How did your artistic journey start?
It started officially 30 years ago (Sept 1993) when I started full-time at Langside College and studied, amongst other things, A-level art. From there on it was a case of spending the following year doing a portfolio prep class for a year at Cardonald College and and then studying at Glasgow School of Art and graduating with a BA(Hons) in Sculpture in 1999.
Before 1993, I was attending a lot of life drawing classes and sketching all of the time. At school I was always the person in the class who was ‘good at art’, so I had an idea that I wanted to do something in art but wasn’t really sure. I didn’t know a thing about what an Artist actually was and to be honest at the time I wanted to be what was termed as a ‘commercial artist’. It takes a long time to work out what an Artist really does. And to be honest, it’s still an ongoing process to this day because not only does the world change, but we of course change as a person.
How did you arrive at the theme of your work?
Alongside art, I’ve always had a strong interest in history. I think it’s due to the generation that I grew up in, where we were sold visions of a future that would be a beautiful utopia that would respect the planet, utilize the fruits of technology and have equality at its very core. The consequences and traces of these failed schemes and ideas are now littered around the world. I think this is generally what provides the stimulus for my exploration of issues and urgencies that are brought about by the conditions of change, loss and disappearance within the broader context of cultural, environmental, historical or ideological settings. For example, projects that I’ve worked on have looked at the frozen border conflict in Armenia, the Cold War histories of Latvia and the Baltics and more recently working with Chinese artists to explore the disappearing history and identity of a historical and ancient Chinese town in Fujian province.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
I use a variety of mediums that include sculpture, video, photography, drawing and also make small interventions and performances that can address these issues and urgencies. By accessing found texts and objects, I create pastiche re-creations of the places, objects and scenes through film and corollary sculptural ‘props’ that can re- animate and re-contextualise issues and urgencies through a combined synthesis of forms and subject that appear to layer the past with the present. Sources can include local narrative knowledge, state propaganda, folklore and local legends. Looking at these sources, it is possible to analyse and create new theories and meanings that can construct new visual forms. By creating these new readings, my work creates an awareness that pushes the conversation of loss and disappearance in new directions. I am then interested in testing the possibilities of situating these new works in an outdoor setting in unexpected and unusual locations. This allows for the artwork to be closer to the public and to maximize its message.
How has your practice changed over time?
Yes it has changed, because as artists we push our boundaries all the time. It is also important to let different environments and places influence us. For example, a significant change took place in my practice when from 2005 onwards I began to visit Cyprus as part of the Cyprus College of Art summer schools. Because of the warm climate I spent most of the time working outdoors and began to think more about the possibilities of making work that would be sited outdoors, rather than in a gallery space. So it was a shift away from installation work to making works that would be more site specific and explore the environment as much as the theme. This was also influenced by the teachings of the late director of the school, the Cypriot painter Stass Paraskos, who emphasised the importance of exploring a place and its local environment and for an artist to incorporate this into their work. This still resonates strongly to this day.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
I think if I have a creative block in one medium, then I will use a different medium. For example, if I feel I’m not gaining any ground in sculpture or feel a bit frustrated with it then I might switch to printmaking, drawing or watercolours. I often feel we need to go back to the source when we get blocks and re-discover what makes us passionate about making art and what got us interested in the first place. This tends to work for me, perhaps by re-visiting an older piece of work that I liked or drawing inspiration from something that I was happy with and thought that it worked well.
Who influences you? Which other artists work do you love?
As artists, we are continually collecting influences and exploring other artists. I have a very long list! However a few from the list might be Robert Smithson, JMW Turner, Louise Bourgeois, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz and Hito Steyerl.
What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
It is important to find your own feet and to find what you are really passionate about. Making art is about being truthful to yourself. I think that it is also important to look at the traditional skills such as the techniques used by for example the old masters. This will give a good understanding and appreciation of how they developed their process and will inform your own exploration into the process. Also, try to be patient, resolve something and see it through to the end. It can be tough and it wasn’t easy for say the Old Masters or even artists like Picasso, it was just as tough for them! Finally, networking is important and takes time and work, so stick with it.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your work or your experiences as an artist?
I’ve exhibited abroad quite a lot and now hope to start showing work more often in Glasgow.
You can see more of Alan’s work on Instagram @alanrfineart or on his website www.alanrutherford.co.uk
Our Winter Show, Warm Voices, runs at Six Foot Gallery until 9 January 2024.