Today we’re joined by Mike Crawford. Mike is a wonderful visual artist from Scotland. He specializes in photography, but he also does a lot of drawing and painting. When he’s not creating visual art, Mike also writes poetry. It’s very clear he enjoys creating, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to him for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
My art is mostly figurative and realist, and includes such things as life drawing, still life, portraiture and landscape.
I identify as ace, but as yet this doesn’t really make an appearance in my art.
I have had long conversations with ace friends about what ‘Ace Art’ might actually be….whether it might be a political statement about our struggle, or whether there is actually some sort of intrinsic ‘Aceness’ that might be detectable in a person’s paintings.
And also there’s the whole question of ‘Ghetto Art’ i.e. ‘Gay Art’, ‘Black Art’, ‘Feminist Art’, ‘Queer Art’ etc. To me, those forms of expressions can be valuable politically, but I think they raise expectations in the minds of the potential audience, so for instance if I had an exhibition entitled ‘Queer Art’ which was made up of naturalistic landscapes, I can almost hear a viewer saying ‘Oh…this isn’t quite what I expected…’ …so the fact that I’m queer and I make art doesn’t perhaps automatically lead to ‘Queer Art’
So I guess I’m still pondering any ‘ace dimension’ that my work may or may not contain.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by the world around me, by places I visit and by people I meet.
I’m also inspired by the artists, poets and photographers I love.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Yes, from a very young age I was always drawing or colouring in.
In my teens, I was very fortunate to have an inspiring art tutor at school. He taught me how to use a grid pattern to scale up my vinyl album sleeves into posters, so I spent many happy hours in school copying photos of Bowie, Elton John, Roxy Music and Queen. People began to ask me if I could paint a design on their leather jacket or on a drum kit or the petrol tank of their motorbike and I became hooked on the incredibly social nature of art. I’m naturally shy, but art gave me a position within the group, in the same way as the class clown or sporty person… I was the arty one.
Later on, I went to some evening classes to study colour theory and then after I moved to Scotland to live at Faslane Peace Camp (a community which protests against nuclear weapons), I began to stop using photos and other people’s art as my references and to instead draw the people I was meeting and the landscape around me. This was very liberating as I discovered that I no longer needed to be copying other people’s ideas….that I could be original.
During my time at the Peace Camp, I also studied for a Foundation Art Course, which allowed me to build a portfolio of life drawings etc…and to then apply to Art School.
I then spent the next four years studying intently and have basically never stopped learning ever since.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
I try to begin every artwork from scratch….from first principles if possible. One of the problems I’ve had with using galleries and agents is that they prefer you to be the guy or gal who paints cottages or stormy skies or clowns or whatever. If a painting sells, they want you paint another 20 exactly the same, because that’s how they make money. I don’t do that and I try never to repeat myself.
I don’t really have any recurring iconography in my work, except to say that I love to paint flowers. But no….not a unique symbol as such.
Many of my favourite artists very much DO have repeated objects and themes in their art and I love it….it just doesn’t happen for me in my own work, but if it works for you, I would absolutely encourage you to explore any and all personal symbolism.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
To always be your authentic self and to get as far away from any form of copying as possible. Try every possible medium you can. You might suck at oil on canvas, but be amazing at lino printing, so give everything a try. And also just have fun!
Something I used to teach my students;
Remember two simple things…’What do I want to say?’ and ‘How do I want to say it?’
…in other words, what do you wish your artwork to convey in terms of meaning, colours, politics etc, and also, which mediums will be best suited to tell your story? And of course as you continually revise your ideas, the mediums and methods can change too, so it’s a constant process…a journey rather than a destination.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
Just plain old ace is fine for me, as I’m personally not the world’s biggest fan of the ‘spectrum’ concept.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
Several years ago I was invited by some gay friends to take part in a local LGBT art exhibition. I submitted a painting, but it was returned to me by the organisers with a note to the effect that ‘asexuality has nothing to do with LGBT’ and that ‘there must be some confusion, so we are returning your artwork’.
In actual fact, what upset me the most was not the ignorance of the organisers, but the fact that several LGBT artists I know were happy to continue to submit work to the show without a word of protest about my poor treatment. That experience taught me a lot.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
Most of the misconceptions and negativity seem to come from gay acquaintances, who will say stuff about asexuality being a medical problem caused by a hormone deficiency, or that ace relationships are not genuine or are ‘merely friendships’.
I’m not sure why straight friends have never said any of that stuff to me.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
I would say that you are in a more fortunate position now than folk in my age bracket, who were struggling with their sexuality in a pre-internet, pre-google world.
I know it’s impossible to imagine now, but in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, there was literally no way to meet other aces, and no coherent way to explain to friends and family who you were as a person. Aces in their 50s and 60s often have failed relationships and marriages behind them, and years of suffering blindly, so I would say to young people ‘enjoy this amazing new community’
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
Thank you, Mike, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.