Monday, 13 November 2017

Two Shades of Hope

Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.    
Arthur C. Clarke 
(science fiction writer, inventor)

As kids growing up in the 60’s, we were led to believe that in the future as adults we would be taking our kids to the moon on holiday. Science was all the rage and much of what was still science fiction back then is now commonplace in our 21st century civilisation. Although many predictions have come to pass (not the moon one though) some that failed to materialise now seem totally mad and way off the mark. 

Arthur C. Clarke for example, can be seen on TV predicting that in the future we will be able to communicate (conduct our business is what I think he said) instantly with anyone anywhere in the world without even knowing where that person is. Dead on, and that was before global TV transmission, in the days of electric telephones connected by wires and when PC’s and even video had yet to be invented. He also predicted in the next sentence that our future labour problems would be alleviated by using genetically modified chimps as servants! It just shows that predicting the future, or prophesying as some would say, is a precarious business.

In our contemporary world we are still fairly addicted to science and like to quote “the science bit” to prove our point. We employ the science bit to back up so many arguments and have even used it to prove the non-existence of God. However, when the science bit uncovers or proposes something we don’t like, it’s so typically human to quietly ignore it hoping it’ll just shut up after a while. 

Take the whole “is there life out there” debate as an example. Is there life out there among the billions of stars with their many billions of habitable planets? Of course there is. Logic and sheer probability says there must be. BUT, the science bit has also said that it may only be simple single celled life forms. Why? Well, the “ fateful encounter hypothesis” states that mathematically, complex life, never mind intelligent life is likely to be much rarer than we have previously assumed. Because of the evolutionary bottleneck inherent in the development beyond simple life forms (it's all down to the very lucky formation of eukaryotic cells with mitochondria) complex life forms, therefore intelligent life could actually be considered a galactic or universal rarity. In fact it's considered so unlikely it may only have happened the once.

So what’s my point here (I don’t mean the point of my existence here in this studio typing my blog post)? Well, as a lover of all things scientific I totally relate to something that Professor Brian Cox said in a BBC TV program here in the UK on this topic a few years back. He said that in fact we may be alone in the universe after all. More important though was his response to this statement. In that case, he said, that makes us very precious indeed. And if we are unique, surely we have an extra responsibility to look after ourselves, our planet and all life on it.

A bit about the new work

Regular readers of this blog may by now realise that what I write here isn’t “about” the new work but is something that relates to it. The new mezzotint “as fools rush in” is based on the quote “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” by Alexander Pope in his 1711 poem An Essay on Criticism. The phrase alludes to inexperienced or rash people attempting things that more experienced people avoid. This mezzotint also suggests that there are consequences of rash decisions by our less mature political leaders. Interestingly and quite coincidentally, the angel looks like she is leaning forward and about to snuff out the burning fuse on the bomb, like someone has to take control and sort out the mess!

A compliment to this work might be the etching “two shades of hope” (many thanks again as always Foy). I said shades, not sides...well, Foy said it first but hope is so multifaceted in my experience. The lower text states that the abolition of order leads to the escalation of chaos. In this etching there is a dove on an olive branch facing another dove on the end of a gun barrel. Perhaps I was thinking about the idea of guilty silence in witnessing persecution/racism (the sleeping dove on the end of the gun?) and of speaking out for those who seem to have little or no voice of their own. As I've said before, freedom of speech is not absolute and comes with responsibilities (the theme in the two small mezzotints also launched here).

The collage JerusalemDove speaks for its self. 


Monday, 24 July 2017

You learn something new every day

Despite evidence to the contrary I am a firm believer that there is no life after coffee. I try to wake myself up with a pot of strong coffee every morning and I still frequently go through the day like a sloth with a spliff.

I AM however, a firm believer that if something is not working and I'm not sure what's wrong with it (and therefore how to fix it) then I just take it to bits, carefully mark up those bits to go back in the right place, in the right order and then reassemble the whole thing and it will likely work fine.

How do I know this? Simple. I've done it a thousand times.

For the last three months my wonderful etching press has been out of commission as I was getting nothing but creased prints coming from of it! I tried everything I have ever learned and more, in my forty (almost) years worth of significant etching experience to fix the problem. Then David Rochat, the press maker finally came up from England, took it to bits and gave it a full maintenance overhaul. Once reassembled, we carefully reset everything and I was treated to witnessing (and practicing under expert guidance) the craft of some serious fine-tuning. Guess what? It works. I think digital techs got this from us, only they don't always have to take anything to bits...just switch it off, leave it for thirty seconds and switch it on again.

So the moral of this wee story is that as etching master at the Glasgow Print Studio, its good to know that there is always more to learn. Even better when I was able to learn it some of it.

About the new work...

So what has this to do with the new work launched on line?

Well, at first glance not a lot unless you count learning something new every day. The text in lower panel of the mezzotint "History repeating or counting out time?" (above) reads "philosophical approaches to the question of veracity equipped with the finest intellectual..." blah blah blah. In other words, it's drivel, designed to baffle us with seemingly rational opinions and arguments instead of presenting the facts as we currently know them. It's also a comment on the whole exposure of the fake news industry sweeping through the media. The main image of the doves on the exploding hourglass, along with the title maybe points to the consequences of this and of our willingness to believe so as to justify our own narrow-mindedness or prejudice.

It's hinted at again in the etching/mezzotint "An audacity of imagination". The text here seems to suggest more opinionated drivel, but it finally admits that the task of the so called heretic is to "tell the truth...and run". Often it is the heretics of the day that become history's prophets.

I started both of these prints in Jerusalem at JPW (Jerusalem Print Workshop) during last summers residency. They have taken ages to complete. But they are now on-line for you and can be seen here at, along with three much larger scale mezzotints and a new digital composition.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Beyond Borders

"No city is legitimate if it takes away the dignity of those who live there" 1.

A palimpsest, by definition entails the erasure of what was there before, of what was in the past and claiming the foundation (either a parchment or monumental brass plaque) for re-use. 

But as the American writer William Cuthbert Faulkner said "The past isn't dead and buried. It isn't even past". Right now it seems we are living with the global consequences of past decisions and are reaping the rewards in abundance.

In Jerusalem, we can go back centuries, millennia even, as each successive civilization puts down its roots in the land, laying the foundations for claim and counterclaim for generations to come. As soon as we untangle one part there is another layer of tangle underneath.

Fast forward to 2017 and it's not just in Jerusalem that we see the past catching up with us. From Iraq to Crimea, from Hong Kong, Africa, to the Americas. Across the globe "policy makers seem to be confused and at a loss...politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous" 2.

A few years ago, on a gable end wall in west Jerusalem I saw a work of graffiti art that said "just forgive". It’s easy to say but much more difficult to do. However, within a conflict, it can begin to happen when at least one side realises that it can, and must, let go of exclusive claims to persecution and discrimination; having the courage to recognise that others have suffered too.

Just recently I saw that the gable end wall has gone and with it the graffiti art. Let us help its message survive.

About the new work...

This is what I am hinting at in new works such as Terminus or Beyond Borders. Breaking out of an existing narrow mind-set is difficult, especially if we feel an injustice has been done against us. There are many who feel that they are being discriminated against; some with good reason. We should seek that everyone is treated not the same but with equality (there is a difference).

However, seen from a long-standing position of perceived superiority and privilege-by-right, being given equal treatment will of course seem like being discriminated against. When the pie starts to shrink, those holding such views will do everything possible to hang on to their (unequal) share, or even increase it. And the only way they can do that is to make sure everyone else gets less.

The new etching [L f.Gk nostos - return home] returns also to my opening sentiment. No city or society, no government, country or nation is legitimate if it takes away the dignity of those who live there.

As the character Soloman in James Swallow's Nomad said, "In a lawful, moral society, it is the responsibility of the rich man to see that the poor man does not starve. It is the responsibility of the strong man to see that the weak man is not preyed upon."

1. Garbiel Vallecillo Marques, Honduran film maker

2. Mikhail Gorbachev, Former Premier of the Soviet Union


Thursday, 23 February 2017

20 Questions

Name:  Stuart Duffin.

Age: 57.

Birthplace: UK.

Occupation: Artist (printmaker, painter and educator).

Most important tool: My collection of antique mezzotint rocking tools in conjunction with my razor-sharp scraper...and my coffee pot.

Artists or cultural figures who have most influenced you: The classical music of Scots composer Malcolm Lindsay has always been influential on both my work and my state of mind (while working!). Other than that I am less influenced by artists and more by environments, places, circumstances and experiences.

Where are you based: I'm split three ways between my home studio in the north-east of Scotland, the Glasgow Print Studio and the Jerusalem Print Workshop.

Favourite app: That one that orders pizza.

Thing you can't do without: Photoshop! No going back now.

Favourite movie of this year: All time favourite movie would be anything by Jacques Tati. Or "Amelie" with Audrey Tautou. It owes a lot to Tati's legacy.

What's on your playlist at the moment: Malcolm Lindsays music. I also have a ton of drum'n'bass.

The book on your bedside table: "Strange Things Happen", the drummer Stewart Copeland's autobiography. He's a talented and humorous storyteller. Also "The Great Partnership" by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Your work in three words: Shalom, Salaam, Peace (alternatively, forgiveness, compassion, co-existence).

Who would you like to collaborate with: I would love to collaborate with the dynamic artist DariaZapala again. Maybe create some digital images that we can send to each other, play around with and then send them back! That would be fun.

Emerging talent to watch out for: I think any emerging visual artist that is willing to learn how to draw (in any form or style) should be given due credit. Then they can turn to whatever they want with genuine authority.

Biggest challenge to date: It has to be staying sane and at peace in the midst of a manic world, and not using that pizza app too often.

Proudest moment: Any moment I realise I am the dad of a doctor (my daughter) and an architect (my son).

Next big thing: WW3.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time: Still out running on a darkening rainy evening. Bliss.

What would you say to your younger self: Remember, growing old is mandatory, growing UP is optional.

Originally published in International Arts Manager but since updated and amended.