A conversation between Rob Alderson and Andy Gilmore about his eclectic influences, from music to nature.
RA. You’ve talked about your work as answering questions that you have – what questions are those?
AG. When I have questions I am trying to find the answer to, it’s often not a question I could write down, it’s exploring a certain feeling. There are times when I feel that I am inclined to do something and I cannot necessarily understand why. I do my best to pursue whatever is there.
Also every time I make an image it poses new questions to me, a what if, giving me a new idea of where to take things. Essentially I have three creative outlets – my primary one was always drawing, my secondary one was playing instruments and listening to music, and then the third was when the computer came into my life.
I reached the point where I wasn’t interested in drawing people any more and things that expressed emotions, I was more interested in ideas.
RA. You mentioned your interest in music – how does that influence your work?
AG. Playing guitar was essential. I started to see that just as in geometry you have a certain grid, or unit of measurement that defines your form, an instrument has a system as well that has its base in proportions and its pitch relates to colour and frequency, so there were a lot of questions posed by that.
RA. And so were you trying to recreate the structures of music in your art?
AG. It was more intuitive than that. I would create something and when I looked at it a week later I couldn’t even figure out how I had created it. A lot of the time with both music and drawing you develop this muscle memory. There’s this unconscious part of you that can take over and you can almost be unaware of what you are doing while you are doing it.
It’s hard to explain. There are drawings I have done that I feel like if I had tried to do them, they wouldn’t have worked.
RA. Which must be both exhilarating and pretty disconcerting…
AG. It is definitely. It makes the process a little more overwhelming especially when you have the creative epiphanies and all these things converge, when your hand and your mind align.
RA. Where did your visual interest in geometry come from?
AG. At the time that it really started for me I didn’t feel compelled or inclined to make a digital representation of what I had been doing by hand. Geometry made sense to me because it was a way of controlling proportions. In many ways I looked at it as the equivalent of playing scales on an instrument. I always felt like it was essentially a way of refining my intuitive proportional aesthetic relationships.
My interests musically were very much rooted in 20th Century American experimental music and harmonic theories. There were a number of composers studying these harmonic systems and they used these grids to determine the harmonic ratios. I saw these grids and it was exactly what I was working on geometrically. I realised if I assigned values to each individual piece of this geometric form, then I could apply the same harmonic principles.
From that system, it becomes something else. It comes from a place that is very structured but the finished pieces are quite emotionally engaging.
RA. You also study the world around you quite closely – how does that feed into your creative process?
AG. There’s a book by Ben Shahn called The Shape of Content and I read that when I was about 19 or 20 and realised college wasn’t working out for me. He says to be an artist you have to be very observant of the world and the patterns in nature, so if you’re picking potatoes be very aware of the skin of the potato. I took that pretty seriously and I realised over time the more I paid attention, the more I was taking in information that was going into this subconscious pool.
When I felt inspired, it was there to come out in the process. The closer I looked at things or listened to things, the more I would see or hear. I realised I just had to look very closely.
There’s nothing arbitrary about the way a plant grows or the way seeds are distributed in an apple. They make numbers much more real to me. The world is rooted in numbers and there are a lot of recurring forms.
All of us started off as a single cell that became two cells and then four and eight and it keeps branching out. This process is as much rooted in my body and my mind as it is in all of us. There is this creative principle at the root of everything. In our material world you can lose sight of the fact that we are part of process that’s been going on for billions of years.
I really feel a lot of my work is rooted in the experience of being alive, but I feel really silly saying it.
RA. And you read a great deal too…
AG. Reading about science and maths informs my work a lot. I am very much a visual person obviously so whenever I am reading there is a visual that comes with it. I like being posed questions that conjure up an image and that’s how it is a lot of times with commissions. I know if it suits me because an image comes to mind almost instantly. I have always been a curious person and I pursue the things that intrigue me.
RA. Does it bother you that all these ideas go into your work but most people who see it won’t know that?
AG. I wouldn’t say I am too concerned really. It’s so interesting to me that people can see it in any number of ways and I don’t know that I have any agenda that I am trying to communicate in my work.
I am kind of disconnected from any sort of audience perception. I work alone and I don’t wind up talking about these things a lot. It’s like a private part of my life that is then shared publicly in this strange way.