In two previous blog posts, I have explored the art of the Cochno Stone, riffing off the art bit of rock-art.
As a reminder, this monument is one of the most densely decorated prehistoric abstract rock-art sites in Britain. It is located on the fringe of Faifley, Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, and has a fascinating modern historiography to match the profusion of prehistoric carvings. The Cochno Stone was buried in 1965 by the heritage authorities to protect it from damage caused by visitors to the site and you can find out more here.
In previous blog posts, I have considered different aspects of the ‘art’ of the Cochno Stone. In Part 1, I looked at marks made on the surface of the Stone itself, 5,000 years of creative interaction between people and stone. Part 2 focused on depictions of the cup-and-ring marked symbols found on the surface of the Cochno Stone, from antiquarian drawings to travelogue sketches to digital and archaeological records of the monument.
In this third part of the exploration of the art of the Cochno Stone, I want to look at the brief history of public art inspired by the Cochno Stone and the rich cup-and-ring mark heritage of the area to the north of Clydebank.
Here, I don’t mean the undoubted piece of site-specific performance art that was the painting and presentation of the Cochno Stone by Ludovic Mann in the second half of 1937…. some public art is of the moment.
Rather I want to look at how the cup-and-ring marks have been and still are evident within Faifley itself. Such artistic responses are a testament to the powerful simplicity of cup-and-ring marks, and the story of the Cochno Stone, to inspire and continue to inspire artists. The projects I want to talk about here combine this with the spirit of Faifley the place, and have been the outcome of interesting collaborations. And public art has so much more potential in Faifley and Clydebank to celebrate the cups and the rings – so I will also present here – for the first time ever – one architect’s inspired vision for making this happen and thoughts about the future potential of rock-art inspired public art.
At a workshop about the future of the Cochno Stone that I ran in November 2017, I met staff from Knowes Housing Association and was told a curious tale about a rock-art mural that had once hung on the gable end of one of their buildings. After making some inquiries, I was eventually led to the artist responsible for this, Tom McKendrick. Tom is a local guy who has been responsible for some amazing artworks, often inspired by the rich heritage of Clydebank.
Much of this has been about the shipbuilding industry and the blitz, but Tom was also the brains behind the Faifley mural, which to my delight was created with children from the two primary schools closest to the Cochno Stone. Not only is this process documented nicely on his website, but Tom was kind enough to spend a morning with me in 2018 chatting about the mural and also future plans for rock-art art.
I went by train to see Tom and was constantly reminded en route of the social, cultural and sometimes political role and value of public art of this kind, both official and informal.
The Faifley mural was the result of a project called ‘Faifley: Past Present and Future’. The work that went into creating this mural took place in 2009, but by the time I started to visit Faifley regularly (2015) it was already gone.
The vision for the artwork was to ‘increase sense of place, responsibility, ownership and foster community spirit within children and people living within the area of Faifley’. In other words this was not art for arts sake, and I believe was commissioned by the Housing Association, as well as being hung on one of their buildings. This was for the well-being of their residents.
The mural was the result of a series of workshops with primary seven kids, with drawings produced that reflected aspects of the history, recent and deeper, of Faifley. The aspiration of dream homes and urban renewal were also themes that were tackled, reflecting the utopian ideals that underpinned places like Faifley in the 1950s and 1960s. Natural characteristics of this place were also drawn – the wind, the black birds that circle the Knowes. Together these images came together in a spectacular mural.
The cup-and-ring marks of Cochno and other stones in the area featured heavily. Tom’s reflections on the process focused on the mysterious and significant nature of the symbols, something he regarded as being synonymous with Faifley. In his online documentation, Tom noted the Pictish origins of these carvings, not really accurate, but reflecting the deep time and enigmatic nature of these symbols to the local people.
The children created their own stones, and their own symbols, and it strikes me that so many of these themes of what Faifley is, what it represents, are entangled with these cups and rings and spirals, almost as if they are encoded into the DNA of the place.
The mural itself looks as if it were spectacular and powerful indicator of the sense of place felt by local children. At the root of it – the foundations – are the cup-and-ring marks, both constant backdrop but also intruding into the modern.
Tom notes that the symbols emerge from the smoke billowing from the industry and houses of Clydebank down the hill, suggesting that the past and present are dependent on one another. Flying children exploit the thermals of the spiraling wind. Faifley is depicted as a place of timeless intangibility, with solid – ancient – foundations.
I asked Tom about his choice of the rock-art symbols as a starting point in the mural and he told me that,
If I am working on something I like to go as far back as possible…this is my starting point. The IRON exhibition dealt with this. Hence the subtitle ‘second great iron age’ starting point, a element forged in the furnace of the sun….and falling stars…gift of the heavens…long winded statement to say for the Faifley project that was as far back as I could go.
The removal of the mural – apparently during renovation works on this block of flats – and its subsequent destruction should be a source of sorrow, and indeed is for Tom, having spoken to him about this. Yet the mural and the visions of the local children remind us that nothing is truly forever, but nothing is entirely forgotten.
Adorning the two road entrances to Faifley are sculptures by the artist Andy Scott, perhaps better known for his works such as The Kelpies in Falkirk and the Heavy Horse by the M8 in Glasgow. The Faifley sculptures are a wire frame composition, each depicting an adult with a child, and are known as the Faifley Family sculptures. They were constructed, again with design work undertaken with local schoolchildren and commissioned by the housing association, in the late 2000s. And crucially, unlike the mural, this public art is still there to be enjoyed by the local community and visitors.
The statues depict two pairs of people – a father and son, and a mother and daughter. I didn’t notice, however, until Tricia of Faifley Community Council pointed this out to me, that the arches that loop over each of the pairs of figures are decorated with cup-and-ring mark symbols. There are variants of motifs from the Cochno Stone and other rock-art panels here, but also even more abstract shapes and symbols.
The artist, Andy, very kindly took some time to explain the process behind the symbols and the role local children had in the process, and he also sent me some fantastic behind the scenes photos, which he has generously allowed me to share here.
The working process was that Andy and artist Margo Winning worked with local school kids to explore symbols and their sense of place. One of the starting points was, of course, the cup-and-ring marks symbols.
The children worked with Margo to develop their own artwork. This drew on pictograms that they invented, some of which ended up on the arch of the final artwork. He told me:
The kids invented their own alphabet of pictograms based on the cup & ring markings. As far as I recall they were quite diligent about this and invented words using their own symbols. I then transcribed those markings onto the steel sculptures, thereby bringing the ancient markings up to date.
These symbols therefore represent a mash-up of ancient local symbols and versions of those created by the children. The kids were also invited to see the final sculptures being made in the studio.
The sculptures therefore combine a sense of place with family, tied together with symbols and overall form based on the curved and concentric prehistoric rock-art. The final artworks in a sense therefore indicate that once passed, you are entering a special place that has special resources – its people and its prehistory.
This has been reinforced by the focal points that these artworks at the threshold of Faifley have become, for instance being used for commemorative events and services, with the above photos of such an event supplied by Andy.
I have not checked closely to see if ribbons have been attached to the sculptures, but I will check next time I’m in Faifley. Have the Faifley Family sculptures become a focus for deposition and ritual, as rock-art sites would have been thousands of years ago?
More recently, the two entrances to Faifley have been adorned with additional public art, this time drawings by local school children under the theme of ‘Fresh Faced Faifley’. This alliterative positive slogan offers a wonderful welcome to the area: ‘Friendship and Faifley are a total couple!’
The combination of an adjacent Family sculpture and Fresh Faced Faifley sign offer a positive public art threshold for those entering Faifley and suggest that there is great potential in shaping the image of a place by celebrating what is best about that place, the aspirations and qualities of the people who live there. I wonder to what extent cup-and-ring marks had similar aspirational qualities?
How might the instantly recognisable cup-and-ring marks – and other Cochno Stone symbols such as the four-toed footprints – become a more prominent feature of the Faifley urban landscape?
I guess with a lot of time and money anything is possible, but a vision is needed. An architect, Alex Taylor of Entasis Architects, contacted me during the Cochno Stone excavations to share with me some ideas that he and his colleagues had for public art on roundabouts in Drumchapel, which is near Clydebank. This was part of a plan that in the end didn’t work out, but this amazing vision shows one way forward, and Alex is happy for me to share this with you, made public for the first time ever. All images are reproduced here courtesy of, and copyright to, Entasis Architects.
Alex told me:
My first port of call in these cases is to look at a local influence to inspire a unique and local approach and after a bit of research came up with the Cochno stone carvings. I imagined some 3D representations of the carvings, which perhaps give some credence to some of the astrological interpretations.
These visualisations, if they had been constructed in roundabouts in Drumchapel, would have been spectacular realisations of prehistoric symbols, and it is exactly this kind of approach that I think is needed at Faifley, where as we have seen there are clear entrance points – and also roundabouts.
These dead circular spaces are popular locations to pop public art, and if such sculptures were to be erected in and around Faifley, they would denote an entry point to a place with prehistoric credentials.
These instances of public art – of the past, present, and an imagined future – all indicate to me that it is through working with artists that the Cochno Stone can and will continue to be a real presence within the local community. The rock-art symbols offer potent signifiers for deep time, social value, cultural heritage and a unique peri-urban story. Despite it’s abstraction, this is anything but abstract.
The art of the rock-art has the potential to be amazing. Perhaps the most ambitious and crazy plan that I know of is the creation and an exact 1:1 scale of the Cochno Stone. If we can raise the money and create enough enthusiasm, this could happen thanks to the Factum Foundation.
Ferdinand Saumarez Smith, who led the photogrammetry recording of the Cochno Stone when we excavated there in 2016 has shared with me some insights into how this enormous chunk of public art might be made. The replica (or facsimile as he prefers to call it) would not be printed as such, but rather precision cut from a large block of material that has the look and feel of stone. This is an art in itself, both an exact copy of the art of another, but also made using a very different method and new material form. Is this the future of Faifley’s prehistory?
There are spaces and walls in Faifley that need public art and murals. These are spaces that could become cup-and-ring marked. Working with artists, as has been shown already in this post, is both inspiring, and allows the celebration of deep time, present concerns and future aspirations.
Part 4 of this series on the Art of the Cochno Stone will review artistic representations that tell the story of Cochno Stone and Faifley’s rock-art from comic books to sketches to visualisations, and I’m delighted to say that most of these have resulted from collaborations I have been involved in since my work with the Cochno Stone began. And Part 5 – yes there will be a Part 5 – will explore digital engagements and art related to the rock-art. As for Part 6 – that’s for the future.
Sources and acknowledgements: This blog post benefited hugely from the kindness of Tom McKendrick, Andy Scott and Alex Taylor, all of whom shared images and ideas with me, and took the time to explain their inspiration. Their generosity has made this blog post possible.
In particular, Tom allowed me to use images from his Faifley: Past, Present and Future documentation. Andy gave me permission to use multiple images regarding the creation and use of the Faifley Family sculptures. Alex allowed me to use his images about the cup-and-ring mark architectural visualisations and photomontages. All of these images are copyright to these individuals and reproduced with permission.
Imagery and information about the fascimile / replica of the Cochno Stone was provided by Ferdinand Saumarez Smith and Factum Foundation / Factum Arte.
Source for the black and white rock-art photo near the start of the blog post: Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway), Oxford: BAR British Series 86.
The newspaper article comes from the Clydebank Post.
The 1930s newsclipping from the Glasgow Herald was shared with my by George Applebey.