The influential artist and sculptor Andrew Logan, the originator of the globally acclaimed ‘Alternative Miss World’, speaks with Craig Austin in advance of celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture in Berriew, mid-Wales. Andrew Logan belongs to a unique school of English eccentrics; one of Britain’s principal sculptural artists, he challenges convention, mixes media and plays with our artistic values. A key figure in London’s cultural and fashion life, Logan notably influenced the director Derek Jarman whose early film-making work documented the social scene around the artist and his studios at Butler’s Wharf, London. An avowed ‘maximalist’, Logan talks Divine, Eno and the celebration of life through art in a fascinating conversation that looks to the future as much as it does the past.
Gazing out from the balcony of the South London apartment that Andrew Logan and his partner are still in the process of moving into, across the green expanse of an urban park hemmed in by the concrete and steel turrets of municipal living, it’s easy to view this scene as the perfect microcosm of an artistic life that for almost a quarter of a century has straddled London’s inner city and the more sedate environs of mid-Wales.
‘My friends and I first visited Berriew in the 70s’ Logan tells me, before casually dropping in the sparkling context of those friends having acted as caretakers for Julie Christie. ‘There was a fashion in the 70s for film stars to buy farms in Wales for some reason, and Julie got one, and having met her in America they went to live there. In those days it would take an entire day to get from London to mid-Wales because there were no main roads but it was such a beautiful journey, quite extraordinary. I’d had this dream of opening a museum of my work and then one day the opportunity presented itself’.
Formerly the site of squash courts the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture houses the artist’s signature mirrored sculptures and jewellery as well as costumes and artefacts from all thirteen previous incarnations of his celebrated ‘Alternative Miss World’ competitions. Logan’s close friends and family continue to act as key inspirations, and visitors to this vibrant hive of fantasy, humour and artistic inspiration on the outskirts of Welshpool can immerse themselves in works inspired by, and created for, the inimitable likes of Divine, Molly Parkin and Barbara Hulanicki. ‘These personal connections are very important to me’ Logan explains. ‘My work is about joy and celebration and the marvellous thing about public works is that unlike exhibitions they’re there forever and people can just come and go as they please. I was attracted to Berriew because it seemed a world away from London’s rat-race of property development and I also liked the idea of de-centralising. Something that I thought would inspire a number of other artists’.
Despite the museum having evidently becoming a permanent fixture within the community, and one that has undertaken extensive partnership work with the local school I can’t help picturing the flamboyant aesthetic splash that Logan must have made upon first making his unique presence felt within the sedate ‘best kept village in Wales’. ‘Well I would have thought so’ he smiles at the memory. ‘It was all farmers there. We’re still very much out on a limb there, but then again’, he adds, gesturing at both the hazy London skyline and his none-too shabby daywear, ‘I’m out on a limb here, so what’s the difference really? I have a vision, and that’s what I’m living, and my whole life is dedicated to that. I’m very proud that we’ve done twenty-five years there, very proud’
‘Andrew’s work doesn’t offer that much to the would-be catalogue mystifier. If you start saying anything too pretentious about it, it sort of laughs in your face. It’s hard to place, because it doesn’t really quite belong anywhere, guilelessly straddling a number of heavily contested boundaries – such as those between art and craft, between art and decoration, between pop and fine, between the profane and sacred. But I don’t think this straddling is some sort of ideological position that Andrew has contrived – it’s just where he happens to find himself when he makes the work he wants to see’ – Brian Eno
It’s something of a thrill to learn that the weekend’s events will be partly sound-tracked by the venerable Eno, who has written a unique composition for the bell ringers of Berriew to perform. ‘I don’t see so much of Brian these days but it’s always such a joy when we do meet’ Logan enthuses. ‘I really respect him as an artist and he’s one of the very few musicians who has maintained his… level. He’s very human and he’s very concerned about the future of mankind’. Having been sent a recording of the local church bells by Michael Davis (Logan’s partner, and trustee of the museum) Eno has composed a work using the sound of Berriew’s church bells at its core, one that will be played via a series of speakers concealed throughout the village and replicated live by the bell ringers themselves. ‘Brian suggested it’ the artist explains. ‘It will produce a fascinating disjointed sound, and on the Sunday, every hour or so, this musical work will be performed live within the village. A live premiere!’
The celebrated artistic scene that emanated around the artist and his studios in London’s Butler’s Wharf in the 1970s – one in which he did ‘a lot of sitting around’ with Derek Jarman – gave rise to Logan’s firm friendship with the eminently notorious performer Divine, and having recently watched a comprehensive documentary on the performance phenomenon formerly known as Glenn Milstead I am keen to understand the depth of their friendship, not least because it was Divine who acted as the initial inspiration for the artist’s foray into realist portraiture. ‘He was a great Anglophile, Divine’ Logan recalls. ‘We became the firmest of friends. He used to love going to tea at Harrods and you had to drop everything so that you could accompany him. He adored all of that kind of thing. I was once in a hologram exhibition in Bath and it was there that he met Princess Margaret and he simply couldn’t believe it, it really was quite something. We travelled all over the country, to Stonehenge, to Bath, to the South Coast. It was very sad when he left us, not long after he’d really begun to make a serious name for himself as an actor in John Waters’ Hairspray. He was very naughty, very warm, and when I was at a festival in Berlin recently all of the drag queens were made up to look exactly like Divine, “the filthiest woman alive”. Yet it wasn’t until the 1978 Alternative Miss World that I finally got to see him as Divine. I’d only ever known him as a man before then’. Poignantly, the museum also owns an oil painting of Divine when he was 18 years old, painted by his father, Harry Milstead.
In a similarly theatrical vein Veronica Thompson aka ‘Fancy Chance’ aka ‘Alternative Miss World winner’ is also expected to make an appearance at the 25th anniversary celebration, possibly even in the guise of a mermaid in the River Rhiw – a must-see event for anyone who has yet to experience the pleasure of witnessing her uniquely innovative subversion of the contemporary burlesque scene. The ‘Alternative Miss World’ pageant itself dates back to March 1972 and a more intimate event at which the artist acted as both Host and Hostess.
There have been twelve competitions since, the most recent selling out Shakespeare’s Globe in October 2014, yet it has never veered far from a format that both mirrors and subverts the traditional beauty pageant format of daywear, swimwear, evening wear. ‘It started off as just a big party’ Logan explains. ‘My friends have always acted as judges, David Hockney was a judge at the first one, but the truly magical thing about it is that it’s open to everyone. I mean, a robot won one year so you never have any idea what’s going to happen. We’ve never done a single rehearsal, which is great, and we rarely use the same venue for consecutive events but Shakespeare’s Globe has asked us back’. ‘My sister came on at the last event” he continues, “in a game show setting, and the catchphrase that she used was “who cares a fuck?”. It was a marvellous thing to behold within The Globe as each of the levels were encouraged to repeat the phrase at the tops of their voices. I’d loved to have seen the reaction of the tourists who just happened to be strolling by but it was very true to the tradition of the venue, it was a very bawdy place all those years ago after all. They were a little nervous about having us in the first place so it’s lovely to have been asked back. We’re looking to do something slightly different this time and I’m very keen to do something that involves the River Thames’.
The title of the documentary film that chronicles the ‘Alternative Miss World’ phenomenon is deliciously titled The British Guide To Showing Off, a critically acclaimed project that took Logan and its director Jes Benstock to Brazil, Canada and Italy for large number of warmly received screenings. Its title acts as a playful approximation of the lust for life exemplified by the man that sits across from me in profile, his youthful appearance and remarkable joie de vivre belying his 70 years of age; a life lived to the full, with love, with laughter, and with so much still to achieve: ‘It’s wonderful to have had a joyous imprint on people’s lives’
The Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture will be celebrating its 25th year across the whole of the forthcoming Bank Holiday weekend: http://andrewloganmuseum.org/events
Images of the artist by David Hand