The Scottish artist offers insight into his book-cover paintings through a collection of artist’s notes.
Sometimes text can feel stifling next to art, like overwritten exhibition labels—or, at the other end of the scale, too overly-simplified to spark any interest. The writings accompanying Andrew Cranston’s paintings in his new book Never a Joiner fall into neither of these categories, perhaps because they were not originally intended to be published. Taken from notes written by the artist during and after painting, they reveal different aspects of the process and inspirations behind each work through personal anecdotes, cultural references, and other insightful thoughts and observations. Painted onto old book covers, the works featured in Never a Joiner are intrinsically linked to the realms of language and storytelling; between landscapes, interior scenes, still lifes, figures and animals, they suggest narratives themselves that Cranston’s words, never pretentious or overdone, only help to tease out.
Born in Hawick, a town in the Scottish borders, Cranston studied at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen before doing a Master’s in painting at London’s Royal College of Art. He now lives and works in Glasgow. The collection of small-scale works in Never a Joiner, published alongside an exhibition of Cranston’s work at Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh during the summer, spans the last five years of Cranston’s career. The everyday scenes depicted skirt the border between the real and the imagined, drawing from the artist’s personal experience as well as fictional places that have left an imprint on him in some way—a criss-cross of references from disparate places and times that is illuminated in his accompanying notes. The book cover, an apt medium for this notion of grouping together different ideas, plays an important role in the outcome of the works; the textured surfaces are allowed to show through the painted surface in varying degrees, and the shapes inscribed on them often provide starting points which guide the image.
Cranston’s way of looking at the world, of being drawn in by the details, of noticing and retaining things where not everyone might and then translating them into painting, is undoubtedly part of what makes him a remarkable artist. “You are an artist even when you are not making art,” he says. “Most of the time I am a painter but not painting a painting; these times—in between times—when I am living (real life is it?) are of course more, much more, important.” In his paintings, Cranston’s playful handling of subjects, colour, scale and perspective capture a certain disjointedness of perception, a strangeness similar to the experience of recalling a dream or a faded memory, that could only be the product of a truly vivid imagination. Ranging from vibrant and humorous scenes to images suggesting darker states of being, there is always something about them that makes you want to keep looking; an element of peculiarity, humour, or mystery.
Never a Joiner presents a collection of works that vary in theme and subject, but that are all closely connected through Cranston’s unique visual language. His lucid writings prompt the reader to engage with these works in new and compelling ways, revealing hidden aspects of painting and the creative process while serving as a reminder to keep moving through life with a sense of wonder and curiosity.
Andrew Cranston – Never a Joiner (£35, hardback) is available from Ingleby Gallery.
An exhibition of the artist’s work, Andrew Cranston: What made you stop here?, is on display at The Hepworth Wakefield until 2 June 2024.