Robert McCubbin is a Scottish artist/sculptor who makes mixed media sculptures from packaging and mostly throw-away materials. I first met him about seventeen years ago, I found his work interesting and different. Since then Robert has exhibited in several exhibitions I have organised. Shown below is a collage entitled MAP which is being shown at The Millipiani Gallery in Rome in May (digital exhibition).
Below, is the short piece I wrote about his art back in 2004 when we first met. Robert kindly agreed to answer some questions I put to him about his work today and other subjects of interest.
A selection of sculptures by the Stranraer based artist Robert McCubbin are currently on show in Livingston. McCubbin studied sculpture as a mature student at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. The inspiration behind his work arises partly from an interest in art history, especially Modernism, he combines this interest with aspects of contemporary culture and technology. The Modernist influence comes through in his choice of geometric forms and strong primary colours. However, the work is eclectic and there is no real sense of any major dominating influence. His materials consist of things such as wallpaper, various plastics, cardboard boxes, household paints, aluminium drinks cans, used catalogues and polystyrene. In short, things that might be considered as everyday DIY items and disposable, throw-away rubbish. Added to these he sometimes incorporates “found objects” into the sculptures or a random (or carefully chosen?) page from a magazine. The pieces on show are all abstract and small in size. As McCubbin himself puts it, they are on a “human scale”. They have a portable feel, almost inviting the viewer to pick them up and carry them around. The portability factor combined with the familiar, everyday materials make them come across as quite people friendly. Although he often re-uses material he is keen to point out that his work is not about recycling. He is more interested in the short shelf-life of things like packaging, for example. This unmistakable engagement with popular culture gives the work a Pop-Art feel which sits strangely comfortable with the restrained, geometric formality of the work. Also inspired by Julian Opie’s sparse paintings of empty roads, it seems that McCubbin would like to focus straight ahead but is often distracted along the way by the visual spectacle that is day to day twenty-first century life.
Cathy Bell (21/9/04)
1. Looking at what I thought about your work in 2004, do you think my assessment came anywhere near your own perception?
• The assessment of my work noted above fitted well with my own perception and influences at the time, being connected to art- historical individuals and movements in art, with a strong reflection on Modernism being advanced and explored in an eclectic fashion.
2. Has your approach to your work changed at all since then, if so, in what way?
• My work has developed along my identified themes and has become much more focused on the direct use of collage in both 2-D and 3-D works, still utilising everyday materials but in a more selective manner. These changes reflect a more individualistic and developed working approach reflecting on late consumer society in the 21st Century.
3. I notice that you have recently included some photographic images into your work. I feel they are similar to your sculptures in what they represent but is there any other reason for this?
• Incorporating a documentary approach, via photographic imagery into my work, has augmented the process with these images sitting along-side my ‘object-based’ works as a form of conceptual foil to them, but not as a means to an end in their own right.
4. You have a piece in a digital show coming up in May in Rome. Can you tell us about the piece?
• The work accepted for the above show is a card collage entitled: ‘MAP’ (2009) and utilises several deconstructed cigarette cartons, reflecting on the demarcation of language and graphic emblem, set within Globalisation and late consumerism. Whereby modes of production and exchange have become blurred and overlap the goods and services of the mass-market place, and connection with the information age therein.
5. Do you think digital art is the way ahead? What do you think about non-fungible tokens in the art world, for example?
• The rise of digital art was an inevitable outcome of recent technological advances and has given rise to the democratization of art and what constitutes art in the 21st century. Digital art is everywhere now but I think it is an additional tool for artists and makers, but not one that will inevitably supplant other forms of art and that both can exist complimentary to each other. However, with it has come an additional language of its own and terms of reference, for example non-fungible tokens (NFT’s) which in essence may provide a form of authenticity and stamp of approval and protection of it being a ‘singular’ art-work in its own right, in an otherwise global situation where unlimited duplication can occur at the touch of a button? However, the commodification of art continues apace, whether as digital or conventional format which raises again the question: who owns the art?
6. I mentioned in 2004 that you were influenced by Julian Opie. Is there any other artists that have significantly influenced your art?
• Several ‘key’ influences come to mind here ranging from the early ‘Arte-Povera’ group, Kurt Schwitters, Haim Steinbach, Ashley Bickerton and Tony Cragg but to name a few….
7. What does making art mean to you?
• It gives me a sense of purpose and meaning exploring my creative nature set within my area of interest. It provides outlets for positive outcomes both for me personally and for others to explore and enjoy and gives me immense pleasure to be able to do so.
8. Would you like to see a wider, more democratic dissemination of culture (and visual art in particular) in Scotland in the future? Or do you think that it is satisfactory as it is now?
• I would like to see fully advanced the provision and access to the arts in general and visual art in particular in Scotland, noting some positive moves towards this end, but much more needs done both in education, finance and the openness and democratisation/dissemination of the arts here.
9. A couple of fun questions – what is your favourite colour?
• I like Blue!
10. Who is your favourite artist?
• I have always admired Paul Cezanne!