In case you have not read the first part of our interview with Andrew Logan, you will find it here. This time, we focus on art, fame, museums, technology, and a certain obsession with money…
You have a background in architecture, and then you turned into theatre, then sculpture and art. How did you fit your architectural experiences into these different mediums?
I wonder what architectural thinking is. I once wanted to do architecture because I thought it was the best way I could help mankind. Being a creative person, I thought, well, everyone needs to live in a house. Whether a thin shadow or a palace, building is a very good way of helping people. And then I started the course, it was six years at Oxford, then I had a year in America working and travelling. It really wasn’t until the beginning of the last two years that I just started to make things. I just started to build the environments where I lived. From there, it just grew. And then I was fortunate enough to be offered a part of a group exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1970. Shortly after, I met my first patron, and I started to go from there. It was just a chain of circumstances, but I came to realize that I could help mankind more by creating these works of art which everybody loved than by making architecture. Because in architecture, you have to be sixty-plus for something to actually happen. It is rare that you could just start a career. And also, it was becoming very ponderous when I graduated in 1970. There was a recession on, there was no work. Most of my contemporaries went into other things or had a difficult time. But the reason I turned to art is that I just started making things, and then my path was set. I have this path through life, I am making and creating all the time all these things that somehow follow a given way. It is a bit like the Yellow Brick Road, you know, the Wizard of Oz. I actually did use that imagery at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1991. I had a retrospective there and I filled the entire museum with works, and when you started your visit, you would find a yellow road that I created out of plastic. You followed the yellow road through my work.
So you went even bigger than architecture.
In a way the architecture helped and always will because we were taught how to sculpt, so I do have an instinct and a knowledge of things like structure, how to build something, balance, and form, because buildings have a form. So I was lucky, I suppose, in that I had that training. I think plumbing and that kind of skill was not quite relevant for sculpture… but you never know.
And I did feel you are still making houses, even though ephemeral. Alternative Miss World itself, as temporary as it is, gives a shelter of beauty to people. Or even this house (Andrew Logan’s atelier/house, the Glasshouse in the Sky, ndr), I was quite surprised because it made me feel like a home.
Well my message is celebration of life and joy, which I think very few artists are really concerned about. It has always been my concern, I just want to make people feel better, give them a little smile. And you know, the world is a very beautiful place.
Speaking of houses; what is a museum for you, how do you look at it? You talked about life, but what is the meaning of posterity for you, or of afterlife, especially in a museum?
I produce a lot of work, which you might notice in the studio, and it is not work that you sell or that belongs to one person. It belongs to the whole world, so you do get collectors who want to collect certain things, usually because of market value, but it does not really have to do with the beauty or the essence of the work, and I wanted to share all my things with the world. So I had this idea of a museum, and it kind of started at that time I was great friends with Barbara Hulanicki, the founder of BIBA. She brought a Japanese coach party into my studio in the Glasshouse in the Sky near Liverpool Street in the Eighties. And they all had their cameras and they all went snap snap snap and I thought that coming to the studio really made them feel good and I thought what I should do is open a place where this could continue more officially, because everything is official… and I had been alternative for a long time. I am actually the first living artist in the UK to have his own museum and it came from this dream. We did not have any money, but we had friends who lived in Mid-Whales, and we visited them all the time, and property was cheap there. We got squash courts. They were very cheap, and then we began by founding a charity and a structure and putting the sculptures in the building, that became a very magical place. Of course museum means storehouse, so in a way it is like storing sculpture for future generations. And it is not a gallery as such because in a gallery you are selling works. We have a little shop, but the works have actually being donated to the museum, to the nation – to the world actually. It is just strange because it is in a very remote part of the UK, actually of Europe all together. There are more sheeps than people! (laughs) And it is about three and a half hours from London, you don’t feel like you’re in any kind of big area. I have travelled allover the world and Mid-Whales is so beautiful, little rolling hills and fluffy clouds and little edges, it is quite exquisite, almost untouched. Anyhow, that became a museum and then of course once it was set up we did well for a while, we got the Arts Council to support us and we got a director, an education officer, and the numbers went up from 700 to about 5000. And then the Olympics came up and everything just fell. I support it as much as I can, because even if people think I don’t have children, I have dedicated my life to this. All these sculptures are my children, all I am leaving to the world. So we have this museum that we opened more than twenty years ago. And we are now starting to have workshops again, because I think that Whales has realised that the future is not in agriculture or industry, it is tourism, and that is exactly what we can offer.
Speaking about locations, how do you choose your locations, for your sets, for events?
They kind of find themselves. Instinct. Like my sculpture, they evolve. I don’t really do drawings for my works, I start to build them and then they take on their life and they start – I find that fascinating that you just have nothing and something evolves. And that can only work with a length of time, letting it happen. You cannot just use a telephone or having someone do the work – you can, obviously for some major pieces I do employ people to help because the things are so huge, but generally it’s hands on. I was just down somewhere today in a workshop in South London – they did the Trafalgar Square plinth for instance, they made it. Someone phones them up, they send the drawings and they make it. Fine. But that is not my way. I think in a way it is another form of art but I think there is an essence that you lose, which is human essence, what we all are, and I cannot see how you can get to that if you just pick up a telephone and do a drawing!
Especially for a sculptor.
Yes. And you need time to study and look at things – I always lived with my work, because I need to be around it and with it and you could see the evolution. I was just looking at a Matisse – I went to see a great show in New York about the Steins – and in his first paintings you see so many ingredients of his future work. You learn from what you have already done… I am always learning and moving on to the next.
Which is why you are always ahead of everything as well. As you said, there is no real distinction between art and life. Why do then people make such a distinction?
I think for money! Dollari! And then it becomes exclusive and people start investing in it… I call it art mafia. The whole museum directors, collectors, gallerists. Auction houses. They are all in collaboration so they create this very exclusive world, and that is what is been presented, which is such pity because you don’t hear about anything else. It is one aspect of art, fine, but there is so much more to it. I find it terribly sad.
How do you manage to escape that?
I travel. I do quite a lot of collaborations in India. I have done some big installations there, and in America. But I live here and I love it here, and that is why the museum is in the UK. I am sorry it is a long way, but it is there. I think it is important to give inspiration to people, because art is very difficult. I have seen so many young artists getting really disappointed and I don’t quite know where they are going.
Do you feel the art institutions in America or, say, India, are any different?
I have sponsors there. The American Visionary Art Museum of Baltimore, for instance, is a very interesting place, outside the art proper. They have fascinating things. The woman who runs it, Rebecca Hoffberger, is really an inspiration. In India, I also get commissions from inspiring people. Some of them were just at the Alchemy festival at the London Festival Hall a few weeks ago. They started this project called GIYO, working for the artisans of India, forming coops in the villages, and the designers from the foundation have been working with them and then they bring the textiles, the weaving etc. to the West, to present them. So there is no middle man, which is an interesting idea, because all the profit will go straight to the villages. It will not go to any kind of… mafia.
So you keep working with the people as well. Obviously you met these incredibly famous figures, Leigh Bowery, Derek Jarman, David Hockney and so on. And then you invite your plumber to AMW! And you have builders participating… Where do you put yourself in this spectrum, between fame and anonymity?
Fame is a strange one. It is very useful for getting a table at a restaurant. (laughs) When my mother was alive, she would collect all these press cuttings, but I think it can become quite isolating. And then when you stick together, it is another mafia. But as an artist, I suppose one who has that priviledge, you can go from one world to another, you dip in and dip out. As I told you, I have a path that I followed and it is steady and I pop on and off on the way. I don’t mind people who are well-known if they have done something, but my issue with the contemporary world of celebrities is that I wish they had actually achieved something. A lot of people now are just famous for being famous, which I suppose is quite a philosophical idea, but for me, dare I say it, they are not very intelligent. Education and compassion are fundamental.
How do you feel about the new medias?
The great thing now is of course the computer. People do not watch TV anymore, you do not have to watch all that trash, you can choose very much what you want to. So, in a way one thing got worse – fame – but on another hand it got better because technologies now allow you to have more freedom. I embrace technologies, but as you can see from the work I don’t really need computers for them. I am fascinated with it and I do my emails and Facebook, but I don’t have time for Facebook! I sometimes read Facebook messages and I think to myself: what are these people doing? As you saw when you came in, I was working in the studio and when you will leave I will be back there working. And I go and eat, and sleep – but I do let people join, because actually it is a very good way of getting people to know things, it is a very good network. I usually look at who wants to join up and sometimes I get people who I haven’t seen in years, which is great. But same with Twitter, I don’t have time for it and I am not really making comments on there!
You’re making comments with your works of art anyway!
Yes. But perhaps one day I might need to embrace the technologies for art… I was at a jeweller’s the other day and they got a 3D printer. They were making a bracelet, and the thing is ten inches across ten inches deep; you do a 3D drawing on the computer, put it in the printer and then it takes a while, but it does build the bracelet with plastic layers. It was amazing. You can build any kind of object up to ten inches, but obviously they have much bigger ones. Intriguing. I did actually work with 3D programming when I did a huge installation in India. Friends of mine opened this Hyatt Hotel – an atrium hotel – and I was commissioned a sculpture based on the theme of the bee. So I did a series of crystalline-like structures sticking out from the balconies from the fifth floor down to the first floor, and in between are these big trails with bees, some quite big, some quite small, some wired, and they fly between these structures. Basically, it is the bee looking for the nectar in the concrete jungle, so these things represent concrete jungles. I made them with plastic sheets that they had on the hotel’s floor to protect it while they were building. I picked them up, cut shapes out of them, hung them over the balcony, looked over it, and then had smaller versions made. They put them on computers, I came back six months later and, working with the architectural department, we were able to pull the resulting lines up and down the balconies. But it all started from the fabric from the place, from the hotel. And then it grew from that.
So in a way you managed even in your use of technologies to fuse place and non-place. That should be the future!
Absolutely. And to me it is very important.
Do you think that is or will be the problem with younger artists, not starting relying on the skills but relying on technology instead, without developing these skills?
Hopefully even if they start with technology they will come to possess those manual skills. But it is about an artist’s dedication, art is not something that happens overnight. My work obstentibly looks the same, but it has changed over forty years. I keep working at it and even though I use the same materials and have not changed dramatically, it evolved. So I suppose if you work with the technologies then you do not really allow your work to evolve. So often people just want career and money and fame. Fine. But there is no depth. I am always fascinated by retrospective shows and looking at artists’ last works. It is really amazing to see the gamut. You could never do something you do at 86 when you are 26. There is just no way. But I don’t think that this is acknowledged, it tends to be ‘new works’, a machine, which is a pity because there is such a gamut, such a range of works. I get quite excited by that.
It is fun because it makes me think of when De Chirico used to copy his earlier works, but much later and he could not even copy them convincingly, so it was something different – and not something ‘bad’, or ‘he was going mad, poor old thing’. I am interested in why, even though the work might have been worse aesthetically, it was perhaps so much better intrinsically. It is sad that we lose that perspective.
We do, yes. But we need to stop with the machine and the monetization of art.
What are you investing on if it is not money?
I am investing in humanity, and I do not think humanity is money. It is the system we live under at the moment, capitalism, and we have to accept it. There are good things and bad things in this system – but I think that at the moment we are getting through many bad things. We need a balance between socialism and capitalism. I was very priviledged to first go to Russia in 1987. That whole period of the late 80s and the early 90s was fantastic. Capitalism was one end, communism was there and there was nothing in between. So people did not know where they were! You could go anywhere, there was such freedom, so people just partied the whole time. The mafia had not really come up yet, so there wasn’t that influence we are under now. I suppose it is understandable, having had no money in seventy years, that they came to choose the worst side of capitalism. Money really is only a means to an end, and it can bring great joy to the world and it can do many things but as a physical thing it is just… well money is money isn’t it. Bits of old paper you can burn and many artists have tried to prove that. Someone won a Turner Prize by burning a million pounds, didn’t they?
And then they got so much more!
Yes, there was a twist, wasn’t there! And you know Damien Hirst… I went to the opening at the Tate, he has a kind of obsession with money. So he is currently making social comments on it and I can see all that but I just wish the work was more interesting! I do not mind the comments about money, but his work is so boring. I just do not find it rich at all, I do not feel anything. It is just a pity. And then he is a bit cruel to butterflies. There is a whole different attitude artists can have towards money. I remember when I went to Russia, around 1989, there was this leading pop group of the Soviet Union, five boys, and they got paid 280 pounds a week. And they were happy as lambs! They travelled all over the Soviet Union, they had fans, they were doing their music, they were happy, they did not need any more. I mean when you see these gargantuan sums people are talking about, Bill Gates with his trillions, zillions – he does give them away, which is great – there is no measure anymore.
Interview and photos by Eleni Souslou and Isabel Jakob, at Andrew Logan’s Glasshouse in the Sky, May 2012.6 June 2012 Leave a Comment