Throwback Friday #3 Polyvinyl Acetate (c.1992 – 1995)

Okay, full disclosure. I spent a good part of my late teens and early-twenties with a serious glue habit.

There, I’ve said it. Some weeks I’d get through pots of the stuff, one after the other. In addition to my acute reliance on industrial quantities of adhesive, I was rarely without a pair of American Tan nylon tights, and not just one pair – actually dozens of pairs, hundreds of pairs…

Depending on your own proclivities, how I now go on to contextualise this rather lurid opening paragraph will either disappoint you horribly or pique your interest further. I haven’t just ‘fessed-up to the dissolute wilderness years of a misspent youth but instead described a particular model-making technique in which sculptural elements fashioned from scraps of nylon tights packed out with toy-stuffing are then plasticised using lashings of Polyvinyl acetate, otherwise known as PVA. Once primed and sealed with the glue, the surfaces of the models can then be painted and varnished.

Given the soft, squishable origins of the technique – and the Victor-Frankenstein-in-his-laboratory way in which each fleshy chunk is sewn lovingly to another chunk to create bigger elements – it’s little wonder the resulting sculptures all share a certain wobbly organicism. That many of them – okay, most of them – also pay homage to the blobby, slime-shined creatures of my favourite movies and television programmes – points to my artistic muses of the time – not Henry Moore or Hepworth, but rather the likes of Rob Bottin and Rick Baker, and Giger, of course.

At a push I could marshal a very convincing case for the cultural value of monsters. I’d likely throw Freud and Kristeva into the mix and suggest too that outsiders have always been drawn to ‘the other’ – that monsters are good company for introverts who are otherwise away with the fairies. I’m not going to do that because in some way I’d be apologising for all this work I made once with such unfettered enthusiasm, and with a total lack of self-consciousness about a) its artistic merit or otherwise and b) the spectacle of a young man sewing monsters together from sackloads of tights donated to him by various female friends and relatives…

Anyway, it wasn’t always monsters. Alongside the ‘clipboard chestburster’ I made for the canteen of the supermarket I used to work in, alongside all the big bugs, baby-heads and giant brains, there was the HUGE chocolates-thing that stood at least as tall as I did (though who it was for and why it got made I can’t even recall). There was the ‘piggy-bank-on-a-pile-of-steaks’, commissioned by a lawyer, who quite understandably hated it on sight and gave it to her sister (who also probably hated it but was loyal enough to hang it on the wall outside her toilet!). Oh, and there were the bouncing meat pies and severed legs rustled up for a local am-dram production of Sweeny Todd, though I suspect the level of meaty gruesome detail I lavished on the severed legs was just a little excessive. Don’t blame me, blame my other muse at the time, Tom Savini.

8 thoughts on “Throwback Friday #3 Polyvinyl Acetate (c.1992 – 1995)

    1. Hey Scoops – I know, 100% diagnostic of my imaginative world – all pre-CGI, obviously – so all that wonderful ‘making’ and inventing that went into low – and high – budget movies and tv shows. When I got to University, the mantra was ‘truth to materials’ etc. so there was no room really for faking surfaces and splashing the glue around. I felt rather wistful putting these images out here! I think this is what fun looks like!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I sourced those baby heads from Mattel … I wrote to them and asked if they could provide me with any bits and bobs for an Alevel art project – and they sent me a box of heads. It was like Christmas Day! The baby heads were all part of my final a level show, so I was 18 or thereabouts and I had these two great art teachers, Tony Hale and Tessa Booth, and they didn’t bat an eyelid when I started to produce this stuff (I can only imagine the conversations in the staff room however!). I was hugely lucky in this respect – I don’t think it occurred to me to ‘worry’ about what I was making or how I was making it because the art department just seemed rather fascinated by it all.


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