Art, architecture and culture this week in our interview with Ian Stuart Campbell. He creates wonderfully detailed and accurate drawings of architectural cityscapes featuring freehand line, tonal shading and hatching. He sketches his way around places we all know and recently across Europe for a new book called “The Architectural Tourist”, which you can read about below. He may have sketched somewhere significant to you so be sure to browse his drawings once you’ve read what he has to say.
Art Pistol (AP): What’s the first thing you can remember painting?
Ian Stuart Campbell (ISC): A few early embarrassing school pictures remain in my memory including a line-up of fellow pupils waiting for BCG injections! We must have been about 12 – really can’t remember why that was ever painted. Hated all my school paintings and no idea where they went. I had to drop art as I had what the school determined as “potential” for science highers – probably my biggest regret in hindsight.
“Jelly Jar in Spring” – My first picture – a real old fashioned Keiller’s marmalade jar with some spring flowers picked by my girlfriend – now wife. It was the first painting I ever put in a frame, and even better it was actually accepted for an exhibition in the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow. Disappointment at no sale there, and decades of difficulty in getting exhibited since has punctured my initial naive artistic enthusiasm – but “Jelly Jar in Spring” still hangs in our front room.”.
AP: When did you first realise you were an artist?
ISC: I was always interested in building stuff. My well intentioned dad directed me towards engineering but ‘week one’ briefings on mathematics, physics, and chemistry ripped up my image of drawing sweeping bridges and elegant structures and I quickly aborted that plan. The following year I was accepted to an architecture course and that appealed more to a creative design instinct.
AP: How would you describe your art to someone that has never seen it before?
ISC: I now focus on architectural “rough sketching” in an attempt to interpret and understand the dynamics of wonderful places and cities. I favour ‘rough sketching’ in ink on smooth white Fabriano as this can be quite quick and immediate and I aim to complete each view on site – inevitably, however, I sometimes find myself finishing repetitive detail or hatching late in the evening once the light has gone but the memory is still strong.
AP: Is your work on any famous person’s wall?
ISC: In March I had three sketches on show in the Pallazzo dell Prigioni, The Doge’s Prison at the Bridge of Sighs, in Venice. The exhibition theme was ‘Urban Fantasies’ and I broke my tradition and dreamed up an imaginary Piranesi-esque yet Scottish townscape. On return to Edinburgh the same work was exhibited in Dundas St Gallery where a wise visitor proclaimed it to be “entirely meaningless”. Apparently he had just viewed the “real Piranesi drawings” in the National Gallery and was not amused. Back to earth for me, with a bang!
Fantasia Scozzese and “entirely meaningless” [left] – Glasgow City Chambers [right]
AP: If you had the opportunity to change something in the art industry what would it be?
ISC: Only one thing? Well, my choice would have to be the high cost of exhibition space, the scarcity and generally poor quality of space available. In well established galleries it is often more than 50% of the purchase price of any work goes to the gallery. Along with materials, transport, insurance, and framing etc this can bring the artists rewards to a derisory percentage of the sale price.
The scarcity of good economic exhibition space squeezes less established artists right out of public sight. Together with the effectively ‘closed’ nature of ‘Open Exhibitions’ run primarily to exhibit elite members’ works (and a cynic might add here, to gather submission fees from a vast list, often thousands, of hopeful but rejected artists!) it becomes an unrewarding, expensive and frustrating challenge to get your work displayed anywhere.
The re-use of industrial sheds at the Arsenale, in Venice has produced a wonderful flexible and vast resource for Arts and Exhibition purposes which of course is now a renowned international destination for art activities. Surely we have some redundant sheds suitable for adaptation?
AP: Do you have any other interests or talents that you’d like to share?
ISC: I like music, particularly early acoustic music, and amuse myself by correlating architectural rhythms with musical patterns. In strong evening sunlight it is possible to pick out a ‘middle eight’ in a Glasgow terrace or row of tenements. The rhythm is sometimes more obscure in modern buildings – but then I cannot really pretend to understand or interpret the patterns in some modern music either.
AP: Describe yourself in 3 words, one has to be a colour?
ISC: Grey, lowland, tartan. ‘Grey’ as I often sport a grey unshaven complexion and I now find all the colours in my drawings using only black ink on white paper. ‘Lowland’ by birth, and ‘tartan’ by head and heart.
AP: Tell us your perfect scenario for painting.
ISC: I favour outdoor sketching – usually in a busy bustling sunny and warm location, ideally with adequate coffee or wine on tap. ‘Rough Sketching’ can be quite sociable as people generally feel free to look over your shoulder and engage in conversation. Without a word of Norwegian, Dutch, Spanish, German, or Italian I have enjoyed long chats involving only hand gestures, and generous facial expressions from Norway to Naples.
In fact that probably best answers your earlier question. I first really began to feel like “an artist” in Barcelona five years ago when on my first venture into open air sketching I found a quiet cafe seat on the Ramblas. It later became obvious that this cafe was quiet as it was next to the stall selling caged animals and birds and enjoyed a distinctive odour as well as a screachy sound track. As my sketch neared completion the proprietor brought me a complimentary paella and gestured that this was my reward for filling his seats with chattering groups of all ages watching my sketching. That quickly got me over any initial embarrassment about sitting outdoors drawing.
Ideal sketching scenario and “The Architectural Tourist” book cover shot
AP: If you weren’t an artist you’d be..?
ISC: Perhaps a car salesman? This gave me my first ever pay packet after leaving school and as I had to wear a suit it felt like a real grown-up job. Since then I have dispensed with the suit and explored journalism, photography, illustration, music – both writing and performing, and the longest, most rewarding and enjoyable stint, as a design director with a firm of architects.
AP: Do you have any advice for artists just starting out?
ISC: It is very easy to treat art as an intimate personal experience which of course is necessary but this can also encourage less helpful isolation or at least introspection. The more gregarious the artist the more chance of an audience to appreciate and perhaps ultimately buy the work.
AP: And finally, what are you working on just now?
ISC: My current project “the Architectural Tourist” involves photographing and sketching European cities and combining these with short essays outlining my ‘first architectural impressions’ on arrival in each city. A first series of eleven cities from Norway to Naples has recently been published in a book entitled “The Architectural Tourist” by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). My latest city feature, Venice, is due to be published shortly in the Quarterly magazine of RIAS and I plan to continue these studies with Prague, Vienna and some UK locations in coming months.
Doge’s Palace Venice
Santa Maria dell Salute, Venice
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Tags: Artist Interview