> Visual Artist Andrew Cranston speaks to SNACK about his involvement in 'Earthly Rewards' published by thi-wurd. - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Visual Artist Andrew Cranston speaks to SNACK about his involvement in ‘Earthly Rewards’ published by thi-wurd.

Natalie Jayne Clark interviews Andrew Cranston for SNACK

thi wurd is a Glasgow-based international platform for writers, led by editor Alan McMunnigall. People join writing classes and perform and submit work for publication from all over the world. Each magazine or anthology is a statement and representation of that particular time – this is what we were thinking about, what we were discussing, how we were writing, in this moment.

Their latest anthology of fiction, poetry, and experimental writing, Earthly Rewards, is thi wurd’s largest undertaking yet, with nearly fifty writers’ work presented – it’s their first colour edition for over a decade. The artwork is by renowned painters Lorna Robertson and Andrew Cranston – hers is the cover art and his is the art inside, made up of specially created new paintings. SNACK sat down with Cranston to hear more about his part in the anthology.

What’s different about your process when you are undertaking a commission and collaboration like this versus your own projects? What stays the same? 

With this one it was fairly open, so whatever I came up with could fit. I find it really hard working to a brief – I want to immediately do something opposite. So it feels very different, but this one felt like a really nice distraction.

I really like constraints. You can say to yourself: I’ve got complete freedom, I can do anything I want. That’s hopeless. It’s a funny psychological difference somehow between doing something on a commission basis and then doing something which is, in a way, for yourself.

I work closely with the materials – you’re looking for a lead, you’re looking for ways to develop the work through making it. It means you don’t know what you’re doing a lot of the time – I don’t anyway.

Your intention is almost always slipping away and mutating into something else. That’s the creative bit.

Artwork credit: ‘Stands Scotland where it did?’ 
Andrew Cranston

Your paintings have been described as having a ‘fictional or poetic’ quality. How did it feel using actual fiction and poetry as a starting point?

One of the reminders you have to give yourself when making art, especially painting, is that it’s not real, however much it might be thought of as realism. It’s an imagination.

Most of the time I’d be finding stories or a poem that, in a way, fit my work rather than my work fitting it. There’s a two-way relationship there, where I might read something and it chimes with me – it’s quite often something I’ve been thinking about anyway. And I suppose maybe that’s a difference between this and illustration.

How would you describe this, if not illustration?

In a lot of schools of thought, the modernist way was to be anti-narrative, not referencing anything else: the painting has to exist on its own terms. I wrestle with that. The writing in the anthology helped me get to a certain point – I might have had a certain intention, but the painting still has to somehow exist on its own.

When I was in art school, a different era, there was a real snobbishness about illustration: it was often a put-down that your work was ‘illustrative’. That was one of three ways you were denounced in Aberdeen – that and ‘decorative’ or ‘narrative’. I did all three. I was completely and probably perversely headed straight for them, because they were taboo.

The first time I used book covers was in a residency in Germany – one day I had run out of things to paint on.

I found these books in a drawer and I ripped the covers off and started working on them. I had been reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and found myself making an illustration of that. Somebody once told me that Kafka never wanted that particular story illustrated. Maybe illustration visualises something too specific, changes it as a form of thought.

That’s one of the things you’re known for, using things like book covers instead of conventional canvases. Tell me more about your choice of canvas for this anthology – tea-stained postcards!

I’ve got a huge collection of postcards. While I was thinking about what to do for this anthology, I did try a few things, but I have this habit …There’s some things you do without any real purpose, and when I’m making tea in the studio I’d get the teabag out of my teacup and then . . . what to do with the teabag? I started putting them onto these postcards, then I was really enjoying the stains, just the pleasure of it. I’ve been doing that for years. They’re all over the place. I thought I could make them into things in a Rorschach test kind of way.

You want the materials and the process and method to kind of make the work without you. The stain itself has a vitality that you could never really paint. When you try to intervene, and manipulate it, it looks so contrived. A lot of artists use accidents to make art – Da Vinci famously would have all sorts of techniques to stain canvases and encouraged people just to look at stained walls and moss and make pictures out of that. It was a happy accident, but the postcard was also often from a museum and had a piece of text about another work or an interesting red herring.

You can pre-order the Earthly Rewards anthology now


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