Interview continued 13

c.c. Was Warhol in there?

g.d. I’d always liked him, not for his take on American society but because he made it OK to print badly. After years of people trying to make their prints look like one-offs, he made one-offs that looked like prints, he let everybody enjoy the print quality. But what I was going to say was that repetition of words and phrases is a big part of the poem, it’s called anaphora, that was one of the reasons that I decided to print the pictures offset from the stamps. I saw an equivalent between the text describing the images and images describing the text. One thousand years before Warhol, in caves on the silk route at Tun Huang in western China, Buddhist monks stamped out votive images in neat little rows that immediately make you think of Andy. For me making reference to well known precedents is a way of seeding the work, of paying homage, not cultural rape.

c.c. Like Picasso and African masks?

g.d. It’s a different world today, those things must have appeared in Paris then like moon rocks do now: unknown. But now we all know everything about anything, or imagine that we can find out at the touch of a button.

c.c. Your method of working is established now, the early 90’s. A succession of projects not necessarily related where techniques and materials, usually paper and print are chosen because they comment on and amplify the idea or theme. So I think that I will recognise what comes next but can’t predict the subject matter.

g.d. Coal hole covers

c.c. Exactly!

g.d. I’ve always been interested in Indian Yantras. Some are inscribed on copper, often circular they are mediative plaques that I mostly bought from Henry Brownrigg, whose major enthusiasm for the minor arts is appreciated by many collectors 50. In my mind they connect to the beautiful old metal coal hole covers that litter most London streets. Set into equally delicious paving slabs. Beautifully patinated and for the most part ignored, although strangely, Muir Dawson in Los Angeles 51 who sold my work and republished an important book on marbling had previously put out a little book on the metal covers of L.A.52, which is now a rare item. I had always admired them, mentally collecting and enjoying discovering unusual examples. When I moved to Notting Hill Gate I noticed that there were lots outside those massive white houses so I started photographing them, soon amassing thousands of different models, only choosing ones without makers names on them as I wasn’t interested in the social history of the foundry. I enlarged them back up to 100% and screened them onto India paper in varnish over which I sprinkled metal powders which were later burnished to varying degrees of brilliance, working with gouache on the backgrounds trying to suggest both the paving stone and the Indian manuscript where you might find a yantra illustrated. When I was putting the exhibition of them together for the exhibition in 95,53 an old school friend reminded me that 40 years earlier our primary school teacher Ivor Cutler took us out one day armed with thick black crayons and woody paper to make rubbings of covers in the streets of Camden Town.

c.c. He’s a cult figure now.

g.d. He was back then. I remember being struck by his odd socks. I had always imagined that my interest in yantras had come as a student discovering indian art but maybe that early exercise in frottage was responsible.

c.c. What determined the decoration on the coal hole covers, why are they always round?

g.d. The patterns were to stop people slipping on them and they were round to prevent the lids from falling down the hole, seeing as how they were lifted up and down regularly. From there I went on to develop the theme which I called URBAN YANTRAS  by keeping a metallic figure on a distressed ground and made a series of shallow reliefs of common shapes in gilded resin attatched to sheets of old Indian paper of double square format that I had got from Nigel McFarland 54. I tried to make a compendium of shapes that would be recognizable and meaningful to all cultures; moon, teardrop, undulating curve, spiral, things like that.

50 At Portobello Market in London
51 Dawson’s Antiquarian Books
52 Manhole Covers of Los Angeles by Robert & Mimi Melnick 1974
53 Urban Yantras. Leighton House Museum. London. 16-27 May 1995
54 Khadi Papers. Paper merchants and importers.

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