, like piano keys are there to be played. What Andy is doing is playing the violin, where the notes have first to be found or made and discovered before they can be played. This added dimension requires interpretations by the artist, before he can use this vocabulary to communicate. Hence Hirst’s and Emit’s problem. Andy’s work so far has confined itself to painting-like assemblages, which can be hung on a wall.
In this basement setting, Andy looks with a listening eye. He plans and he engineers and he recreates. Found art asks us to work harder, asks our imaginations to work harder, but this is not a task that Andy shies from. Indeed he revels in it and he is keen to explore the opportunities for free-standing work.
He asks, his paintings answer.