Ten years ago, Duncan MacAskill went into Rymans to buy some drawing pins and was struck by the range of colours on offer. That moment of revelation led him to construct a self-portrait from drawing pins, adapting the ideas of Seurat’s pointillism, and the ben-day dot approach of Roy Lichtenstein, to contemporary needs and materials.
Now he has been commissioned by the Royal Opera House’s Deloitte Ignite festival, curated by Mike Figgis, to make two vast pin portraits for The Link at the ROH. These ‘paintings with pins’ hang near the box office over the exit to Covent Garden Piazza, and depict MacAskill’s father in black and white, and the choreographer Wayne McGregor in colour. (McGregor is an apt choice, being known for his integration of dance with film and visual art.)
MacAskill (born 1944) is an intensely versatile artist, an abstract painter and sculptor who also designs for dance, and a passionate devotee of mail art, sending postcards and even small blackboards around the world through the post. His new portraits, on show for a year, are 3 metres square and use more than a quarter of a million drawing pins. For the head of his father, a carpenter who looks as cool as a jazz musician, MacAskill painted the pins black and white before sticking them into the board-backed canvas; the McGregor head uses red, yellow, blue and green pins. Both are photo-based, but transcend their source in potent characterisation and public act of homage. Spectacular.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated April 7, 2012