Ross Andrew Spencer is a metallurgical alchemist based out of Edinburgh, creating subtle process based abstractions out of various construction materials and pigments. The paintings communicate time and memory in a kind of destructive performance that lasts for a long time after production has nominally ceased- the various materials continue to settle and react chemically to one another.
Please keep reading for a short profile.
Do you call them paintings?
Ross Andrew Spencer:
They are paintings. Sometimes there is paint in them, sometimes I lay them flat so folks can walk around them.
BB: When you lay them flat do people touch them? Like Richard Serra sculptures for example, I always want to put my fingers on.
RS: They do! and kick them! i think they are trying to see if they are really made from the materials i say or not. Yeah I would be tempted to, just to see if the rust would come off onto my hand.
BB: And does it? you were talking about how they look like they could rearrange themselves, and I wonder if the tar melts , or the oxidation changes over time , Like abstract oil paintings with a thick facture, ones from the 50’s you can tell they look really different
RS: They change slowly they effervesce and oxidizes slowly and change long after completion. The lead is fairly inert to decomposition but in contrast the iron rusts quickly and the salt content in the cement slowly rises to the surface
BB: Could you explain a bit the actual physical process of constructing them
RS: The tar is an odd one as whenever it changes due to cold or heat it usually reverts back to its original state after a few hours:…When I’m at my most emotionally unstable that’s when I try to go and make the work. It comes together in moments of composure. i’m trying to charge the work with my emotions. You are imparting some of the distilled feelings and hoping it reacts. Similar to figurative animation, It’s a false sense of creating life. Lots of heating to very high temperatures and pouring both with the lead and tar. they can be unpredictable so i am constantly in a struggle to make i t form and shape the way i would like. The process is often a disaster but it’s the tussle I think makes the work. .
BB: You must have a lot of space? and with process based work like that, i guess you must have some duds, sometimes it doesn’t work, no?
RS: I work outside a lot, as the smoke alarms just don’t like my work. I make far more dud work than anything i am content with, i will always leave it and return when i am more up for a struggle with it. Sometimes it has changed itself especially if the weather is terrible.
BB: What led you here? like were you making more representational work at a certain point?
RS: Yeah and I still do although less frequently. I realised that to make things in the way that I wanted I needed a method that would lend itself to being fought with. When I made work before I had a solid idea of what I was painting I was never satisfied that what I completed had what it should although it looked like what I set out to do. I wanted the painting to have more of a relationship with me that wasn’t just one sided. I wanted it to separate itself from being just materials and be able to change and in some way interact with me. That’s why I make large work as it holds its own and it struggles back. It won’t be defeated and manipulated easily. We engage physically, and I often lose. This probably could not be said of smaller, more delicate works. That’s the way in which I feel like I can impart my feelings into it. be it anger or fear or something else and it can give back by defying me.
RS:Howard Hodgkin would turn work against the wall and come back months later in the hope that his mind set had changed. i’m hoping that both my mind set and the work has changed.
BB: that’s really a good move.I read that Ray Bradbury would put every finished story in a drawer for a year before doing a second draft.
RS: I thought so too. I heard him say this in an interview and it really changed how I thought about my engagement with work. It really is a brilliant method as sometimes feels as though someone else might have written it and he was maybe less critical?
BB: And the work you did for the album cover, is there a direct relationship between the sound and the image, or structure?
RS: It was strange and brilliant making work for the album! I was also working digitally which threw me, but luckily there was a graphic designer working on the imagery too. Addie already liked a lot of the work I was making and was open to having me introduce this style into the record art. The result was digital images that look very sculptural. I ended up building “sets” and sculptures and piecing things together this way so there was still an element of unpredictability about the process.The intention is always for them to feel as monumental and overwhelming as emotions can be, even if they are small.
BB: Are there any exhibitions in Scotland or anywhere, or even online, that you’ve seen recently that really stuck with you?
RS: Rory McEwan exhibition at his family home Marchmont House in the Scottish BordeRS: in May of this year . I had very little knowledge of how talented and influential musician and artist he was. I had known about his perspex sculptures from art college, but knew very little else. As i have a tendency to do, I don’t spend enough time really looking and taking these exhibitions in. When I returned home and read more about him I wished I had spent longer listening and viewing his work.
BB: Last question, can you tell me a guilty pleasure? something that you love that you know is stupid or bad ?
RS: ASMR for sleeping…….. like rain sounds and whispering.
Interview by Ben Duax, July 2022