Alan Franklin Interviewed by Tamsin Huxford

Tamsin Huxford interviews Alan Franklin for the Project Gallery

Tamsin  What are you working on now?
Alan  There are two quite distinct parts to my practice. One is process led and is entirely abstract; it includes all the drawing and some sculpture. The other is more ideas led sculpture, which is much more referential and often uses found objects. In an exhibition context the two don’t really converse with each other, so I keep them separate. Currently I’m tending to focus mostly on the process led work, which has a certain momentum for me at the moment.

Tamsin  Recently, you’ve been focusing on buildings… castles, houses, and towers. What’s the significance of these buildings for you?
Alan  The work which references buildings and architecture are part of the ideas led side of my practice and I have made use of these references over a very long period of time. In this work I think I am trying to negotiate how I fit into the world, how mankind fits into the world. The house represents the point in human evolution when we reached a level of civilization where we are relatively free from the chore of survival, and have much more time to think, to philosophize and to anguish over our condition. For me the human condition is full of irreconcilable dilemmas such as what we do about climate change. My houses are often put in positions where there is some kind of contradiction or opposition which is also suggested in their titles e.g. Between Mind and Matter or This Way Up.

Tamsin  Much of your earlier work has been focused on nature. I’m thinking of ‘Bird’s Eye View’, 2004, and ‘Net for not catching butterflies’ in particular. Could you talk a bit about the role that nature plays in your work?
Alan  This again is to do with how we place ourselves in the world. We have separated ourselves from nature. We have a unique relationship with our planet and we can utilize and change nature in unprecedented ways .We have entered the period of the Anthropocene where we now have a dominant influence over our climate and environment. This relationship is therefore incredibly important but incredibly difficult to manage. When I have used nature in my work it is some sort of expression of this relationship and its incumbent difficulties. Birds Eye View and Net For Not Catching Butterflies were part of period of work when I was looking at ‘undoing the world’ and thinking about seeing it for the first time without the weight and bias of knowledge that comes with everything we experience. So in Bird’s Eye View the birds erase the name Darwin by eating the peanuts. Net For Not Catching Butterflies is harder to put into words, which is perhaps its point. Our dominance over the eapgstyle8 is the result of our sophisticated language and ability to communicate ideas and build and pass on knowledge. We can’t step outside this perspective and must always have this homocentric view of the world. We can’t escape our words, but butterflies don’t know they are butterflies.

You’ve said that you ‘strive for beauty and surprise’ in your work. Do you think that beauty must be combined with surprise in art, and why is surprise important?
‘Beauty’ is not an easy word to use when talking about art. I think Picasso’s Guernica is beautiful, ….. powerful and moving, and at the time must have been incredibly surprising. Richard Wilson’s 20/50 room full of sump oil is beautiful and again is a surprise. By surprise I mean seeing something you have never seen been before or thinking something you have never previously thought. Every time I make something I want it to take me to a place I have not been. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. The best pieces for me are the ones that have given me the biggest surprise.

Your artistic process seems to be based on repetition, which would ordinarily connote constraint, but you seem to use limitation as the basis for creativity and novelty. Could you say a little more about your artistic process?
I believe repetition can lead to a kind of beauty. Repetition invariably results in a pattern which I think we find attractive. It might be peas in a pod, seeds in a dandelion head or the lines of a raked zen garden. Repetition also involves labour and labour with care often produces beauty. Labour, care and skill are the ingredients of craftsmanship. Repetition is also a common means of creating a structure, an accumulation of smaller similar units to achieve a larger scale – termite mounds, weaver bird nests, houses. In the drawings I use the accidental variations in the repeated marks to create the incidents, which give the drawing its character and perhaps a meditative quality too. I think I use repetition as a strategy, but it is just one amongst many.

What question might you ask someone at the show to get them thinking about the work?
Can I skip this question? I think the work should pose the questions.

In an hypothetical Orwellian moment, if you were to start writing, Why I draw, what would the first sentence be?
A mountaineer’s answer to ‘why climb mountains?’ is ‘because they are there’. I make drawings and sculptures because they aren’t there,… yet.

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Exhibiting Contemporary Art