Interview by Austin Sailsbury
APRIL 19, 2018
photography and film by
story 03
Alasdair Thomson is an award-winning sculptor from Edinburgh, Scotland. He holds an art degree from the University of Edinburgh and a diploma in Sculpture from the Scuola Edile in Siena, and has a unique passion for bringing together the old world art of stone carving with contemporary subject matter such as flowing fabrics, streetwear apparel, and sneakers like the ARKK Raven S-E15. Here at ARKK, we are not only inspired by Alasdair’s mad sculpting skills, but also by the story of his personal journey from ‘student of the game’ to straight up ‘game changer.’ As a part of our Every Sneaker Different Story series, we dug deep to get the full story on Alasdair’s art, his hometown, and his passion for sneaker design.
did you ever dream of growing up and becoming an artist?
As a kid, I was always sketching or making things out in my parents’ garage. I was good at art in school but I never considered it anything more than a hobby. I certainly didn't think that it could be something that I could do for a living.
And yet, here you are. What is it that you love most about carving stone?
Each piece of stone has its own unique beauty, formed over millions of years, and it is a privilege to be the one who gets to reveal that beauty through carving. Regardless of the scale or complexity of the project at hand, I still go out to work with the same eagerness that I did when I first started carving. Watching the forms come to life as I carve away the excess material and then being responsible for the work that emerges is both a joyful and perplexing thing.
Looking at your portfolio, you clearly you have a passion for sneaker design. How do you see the relationship between modern fashion and sculpture?
There is something playful about making something contemporary out of something ancient, or making something contemporary seem ancient, simply by the association that we make between marble and antiquity. When I am inspired by a contemporary subject, I love that by carving it out of marble I can immediately give it gravitas. Marble also gives contemporary subject matter (which could be relatively disposable) almost indefinite longevity, and at the same time I get to reinvigorate a classical art form and reach an audience that may not find the marble sculpture of antiquity very appealing.
What is it about sneakers that interests you as an artistic subject matter?
Personally, sneakers are part of my everyday life: whether I’m working in the studio or out and about in the city. I’m no sneakerhead – I don’t have a huge collection or anything – but I’ve had quite a long-standing interest in rendering various forms of footwear into sculptures. What I find interesting about sneakers is that they have the potential to express such different styles and personalities. As a sculptor, I’m always looking for shapes and forms which draw the eye, and which call out to the viewer to be touched and enjoyed. I think if a sneaker can combine an elegant form together with innovative lacing systems and unique textures, like with the Raven, that’s a winning combination.
watch alasdair's story
As you studied and carved the ARKK Raven what stood out to you about its specific design and what did you learn from recreating its form in marble?
ARKK’s sneaker designs are simple but striking. In studying the Raven up close, I was made acutely aware of the thoughtful design choices that ARKK has made. The design felt somewhat familiar, yet original in its hyper-modern aesthetic. And while careful attention to detail had clearly been given, the Raven was neither loud nor ostentatious. I think that this particular quality is something that I am drawn to in Scandinavian design in general. I think that the simplicity of the Raven design lent itself perfectly to the creation of a sculpture.
The city of Copenhagen is a huge inspiration to us at ARKK, does Edinburgh influence the work you create?
Absolutely. By living here, I’ve chosen to prioritize quality of life over an ultra-competitive artistic community like the ones in New York or London. The city is built in a variety of architecture styles and has a wealth of carved, architectural stone, which provides me with a lot of inspiration. I often take time away from the confines of my studio to get out and explore the city and the surrounding landscapes. I have a backlog of ideas that I will never be able to catch up on, so getting out of the studio and into the city helps me to make sense of it all - it helps me focus on which projects and ideas are essential.
Alasdair Thomson
Edinburgh, Scotland
On Why Sneakers Deserve To Be Carved Into Marble
What I find interesting about sneakers is that they have the potential to express such different styles and personalities. As a sculptor, I’m always looking for shapes and forms which draw the eye, and which call out to the viewer to be touched and enjoyed. I think if a sneaker can combine an elegant form together with something innovative like the layered lacing system and contrasting textures of ARKK sneakers, that’s a winning combination.
Can we go back to the beginning: when did you decide to pursue sculpture seriously?
I enrolled in an art history degree program without the faintest idea that it would lead to a career in carving stone. During my studies, I was exposed to the history of stone carving and I found it fascinating to think about how every single carved stone form in the world - no matter how simple or complicated, whether sculptural or architectural - had once been concealed within a solid mass of rock. That’s when my interest was piqued. Later, after trying stone carving for myself and discovering my deep passion for it, I decided to seek out opportunities to pursue carving seriously, first in the USA and then in Siena, Italy. Italy seemed like the obvious choice for my training  because it is one of the few places still teaching traditional stone carving techniques, but it was also due to Italy's rich art and architectural history that I knew would nourish and inspire me. I knew that if I was going to take this artform seriously, then I had to commit to training that was more than theoretical. I needed to commit to learning  proper stone carving techniques and processes.
Was it scary to leave home and dive head first into this kind of ancient apprenticeship?
Yes, well, there was certainly an element of risk involved. But, deep down, I knew the risk was really important for me to be able to grow. Stepping into a new culture, a new language, and with a new focus meant that I was going to be out of my comfort zone and, I hoped, open to new ways of thinking. Being uncomfortable, being an outsider, working to learn this ancient, solitary craft - that was all a part of the process.
Okay, real talk: what is it really like being a stone carver / sculptor in the 21st century?
I’ve been doing this for almost ten years now and it’s still hard. I have to seek out work. I’m constantly making proposals, constantly pitching ideas. That side of things can be very very tiring and it’s not always fruitful work. I can spend days or weeks on a proposal for a job which, ultimately, ends up getting rejected - that’s disheartening. Never knowing where the next job is coming from (and therefore the next payslip) is always a challenge. Not having a regular income to rely on and, therefore, being unable to plan long term is constantly a challenge, and this kind of uncertainty is a reality that I don't think I will ever get used to.
So, what would you say to others out there who might want to pursue an artistic career?
I would absolutely tell them to go for it. Despite the difficulties and uncertainties, it is so rewarding. You really have to persevere to make it work. If you do that, eventually, it will pay off. I've been working independently for nearly a decade and have had to struggle in pursuit of my passion the whole time. But I wouldn't change my experience for anything. It's absolutely the best thing I ever did.
What do you hope others will experience through the pieces you create and from your overall body of work?
I hope that people will come to see that marble is still a beautiful and fascinating artistic medium. It may not be as immediately accessible as painting or photography, but I hope that I can help people recognise that it can be every bit as relevant for the expression of ideas. I see it as a privilege to do this work and I find a lot of joy in it. I hope that also comes through.
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STORY 02 anders
STORY 03 Alasdair