Our exclusive Q&A with artist Nik Ramage RWA, inventor of extraordinary ‘sculptural machines’…
“…I’m happy for people’s first reaction to be laughter – it’s a good way to engage – but I would like them to stick around long enough to go beyond that….”
From his workshop in Monmothshire (a former chickenshed), Nik Ramage makes artworks which he describes as ‘sculptural machines’ – objects that have ‘drifted away from utility and forgotten their purpose.’ Funny, striking, thought-provoking and sometimes even disturbing, his inventions have featured regularly in RWA exhibitions and he was elected as an Academician in 2019.
Here’s our Q&A…
When did you realise you were an artist?
It feels like a continuum from childhood creativity. I didn’t stop. Later on, maybe in my twenties, I thought there was a capital A in artist, which I didn’t feel so comfortable with but I got over it at some point.
Why do you make art?
To process the world and satisfy my hands.
How did you come to start making your machine-sculptures? Did you have a yearning to make strange machines and so teach yourself to weld, or were you a mechanic/engineer who went rogue?
As a boy, I liked art and I liked practical, technical things; eventually they coalesced. So, the technical skills, like welding, are self-taught.
A typical first reaction to a machine like Grace or Flag Waver is laughter – they’re inherently funny. But then after a while they start to seem a bit uncanny and uncomfortable, perhaps even slightly cruel, as parodies of the absurd futility of human endeavour. Is that how you feel about them?
I’m happy for people’s first reaction to be laughter – it’s a good way to engage- but I would like them to stick around long enough to go beyond that. It’s a well-worn idea that the comic and the tragic are flipsides to one another and absurdity includes both qualities. If you think about most things long enough, they do seem a bit absurd but maybe my work accelerates that change from laughter to the ridiculous.
…If you think about most things long enough, they do seem a bit absurd but maybe my work accelerates that change from laughter to the ridiculous….
What’s a normal process for making a work? Do you start with a concept or an object, and how long does it take? What’s the most challenging or complex thing you’ve made?
Usually I start with an idea, but sometimes it is an object. I will draw out the idea quite simply, without getting into the technical details, then leave it. Usually, I will come back and draw a different version and this can happen a few times. This helps filter the idea and it’s variations. Then I will gather the materials, from my stock of useful junk or more specific things I need to source. It’s good to have more than I need, so I can play around. The drawing/ refining can take place over a long time but the making is more concentrated.
A couple of times I have bitten off more than I can chew: I tried to make a gyroscopic machine and an autonomous machine that walked on sledgehammer legs, neither worked satisfactorily. I recently finished a commission for a chain reaction machine to be filmed. It had 40 individual set-ups, each triggering the next and we eventually got it to work.
Your workshop is a former chicken shed and a veritable wonderland of machine parts and odd items. How much time do you spend tinkering in it?
I do like to have a lot of stuff around, both for inspiration and for use. I like to think I’m fairly purposeful when I’m working in the shed (is tinkering a bit more aimless?) but certainly with quite a playful atmosphere, open to chance discoveries.
How has your work changed or evolved through your career? Was there a particular turning point?
I studied graphic design which suited me at the time – it was quite ideas based, no-one had a lap-top and I made as much as I could. I did work in design for a while but as that faded out, sculpture faded in. In the year after graduating, I made Jelly Wobbler, which was my first sculptural machine, so that set me off in a particular direction.
You were made an Academician of the RWA in 2019. What did that mean to you – and what part does the RWA play in your artistic career generally?
It was really nice acknowledgement from a group of professional artists. It feels like a supportive community and it’s great to be able to have conversations about making art within the RWA and reaching out beyond it.
What are you working on now?
I have just started making a second version of an old piece for a gallery’s collection in Madrid.
Finally, a fairy godmother waves her magic wand and says you can own any artwork in the world. What do you choose?
Leonardo da Vinci’s 12 volume Codex Atlanticus. I could brush up on my backwards Italian.
You can see more examples of Nik’s work on his website.
Photo Credits: Image top for Ernest Journal by Colin Nicholls.