As Published in Craft and Design, Issue 238, March/April 2015
Entering an Alan Faulds exhibition at Pittenweem Festival in Fife, I felt I’d wandered into some kind of wonderland
of mysterious, but colourful, lively shapes. I soon realised I was among objects of serious works of art and depiction. The giveaway was their detailed workmanship. And though each piece was an individual work in itself, the clear generic style stood out as that of a single artist. Their overall distinctive statement was a joining of the eerie with the humorous. This was so even in each individual piece. They are all figurative productions, carved from various woods. And the relief sculpture around the gallery walls was like none I’d seen before. It was a type of driftwood art. But the shapes included refined and painted pieces organised to make specific statements. They were slightly reminiscent of illustrations of mediaeval manuscripts and fantasy illustrations – though they were three
Aian told me, “There are two sides to my work: carved pieces and driftwood pieces. These driftwood ones are very different from the usual kinds. I use mine as a counterbalance between them and the carvings. It’s like the difference between an oil painting and a pencil sketch.” My view was that there was much more to his reliefs than a sketch. But I got his drift (pun intended)! He used different timbers with the large works, though the latter are virtually all carved oak and generally painted.
“l build up the surface like gesso – which I use – though it is labour intensive. It has to be done meticulously. It can also cover cracks. It starts off four to six coats of paint. Oil paint is best as it is good for blending. Then, after the paint, follows seven or eight coats of varnish.”
At least three crafts were blended: carving, painting and, to an extent, gold leaf which he sometimes applies. Alan also explained to me how he created the fleshy tones of the skins on the faces.
“Your work is strange and a bit funny.”
“In some ways I produce outsider art. I think that’s significant due to not having gone to art school.”
Alan studied architecture for five years at Strathclyde University and had worked in that line. He told me he did not see it as art in the sense that personally influenced his own form. Though there is a discernible design inspired by an interest of architecture in his reliefs. As a trained architect, Alan Faulds was used to design which he called the difference between drawing out and developing.
“But I always dabbled in painting and producing visual artworks. I even had that proclivity from my days at primary school, once trying to make a coach and horses from plasticine. So I’ve always enjoyed painting and shaping. But these things all work together.”
Whether that was consciously or not on Alan’s part, I saw from his works that knowledge and skill were combined.
“And to make things a bit odd and funny, you learn techniques in how to do that. It’s a feel you have which makes things appear more sinister with the humour. People do notice it. In fact, around a decade or so ago the Peter Porter gallery in Haddington billed my work as ‘Sculpture with a twist.’ So I make them quirky intentionally. I try to add a touch of humour and wit.”
“The process of carving takes a long time. It’s very rare for a piece to change because of all the influences. It makes the work more enjoyable because of the various impacts on my works”.
As to one which struck me as weird and funny, I wondered if there was some intended statement in a particular standing sculpture.
“So was there some kind of symbolism in your two-headed smiling character?”
“Yes. Very often things are underlying the sinister in my work, like bringing something from the past. That’s why the sinister mixes with humour. It gives a lopsided view. Two heads on one body is a kind of retelling of Adam and Eve, two from the one body; pregnant together. It’s the classical pregnant woman gesture. Also like the opposites of fire and water, yin and yang.”
“And what are your main influences?”
“From everywhere and and anywhere: mediaeval and Spanish woodcarving, tarot cards. I’m interested in all kinds of art. Even from the cinema, internet and kids’ paint books. I also like ships figure heads and the cigar store Indians, folk art, Indian art – such as my four sided ones – and Aztec masks.”
Alan also said that he’d been influenced by the paintings of Matisse. I could see why by the colours he used on his sculptures, though both men’s styles are poles apart.
“What are the favourite pieces you’ve done?”
“There are a few. But one of my favourites was a tarot card clock. It took me about a year to make, between 2000 and 2001. It’s a virtual cascade of figures based on those on the cards. There is a lot going on in it and it was enjoyable to make.”
“Do you do many commissions?”
“l have done. But generally, I prefer not to. I did one for a belly dancer and researched Indian sculpture for the commission. I liked the job. It was a dancer on a pin-and-spin stand. Her kids were so horrified by it, that they’d cover it. ”
As no work is wasted, it’s what Alan calls “invested effort”. His work, is inspired by events, thoughts that annoy him, please him, nostalgia, past events – like those who “left before time” – songs and wise maxims, let alone visual art. And he expresses these things in his unique and entertaining and exquisite wood carvings. It would be a personal “invested effort” to check him out on his website. Alan is also listed on other sites. These will give you information of where his work was, is, and will be shown. Also, you’ll find these include his biography and impressive lists of former exhibitions.