CloseUp: Andy Fairgrieve

Title:
Glenfiddich Artists in Residence

Dufftown
Highlands

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Andy Fairgrieve coordinates the Artists in Residence (AiR) programme at Glenfiddich distillery, Dufftown, one of the biggest privately funded artist residencies in the UK.

What took you into your current job?
I started as a layout artist for magazines then worked for years on farms and building sites. In the mid 1990s, I went to Aberdeen University to study Cultural History then worked at the Archaeolink Pre-history Park in Aberdeenshire. I’ve been in this role for 20 years. Quite a lot coalesced into the skill-base I use at Glenfiddich!

How did the Artists in Residence programme start?
William Grant & Sons is a family-run company, and we don’t always take the most direct route to a goal. When the company decided to build an art collection, it was agreed that the residency programme was a good way forward. I think a lot of people expected the art to be very traditional. The fact that we went for contemporary conceptual artists helps challenge people’s perceptions of what Glenfiddich is.

Finnish artist Juha Saraste with stag sculpture made from recycled metal, Glenfiddich residency 2023. Image by John Paul
Finnish artist Juha Saraste with stag sculpture made from recycled metal, Glenfiddich residency 2023. Image by John Paul

How do you choose the artists?
We have had artists from all over the world. This year we have artists from Canada, Korea, China, Taiwan, Finland and Scotland. In some countries, artists are recommended to us by curators and institutes, some run a competition, others have an open call. An artist from Scotland is selected by a panel of judges each year at the RSA New Contemporaries exhibition. I make the final selection because I have the overview. The residency is for three months and the award per artist has increased from £10,000 to £15,000.

What do you ask them to do? 
We want them to immerse themselves in the environment. The guidelines are simple: create a piece of work based on your experience at Glenfiddich. If it was about making something with whisky bottles, or the stag (the brand logo), we wouldn’t still be going after 22 years.

What does your job involve?
I’m responsible for every aspect of the programme from travelling around the world and selecting the artists to booking their flights and picking them up from the airport. It’s important for me to understand what they want to accomplish when they’re here and connect them with the right people or resources. I’m also the company historian at William Grant & Sons, so I do a lot of presenting to visitor groups, trade groups and corporate conferences.

Describe a typical day…
There’s no such thing as a typical day, there’s not even a typical year! Often I come to work knowing what I need to do and then end up doing something else altogether. Recently, I had to stop what I was doing to take delivery of a metal compressor for (artist) Juha Saraste. Then it didn’t work, so I had to arrange to get it fixed. I like the variety but sometimes I could do with a little less variety!

What are the best and worst parts of the job?
I enjoy meeting the artists, getting to know them, watching the way each group of artists come together. I’m making new friends every year. Less enjoyable is repainting the gallery. Painting a white wall white three or four times a year does start to get a bit tedious.

How did the pandemic affect your work?
I was driving back to Dufftown in February 2020 after selecting the Scottish artist when I heard on the radio about this flu in China. We had to cancel everything. That intake of artists came in 2021, but it was still very difficult. Everybody isolated for 10 days when they arrived, we were all wearing face masks, doing weekly tests. Then we had to deal with each country’s covid restrictions to get them all home again.

What’s the first work of art you remember seeing?
An oil painting of a log cabin in a conifer forest which hung in my mother’s house. I think it came from Canada. It was a simple painting done in oils with a palette knife. I loved it as a kid.

Has an artist ever changed your life?
Jamie Reid, who did graphics for the Sex Pistols. Punk rock was a huge thing in my life and informed the attitudes I still have today. The image on the single of God Save The Queen, the Queen with a safety pin through her nose, was so controversial, such a challenge to the establishment.

If you could own any work of art by any artist, what would it be?
One of the six whisky glasses used at the Stuart Club in Edinburgh until 1750. Jacobite sympathiser glassware was engraved with Jacobite symbols and used in secret to toast “the king over the water”. These have a five-colour enamel portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Rabbie Burns may have drunk from one of them.

Who or what inspires you?
William Grant is a very inspiring character. He was in his mid forties when he established the distillery, a point in life when a lot of people are sitting back. He was a very driven man, but he comes across in his letters as very generous and warm.

What are you looking forward to?
The first exhibition of work by this year’s residents has just opened with large oil paintings by Derek Liddington (Canada), exquisite pen and ink drawings by Joolee Kang (South Korea), vessels made from local clay by Lorna Phillips (Scotland) and animal sculptures by Juha Saraste (Finland). I enjoy seeing what each artist comes up with, they always have amazing, individual responses to being here.

Derek Liddington, 'at dusk they played a song for the smuggler trapped in the devils grasp, flute, whistles, drum and cries, distracted, they missed the dancing thief wearing healed boots and patterned dress', 205cm x 160cm. Oil on linen
Derek Liddington, ‘at dusk they played a song for the smuggler trapped in the devils grasp, flute, whistles, drum and cries, distracted, they missed the dancing thief wearing healed boots and patterned dress’, 205cm x 160cm. Oil on linen
Lorna Phillips, 'The Cabrach, catching', ceramic glazed in Dufftown clay, 2023
Lorna Phillips, ‘The Cabrach, catching’, ceramic glazed in Dufftown clay, 2023

The first Glenfiddich Artists in Residence exhibition runs at the distillery gallery until 20th August; the second exhibition opens on 25th August.

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