27th May 2016 - 1st September 2016
Ocean Studios Exhibition Gallery
A couple of years ago, Bill and Pauline were walking along the South West Coast Path, I think that’s how this started. From Plymouth Bill sent me an image of a line of iron models of naval boats – minesweepers, submarines, destroyersetc. – that he’d seen mounted on top of a wall on the Hoe. As you looked out over the wall, you could imagine the boats themselves manoeuvring in the waters of the Sound. I replied that I knew who had made them – Gordon Young is an old friend and he had been responsible for the many interventions along the line of the path in Plymouth, Devonport and around. I sent a message to Gordon, passing on Bill’s congratulations for the work and he generously replied that there were still some models left if Bill fancied one of them. He opted for a submarine and I arranged to pick it up from Gordon’s house in Langport on a day when I happened to be passing nearby. As it turned out, Gordon had to be away on the day but he arranged for his neighbour to give it to me. To my surprise, what Gordon gave me was not one of the casts but an original model in dense polyurethane foam. I’d rather anticipated that what Bill would be getting was something he could mount on the parapet of his balcony and have a submarine drifting across the flat Hampshire countryside (in the direction of Portsmouth). It was a bit harder to work out what to do with the foam model.
In the meantime Leigh Mason and Jen Jayarajah had invited the two of us to make a show of joint work for their new Ocean Studios space at Royal William Yard in Plymouth. They suggested a taster drawn from existing individual works for their opening 2015 and a complete show of new joint work through the summer of 2016. We had enthusiastically agreed. As we began thinking about how we were going to approach making the new work, Bill recalled a filmed presentation that I’d forwarded to him of an amazing process called water transfer printing. This is a technique whereby sheets of complex pattern are floated onto the surface of water in a large tank and then transferred directly onto the surface of complex three-dimensional objects as they are dipped into the tank through the pattern sheets. Mostly it is used in customizing car and motorcycle accessories but it did seem that it might be an interesting process to try and use. Bill did some research and visited a firm on the outskirts of Bournemouth using the process. Making up our own transfer patterns was prohibitively expensive – at least to begin with – but there was already a huge library of available patterns to choose from and, if we provided sample objects, we could begin to see if it was worth going on with. Now the question was how to make the test pieces – they needed to be reasonably light, smooth (and waterproof!). Card or polyurethane foam skinned with plaster or acrylic resin seemed a good option. I had some blocks and thick sheets of the rigid blue foam knocking around the studio and Bill said that he also could get some and, additionally, a supply of the acrylic resin. The idea was for us each to make some initial bits and then take them to the printers to see what turned out before putting anything together. I was a bit of a slow starter but Bill quickly sent me an image of Gordon’s submarine cut up and reassembled so that it became more eel than submarine. Together with the image he suggested Mr. Crabtree and Young Gordon go Fishing was, if not a title, then at least a direction. [Mr. Crabtree goes Fishing is a cartoon strip guide to fishing by Bernard Venables, published by the Daily Mirror in the 1950’s]. Gordon was relaxed about the revivifying of his submarine and suddenly Bill had started us off – but it was the water, not the transfer printing that gave the key.