We were very lucky to have renowned Scottish artist Will Maclean came down to Leith School of Art and give a talk to the Painting Course and Foundation Course on wednesday. He described his progress from a painter “mostly of naked people” through his incorporation of objects into his work and the subsequent development of his own vocabulary of found, carved and cast objects.
His talk was very generous, unpretentious and enlightening,I particularly enjoyed talking to him about his creative process. During the lecture he described where the inspiration came from for each of his works, usually a very specific narrative, memory, myth or event. Yet when you confront his works they are resolutely mysterious and poetic. When I asked him about this he said that once the work was up and running the original impulse “had done it’s job” and the piece developed on its own accord without need to illustrate or describe the idea. He went on to explain how the actual form of the finished piece developed during the making, changing from his original idea as he worked with it. His process reflects the importance of inspiration, of making work about things that move you, yet the ultimate importance of the need for the art object to move beyond the original idea and take on a life of its own, to remain on some level for ever inexplicable even to the artist himself.
Most useful for me though was a few words he said about how he knew when to finish for the night. He always stops when he knows exactly what he wants to do next. This way when he arrives back in the workshop, head not fully in the work yet, he can get straight on and before he knows it he’s back engaged with the work, the connection is made and the ideas start to flow again. It reminded me of a very similar bit of advice Ernest Hemmingway gave to writers:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.