Hamish Pringle, artist
Hamish Pringle gives us a fascinating insight into his life and work.
Tell us a little of your history as an artist. Were you interested in art from an early age?
My earliest art memory is from age 8. Our family had moved to Nassau Bahamas in 1958 and my brother and I were enrolled at Xavier’s College. In one of the art lessons, I painted a palm tree. It was included in an exhibition and won a prize.
I continued to be an active participant in art classes throughout my boarding schools back in England. This culminated in meeting gallery owner Richard Demarco. He admired a painting of mine, invited me to visit his gallery in Melville Crescent, and later to work as an assistant on his ‘Strategy Get Arts’ exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival in 1970.
How did you evolve into becoming a professional artist? Was this an easy transition?
As with many things in life chance played a part. In 2016, one of my leaving presents from 23red, the last agency I worked for, was a £300 voucher for classes at CityLit in Holborn, London.
Encouraged by this renewed academic experience I decided to embark formally on a second career as an artist. It wasn’t easy without the customary A level, Foundation, and BA Degrees in art! My Masters in Fine Arts degree started in 2018 and I graduated with a Distinction in July 2020. That summer my work ‘Lockdown’ was selected for the ‘London Grads Now’ exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.
Your degree work seems influenced by many artists, not least by Escher. Who would you say were your main influences?
Joseph Beuys has had a profound impact on me. In particular his use of materials such as felt, fat, copper, and honey for their symbolic meaning. My choice of sandpaper as one of my signature materials has its roots in Beuys. Through Richard Demarco I was also introduced to the work of David Nash which uses wood and charcoal in evocative ways. Ian Hamilton Finlay, the ‘concrete poet’ was a collaborator with Richard and my visit to Stonypath Farm (now known as ‘Little Sparta’) was the inspiration for the ‘word art’ I create. Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral art using materials found in nature have also been very influential as have Yoko Ono’s participatory works.
Could you give us some insight into your purpose as an artist? What would you consider your main goal is?
My overall purpose is to leave the visual world in a better state than I found it. In attempting to achieve this I try to create art works which are appealing both aesthetically and intellectually.
A long-term fascination has been the process of attrition. I’ve been exploring it in nature, society, relationships, and language. In this context I’ve adopted sandpaper as a signature material. I also use other abrasives and found objects which have been the subject of attrition – for example driftwood.
What was the genesis of your Mudstone Shoals concept?
One day while beachcombing I noticed some pebbles I’d not seen before. They were pleasing oval shapes in different shades of greys and browns. I picked one up and it broke into pieces. I realised that it was clay and had been washed up on the beach. Once I’d seen one, I saw more, and I began to research how they came about.
I’m now reasonably certain that these pieces of clay originate as large lumps which have been dug up during the dredging of the channels in the Solent. Waves bring them ashore and then the tides drag them up and down the beach until they disintegrate. The ones I’d spotted had been sanded down naturally into attractive shapes, many of them fish-like.
Pursuing the analogy, I imagined clusters of these pieces swimming to shore and forming a self-protective ‘ball’ as shoals of fish do when threatened by predators. Capturing these clay pieces suspends the process of attrition before it destroys them and crystallises the moment, immortalising these ‘fish’. I invented the term ‘mudstone’ to give a unique name to these hybrid objects rather than using the generic term ‘clay’.
Without giving away any creative secrets, can you enlighten us on the techniques used to create a Mudstone Shoal?
The first task is to find the right pieces of clay on the beach. As a natural occurrence it’s hard to predict their presence – it’s a bit like certain species of mollusc such as razor clams which make seasonal appearances in large numbers on the beach and then hardly any are seen for the rest of the year.
Collecting the mudstones is tricky as they’re very fragile. Too often a beautiful one breaks in two as I pick it up. Once home safely I wash them with fresh water to remove any salt and sand – more breakages – then the mudstones are preserved. The technique is secret, but the principle is to ‘fire’ the clay in a way that prevents it drying out too quickly and cracking as a result. Overall, I estimate that I lose about a third of all the pieces I collect. After a while the mudstones stabilise and harden to the point where I can use them in an artwork.
I have settled on the circular format because it serves the underlying concept of the shoal. Each design is unique because they emerge intuitively from the particular shapes of mudstone I have collected. However, they all have a flowing appearance as if a school of fish.
Can you outline what sequences occur when a potential client expresses an interest in one of these works?
Step one is to discuss the needs of the potential client. It’s helpful if they can provide photos and wall measurements. Two previous commissions have been for chimney breasts, and for one of these a special recess was built to frame the work.
If I get the go-ahead and receive the first of three payments, the next steps are as follows: order the marine plywood cut into a disc, create secure hanging recess on the back, and prepare with coats of matt white sealer and paint. Collect and preserve any mudstones required in addition to the ones I have already.
Then I produce a trial lay-down of the loose pieces and photograph it for client approval. At this stage minor modifications to the design can be made. I then proceed to glue down the mudstones using two-part epoxy for permanence.
The final design crystallises during this exacting process as in the making of the work some mudstones may fit better than others once the precise spacings and alignments become fixed.
My terms of business reflect these stages. Part 1: 33% payment due on commissioning the work. Part 2: 33% due on approval of proposed laydown before clay is fixed. Part 3: 34% to be invoiced on delivery/installation. If the client changes their mind or doesn’t like the way the work is shaping up at Part 2, they can withdraw and will be refunded half their Part 1 payment.
And finally, how do you envision yourself as an artist as the future unfolds?
I’m fortunate in not having to make my living from my art. This means I have the luxury of creating work without worrying if it’s saleable. I can be adventurous and innovative, following wherever inspiration leads me.
My reward comes from the people who get something positive from my work. It’s great to receive insightful comments on social media, in-person reactions at the annual Artists At Home ‘Open Studios’, and of course testimonials from happy buyers, especially if they’ve commissioned me.