David Mach

30th September 2011 at 01:00
The artist learned his craft from two men who were as keen to teach manners and modesty as the subject itself

When I was leaving school, I had not got a clue what to do. My qualifications were, like, three Highers. My art and careers teacher, Jim Barclay - who of course was always Mr Barclay to us - said: "You should go to art college, but I don't know if you have got enough for art college."

I remember locking myself away for two weeks working on my portfolio and when I showed him, he said he still didn't know if it would be enough. It's not like they thought I was some kind of genius. And I remember when I did get in to college and I went back to pick up my portfolio, he had chucked it out. I was quite upset.

But Mr Barclay was a massive influence on me. He told me he thought I would really enjoy art college and I didn't have to become an artist. He really was talking to a twit. He almost single-handedly got me into art college, to the point of filling in the forms, and really spoonfed me. I was just a dopey laddie, really.

In those days Buckhaven High was one of the last of the great Scottish education (establishments) and I got through just when it was turning into a comprehensive.

They taught you in spite of yourself. You could be the dopiest youth and they would manage to get things into you, whether you liked it or not.

The art department was really good. It was the only place where I felt comfortable. The art teachers were all very polite. The head of art, Addy Brown, or Mr Brown, was a really old-fashioned gent. Him and Jim Barclay were always trying to teach you how to be a gentleman so you were always very polite, you were aware of other people and you were not big- headed.

I think they did that as much as anything, and you really respected them. You got stuff from them just by watching and listening to them, because they were interesting people. They were very influential in the way they spoke to you about your art.

Mr Brown used to wear a cream-coloured thing; it wasn't a smock, it was kind of like a lab coat. He was very dapper though. I think he'd been in the RAF - you really got a strong whiff of that. He was very upright and very good-looking.

Mr Barclay was also a good-looking man. He was always rushing about. He had jet black hair and a big beard. I bump into him about every 10 years. He must be in his seventies now and his hair is white, but he's very robust and he is still painting. He has a studio in Anstruther, where he lives.

I remember saying to him once that when you have all these people around you, you think you should really just be the small guy working by himself in a studio. And he said, "That's what I am!"

He really loved my show (Precious Light - A celebration of the King James Bible 1611-2011) when he came to see it. He was really into it and he's going to come back.

I'm in touch with a few people who went to Buckhaven High with me. A few of them are doing architecture; they are all doing more regular things. I haven't been back to school since I left in `73 or `74 when I was 18. Now I'm 55, for God's sake. I was never very into religion, and that's not what my new show is about either.

I am meeting some of the school's pupils (tomorrow) and the teachers. None of them have any links to me now, so I don't know what they will be expecting. It must be a very different place.

David Mach's show, `Precious Light - A celebration of the King James Bible 1611-2011,' runs at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until 16 October. He was talking to Julia Horton.


Born: Methil, Fife, 1956

Education: Aberhill Primary, Methil; Buckhaven High, Fife; Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee; Royal College of Art, London

Career: Various travelling scholarships in the late 1970s; nominated for the Turner Prize in 1988. Professor of sculpture at Royal Academy Schools, London, 2000.

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