Darkly humorous glass art questions absurdity of human behaviour

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Pictured above: Two Witches Knowledge is Power

Pinkie Maclure’s darkly humorous glass art questions the absurdity of contemporary human behaviour. Angela Neustatter interviews the multidisciplinary Scottish artist about creating art that explores some of the big issues facing us in today’s world. 

By Angela Neustatter

Pinkie Maclure’s tenderest childhood memories, along with traumatic recollections of destruction, have been given enduring life in an exquisite stained glass light box named Self-Portrait: Dreaming of Portvadie (pictured below).

Memories in glass

As a girl, one of Pinkie’s greatest delights was holidaying her grandad’s cottage in Portvadie, a wild, remote corner of Argyll in Scotland, on the edge of a shallow inlet. It had no electricity or running water but it was an environment full of wildlife, water, trees, mountains, seals, basking sharks and porpoises. Pinkie reflects: “I remember those as the happiest days of my childhood.”

Then, in the mid-1970s, the government agreed to sell the surrounding land to a company that built oil-rig platforms in a multi-million-pound project subsidised with taxpayer money. They placed explosives in the ground and the place became a giant gully. A large concrete worker’s village was built, wide roads cut through the landscape, and razor wire was put up around the cottage.

The scheme went bankrupt and the erstwhile magical beach is now the site of a luxury hotel. It was only when she taught herself stained glass – and realised she could use it as a story-telling tool – that Pinkie found a way to conceptualise the story of what had happened. She depicts herself sleeping in an ornate wrap of lace and fabric. On top of her is a cat crying out, a car roars up the road, razor wire locks out trees and mountains, and her grandparents are contentedly cocooned in a sleeping bag.

Using a variety of techniques

Making the work, which incorporated several techniques – sand-blasting, engraving, hand painting, and the use of silver stain, inks, glass beads and layering – has been a catharsis. And, more than that, the National Museum of Scotland has bought it. In recent years, Pinkie has been listed among the most innovative, imaginative and confrontational modern stained glass artists, featured in art publications, and seen in public showings.

This from a self-taught artist who drew prolifically as a girl but was told by her art teacher that she wasn’t good enough for art school. She sadly accepted this and, for years, was unemployed. It was when her partner John Wills began restoring stained glass, and had too much work, that Pinkie joined him as a way of earning. It was mostly Victorian stained glass windows and doors, and Pinkie learned techniques for working with glass. She was enchanted by the use of light and decorative effects, along with the fine painting of allegorical scenes in medieval glass, and she wanted to draw on the methods used but to do her own work. In her forties by now, she studied stained glass techniques through books and images. She wanted to critique such things as environmental destruction, competitive beauty and loneliness in today’s world. 

Depicting the dark side of the beauty industry 

From this came the startling piece Beauty Tricks (pictured below), which depicts the dark side of a beauty industry that “appears to offer us ageless loveliness, and happiness, because we’re worth it” Pinkie says, referencing the seductive advertising slogan. Writing on the Decorating Dissidence site, she explains: “I decided to explore the way the beauty industry affects us and our environment. The central figure is based around a classic madonna, but she has liposuction lines on her torso and hypodermic needles and scalpels adorning her halo. Her nipples have been censored. Two little girls gaze up at her beautiful pink frock from a grey world of abandoned plastic containers.”

It was pleasing and helpful to receive a lot of media attention with her panel shown in different publications, but Pinkie was particularly thrilled to get a lot of messages from young women on Instagram. It is an audience she very much wants to look below the surface of our aggressively targeted beauty culture.

Fury to be found in her creations

She has turned her skills to a range of other themes too. The panel on addiction Pills For Ills has the “paradoxical beauty of opium poppies juxtaposed with a skull-like face looming in the background. In my youth, I saw so many people become users of street heroin,” she adds.

Pinkie doesn’t do many commissions, explaining: “People tend to have very set ideas about what they want and I work best when the work comes from my subconscious.” So you find in Pinkie’s creations a lot of fury. Take Landfill Tantrum, a composition of yellow, red and white with heavy lead lines in which raging people kick and scream, fingers point and animals look on perplexed. The Storm is a cobalt disk filled with struggling distraught figures swirling around. There is a sombre self-portrait of Pinkie, her face dissected into portions with lead, flowers on her breast, but a look of disquiet in the deep dark eyes. 

For all this, she is a delightfully cheerful, likeable woman with a great deal to say about the art she has turned into a stunning gallery of glass pictures. If you care to listen, she expounds an intellectual and philosophical take on what she does.

Above: Totally Wired, Self-Portrait with Insomnia Posy

A passion for music

Alongside stained glass another passion is music. She and her partner John Wills set up Pumajaw, a Scotland-based electronic duo, with Pinkie singing and John on strings and drums. But, for a while, that has lain fallow as Pinkie works so intensely at the glass projects urging her to make them. Now, she says, she would like to perform again, and there is an idea brewing: to make a stained glass light box and incorporate her music. 

Meanwhile, her head is endlessly full of new ideas and she has a determined goal. For too long, she believes, stained glass has been judged a conservative art form. Pinkie wants it, and its wonderful ways of  seducing the eye and captivating the viewer with colour and light, to be seen as a contemporary art form, not just something magical and traditional. “I want to be seen as a contemporary artist. I have a bit of an attitude about this because I think glass is an extremely effective way of showing ideas dealing with darkly humorous stories from modern life that question the absurdity of contemporary human behaviour.”

Pinkie Maclure is giving a talk for the United Nations Year of Glass at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on 18 November, which will also be available online. She’ll be explaining her approach, concept and the layers of thought in her work.

Web: www.pinkiemaclure.net
Instagram: @pinkie.maclure