As part of our HSOG ReConnect campaign, we caught up with former pupil, Martin Crawford, from the class of 1997.
In 1997 I left the High School of Glasgow pretty unsure of what I wanted to do with my life – it has taken me quite a long time to work that out, but it has been an extremely varied and interesting journey. After a bit of a false start in the sciences I found my feet with a degree in English Literature at St Andrews University; followed it up with a Masters from Glasgow University and then decided that I wanted to share the love of literature I had gained in these years with others. A PGCE and a probation year later and I was at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh – teaching English, leading foreign trips, taking a few extra-curricular clubs and coaching rugby and cricket (the highlight of that of course being bringing a team to HSOG and chatting to Mr Mair over lunch afterwards).
It was a few years into teaching that I really started getting into art (inspired by a surrealism crossover in my masters dissertation) – reading about it, visiting galleries and just very lightly dabbling in creating it. In the meantime, teaching was going well as I took positions as assistant Head of Department at George Watson’s College and then Head of English at Loretto School. However, thanks to a very supportive partner, I made the decision to stop telling people that I would love to go to Art School, and resolved to go to Art School.
Before that, my wife and I moved to Hong Kong for a couple of years. Here, we taught in an international school, explored and I continued to make art – but with a view to taking that a lot more seriously. The second year we were in Hong Kong, I spent evenings and weekends putting together a portfolio that managed to get me an interview for a foundation year at Leith School of Art. I got my place and stage one of the plan was in motion.
Without going too overboard about it – the next four years were certainly some of the best of my life so far. Being at university again after working for 15 years and approaching every project with the stereotypical enthusiasm of a mature student, I slowly upped my project grades until I had enough to pass the foundation year with distinction. The year at Leith was fantastic – the tutors pushed everyone to really excel, never settling for less than the spectacular in our work – the tutors there remain the voices in my head to this day.
I chose to take the next three years at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, where the ideas I had laid seed to at Leith could grow and expand. Every day I was living the dream – working in the paster workshop; pouring bronze in the foundry; learning how to weld in metalwork or solving complex construction conundrums in the fine art woodshop. I was going to bed and waking up with projects on my mind, and really building the philosophical and practical foundations for my art practice to come.
With the onset of the pandemic, we had to switch to a virtual degree show (that meant leaning a few more digital skills), which was incredibly disappointing. Despite this, things ended up going well. Having had no clue if I would even survive art school – I graduated with a First, won a local gallery prize of a solo show there, won the prize for outstanding student in Fine Art and was selected for the Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries Exhibition – which had been a dream back when I was looking at course booklets.
The work I make uses abstract sculptures, found objects, materials and places to tell stories and create connections between people. I now work in my own studio – where I certainly miss the help of the technicians, but solve problems myself to create new works and push these ideas. As an artist I have to run every aspect of my new business myself – communications, marketing, web design, sales and logistics, not to mention making the works. But what wonderful variety to be writing about the philosophy of my work one morning and welding together a huge steel sculpture the next!
While things maybe haven’t been quite a traditional progression in my life, I am very happy with where I find myself now. I have got here through making some big, scary, life-altering decisions and starting off in new directions, quite often just going on a bit of blind instinct. I do think that the confidence and education I gained at HSOG set me on the path to be able to make these decisions with surety, inquisitiveness and motivation.
You can explore more of Martin’s artwork at martincrawfordstudio.com.
Martin’s most recent sculpture, pictured above, will be featured in an RSA show next February.