When I was at art school in the 1980s, the world was a very different place. Thatcher was in power, the miners were striking, Reagan was in the White House, punk was dead and the soul had been ripped out of the city of Dundee, but the time I spent there was to echo through the rest of my life in ways that I could not imagine. Art school is the gift that keeps on giving, and one of the things it has given me is the many friendships that have endured and flourished throughout the intervening years. It’s been a thing of wondrous beauty to see the many paths taken by my contemporaries but it’s been a particular joy to witness the success of my friend, Andy Crummy. (Andy also wins the award for world’s scariest selfie of a nice guy.)
Hi Andy, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Smorgasbord. I’m going to plunge right in with The Great Tapestry of Scotland, a hugely ambitious project which has been described as a Masterpiece. The Great Tapestry is a major work by anyone’s standards: what impact has it had on your life?
It has had a huge impact, I am often now called “the Tapestry man”! Looking back, I suppose it was the culmination of my involvement in community arts over many years and my own artistic skills. What was a surprise to me, was the interest in my drawing and design skills. What was amazing was not only the skill and creativity the thousands of stitchers, but all the other people who volunteered to help in its creation and its touring and exhibitions. The Great Tapestry of Scotland, The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry and the others have now been seen by over 700,000 visitors.
Although I am central to these projects, it is not about one person, it is about all these people coming together and being creative. When all these ladies start being creative with their stitching it is a very humbling experience. Of course, it is still evolving and growing. We are not at the end of the story.
What were you like at school?
I was really just a not very confident, quiet wee soul who looked rather depressed most of the time. I did not know what I wanted to do. My careers advisor at the time thought I should be a printer. The only thing I was good at was drawing and chess. I ended up going to Art College because it was the only thing I could do.
Tell me about the evolution of Andrew Crummy, the artist?
It was really when I got to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art that I suddenly found myself with lots of other people who were like me. I really enjoyed my time at Dundee. Of course, that is were we met all those years ago. I think we were all very lucky because everyone was so friendly, even to this day, as a group we keep in contact.
As an artist I just love drawing and painting and I just wanted to keep to it. It is really that simple. It is just the joy of being creative. I do not view myself as anything special, but I have had a lot of practice.
Community arts and collaborative work are important to you; what would your ideal project look like?
I was brought up in a community arts atmosphere through my mother and The Craigmillar Festival Society. But as a typical teenager rejected most of what my parents said, it was not until well into my thirties when I realised that my mother was right, if you involve people in our own creative process, it opens many new doors.
Community Arts can be a very powerful movement, when many people come together through the arts to deal with issues within our society. The best example I have ever seen was The Craigmillar Festival Society, where it used the arts to help deal with the issues of poverty and inequality. It was a very clever model of working and I am still learning much from it.
I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but many years ago you told me you were planning on writing a book inspired, I think, by a box of old photographs. Did anything ever come of that?
I think that is one of many projects that never got anywhere.
You have created murals, drawings, paintings and illustrations, experimenting in many different styles and media. How do you decide which route to take for a project?
I think the important thing is to keep learning and trying new things, there is still so much to learn and look into. I don’t mind failure because it is through this you learn more. Throughout my life I have been fortunate that at certain points opportunities have come along, but I was always happy to take the plunge and give it a go.
Have you ever surprised yourself by what you have revealed in your art?
Some of the images I just don’t know where they come from, or what they reveal about myself. I really don’t understand where they come from. I usually just enjoy the challenge.
I think over the years, learning the craft of drawing and painting is such a constant tussle. I often hear writers and artist talking about this. Sometimes you produce some thing and you think that is fab, then you come back to it a few days later and change it again. Then you think, I wish I had never changed it.
Which artists inspire you?
Well there are so many, in so many art forms. I was at the National Gallery recently and some of the paintings are like old friends. Over the years they become part of your life, and your relationship with them changes. I am a bit of a art groupie, I just love so many artworks. For drawing and painting I am very traditional in admiring Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, etc. In a Scottish context John Byrne, Joan Eardley and of course John Bellany, but I am loathe to pick out only a few as I admire so many. John Quinton Pringle is another, James Cowie….. the list goes on and on. Music is a big inspiration for me, I remember you like Devo…….gosh that whole period of music and beyond. The other art forms….. I could be here all night!
Best art-related moment so far?
For my own work. Standing in the two hour queue with my daughter to see The Great Tapestry of Scotland in the Scottish Parliament. I just wanted to experience people queuing to see my work. It will never happen again.
Any unrealised artistic ambitions?
Far too many to mention.
What are you working on at the moment?
More tapestries, book illustrations, paintings and venturing into sculpture and ceramics.
What advice would you give the young Andrew Crummy?
Be more confident, more ambitious.
If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?
With Rembrandt or Turner, in their studio. I would learn so much.
Who would play Andrew Crummy in the film of your life?
Spud from Trainspotting, as he went to the same school as me.
A few short questions to finish. Favourite book?
Or what am I reading at the moment. I tend to read factual books like: Scotland, A History from Earliest Times by Alistair Moffat, Come out of the Wilderness by Bruce Kendrick, Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor.
A flat white
Come Dine With Me
Family, Undertones, Karine Polwart, Stevie Wonder, Debussy, etc.
Rembrandt, Ben Nicholson
A Group Portrait, James Cowie
The Box Meeting, John Bellany
Thanks Andy, it’s been a pleasure.
Find out more about Andy at his website.
Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.