In 2005, he was appointed Co-ordinator of the UK contingent of automatists exhibiting at the Karakuri Expo in Japan (a nationally broadcast event over there). He is now one of the most sought-after automatists in the UK.
VICTOR STUART GRAHAM, while not an automatist, regularly co-exhibits. The affinity with them is unstated and hard to fathom: however, the use of reclaimed materials, the obsession with the sea, his enthusiastic embrace of the eccentric, and his visual / verbal wit, all find a natural home alongside the outlook and creative concerns of many automatists. The bulk of VSG's motifs have maritime connections: yachts, shipping, coastal housing, harbour walls, cliffs, stemming from his native East Sussex coast, where he still lives. Paradoxically, given his residing in a seaport, and in the light of his subject matter, he probably uses less driftwood than Robert Race, who has to make a serious journey to collect his. Reclamation centres and car-boot sales are VSG's equally happy hunting-grounds for materials. Recent creative forays have involved dioramic boxes: scenes built inside old wooden drawers, or new wooden boxes, with elements of the tableaux that one arranges oneself, to taste. His newest line is a small pull-along ark on wheels, populated with tenny-weeny laser-cut wood animals.
He has had many phases. Trained first in Graphic Desgn, then an MA in textiles at the Royal College of Art, his earliest commercial output was needlepoint images of house-fronts, commissioned by their owners. By his own admission, these pieces were so over-engineered that he couldn’t make them pay. Later, and more profitably, he developed a range of ties, along similar lines. After lecturing (in knitting) part-time and a period in youth work, he spent three summers as a seaside railings painter, a job that was a major influence, due to the way views of the sea are framed by each pair of railing-uprights. Ten years of teaching followed, until he cut loose to set up his own knitwear studio, and work as a freelance designer. VSG’s usually low-relief pieces are made from driftwood or reclaimed pieces (with occasional appearances of other materials). His particular skill is envisaging the potential shapes / colours of e.g. yacht-hulls, houses, in the uncut pieces. With typical sly wit, he calls it "releasing the wood's 'inner boat'"! He often incorporates existing worn, peeling or damaged paint-finishes, and holes or natural surface-markings. All the Beachy Head cliffs, for example, (see vsg-beachydio.jpg: "Still Moving" features two such) are part of a series using a large, flaking, white painted door, which he picked up last year. Some of the scenes he made using this were about 1.8m / 6' tall.
The yachts are usually free-standing, if sometimes set atilt, reminiscent of the 'lean' of tide-beached boats (vsg-2slfstndychts.jpg); those that won't stand are intended to lean against a vertical surface; all can hang on a picture-hook. Of especial appeal to VSG are offcuts showing a different colour each side, giving pieces made fom them the potential for two 'moods'. His duo-coloured hulls, much in evidence in his hinged "bendy" tankers, are something of a hallmark.
The long diorama shown here (vsg-beachydio.jpg) has a set of different-sized boats (one of them sits in front of the box) suggesting a vast perspective effect within a comparatively shallow field. Flags (as in Bon Voyage, illustrated here (vsg-bnvyge.jpg)) spell out messages in maritime code. Terraces of houses are often titled after the format of suburban addresses, with reference to the number of properties in the row, and the timber in which it's made (e.g. 5, Pine Row).
All this visual / verbal playfulness is typical of VSG's understated humour, an unforward manner reflective of the man himself.
His original, sophisticated work manages to exude charm without being twee: a difficult balancing act, the more so when involving seaside imagery. Rather like Paul Spooner (subject of "September Already?" in 2008), VSG seems to revel in the bizarre and seemingly art-irrelevant array of activities on his CV. (In fact, and in contrast to Spooner, most of his life-activities HAVE fed into his artistic output). He has been showing with us since only 2005.
AUTOMATA is the ‘art’-label for moveable sculptural figures, tableaux, or objects which are animated by some action from the viewer: turning a handle, pressing a lever, pushing a button, or (occasionally) flicking / tripping an electric switch. The motion is normally cyclical, and most UK makers exhibit a humorous, satirical and / or surreal slant. The heyday of the current revival was the mid-1990s, but dedicated collectors, and only three public / private UK collections, keep the discipline alive. The UK and Japan are its principal centres, although we know of makers on all continents except Africa (and even that exception may be due to our ignorance). With very few full-time practitioners, less than 250 makers are active worldwide.
VSG - Two self-standing yachts [on starboard side, red-hulled one is the same blue as the visible deck; front one stands leaning to port] - painted distressed wood / fabric - c.20cm high - £25 each
VSG - very long Beachy Head diorama, with lighthouse and 3 placeable boats - reclaimed distressed / painted wood - c.75cm long - £250
VSG - Fishermen's Terrace, lit flat-on - painted wood - c.30cm long - £36
VSG - Ark [earlier piece, c.mid-90s], to wall-hang - reclaimed / worked skirting- & floor-boards [keel – not visible in photo – created by 'tongue' of floorboard], copper nails [making portholes on hull; cabin portholes result from augur-type drill-mark just breaking existing varnished surface] - c.45cm long - £130
VSG - Uphill Terrace, lit flat-on and in raking light [to reveal subtle 'pebbledash' effect in wood texture] - painted distressed wood - c.55cm long - £92
VSG - 'Leaning' diorama - reclaimed mahogany, painted wood house and placeable boat [a one-off, made from an angle-fronted bureau drawer] - 22cm high - £70
RR - Star Turn - yew - c.200cm high - £1875.
Click image for animation.
RR - two Moon Priests - reclaimed / drift- wood & shell - 23cm / 29cm high - £165 / £195
Click image for animation.
RR - The Bird and the Bee [weight-driven] - reclaimed / drift- wood & metal fittings - 43cm high - £212.50
(2 x clockwork ones "B Annoying" also available @ £90 each)
VSG - Night-time harbour diorama: liner plus 6 placeable boats [one only just visible: same colour as harbour wall, behind liner]; designed to hang or stand, but liner can't be fitted into box, so hanging configuration needs flat surface visibly close - reclaimed distressed / painted wood - c.45cm long - £185