Where there is water I am drawn like the moth to the flame. I use this particular analogy, because like a moth I am drawn to the ocean and all its glittering beauty, but alas I am a poor swimmer and have come close to drowning on a handful of occasions! And as much as I adore and admire the sleek construction of boats and daydream of sailing through foreign waters around the world, I am forever turning my insides out over the side of them. Nonetheless, the connection is undeniable. My first artwork I ever commissioned by Sophie Levi, was that of an estuary town called Fowey, in Cornwall where I spent summers during my many years in London. So when I came across the works of Victor Stuart Graham while browsing the website of Start Space, the same gallery where I commissioned that first painting, it was love at first sight once again.
I knew I wanted to learn more about Victor and what journey had brought him to create such humble, yet truly beautiful works of art. I had the pleasure of a lovely conversation with Victor where he happily gave me a potted history of his creative journey from his early years at graphic design school in Elephant and Castle which he loathed, but strangely is where his interest in textiles began which would form a huge part of his career. Dying to escape the pen and paper precision of crafting typefaces in the classroom, Victor’s solution was to create a knitted letter and airmail envelope for a design project. Knowing nothing about knitting, Victor set about learning how to use knitting machines which sparked his interest in textiles and subsequently led to an MA in textiles from the RCA and a ten year boutique knitting business manufacturing ties.
When the yarn manufacturers began being taken over by larger companies, it forced Victor and his boutique business out of the running. After London had served its purpose, Victor made Brighton his home for the next 25 years before returning to his childhood home in Newhaven where he currently resides. Victor recounts how over the many years spent living in London, he would return to the seaside every other weekend, so deep too was his connection to the sea.
These days Victor spends his time trawling the shoreline for little shards of wood which have tossed and turned many a time on its turbulent currents, where they finally end up as part of Victor’s characteristically British seaside village dioramas. As Victor tells me with great excitement in his voice down the line, across the Atlantic, he wants to read me his artist statement which, as a sufferer of dyslexia, he is very proud of writing himself. He scoffs that it’s “very pretentious and full of bullshit”, but I think it’s most endearing to be so chuffed at such an achievement. He asks me to wait a moment so he can ferret it out and read it aloud to me, making certain I get every word. ”I collect specially selected pieces of driftwood that have an inherent boat shape trapped within their form…all I do is release the boat within.” Rather poetic, I think, and not at all pretentious.
It’s this keen eye which enables Victor to pluck these shapes out from amongst the debris spewed up from the ocean and use them as the starting point for each unique diorama he constructs. At lot of the paintwork which looks distressed is actually found this way and with the addition of a thin dowel as a mast and a scrap of calico for the bunting, it transforms into something more tangible. Often Victor outsources parts of the ‘manufacturing process’ which are particularly laborious. Victor laments the loss of a very dedicated artist once responsible for hand making the bunting used on the boats, when the man’s own artistic career took off due to Victor’s own encouragement. Certain elements like the chimneys on the village houses which sometimes involve making hundreds in a week he has happily handed over to his brother-in-law who is thrilled to have a creative outlet for himself since retiring.
Most recently he made 200 tiny boats for one client who wanted them to give away as gifts. Unfortunately due to New Zealand’s tight restrictions on importing untreated wood, we can’t even buy one and have it sent over. So, I have already begun my own beach combing expeditions in the tiny bays around Christchurch with big plans to create my own tiny seashore scapes. Stay tuned to see the results!
Check out more of Victor Stuart-Graham’s work here.
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