Recently I have been working on making a mountain-like form out of polystyrene, attempting to cut it in such a way that it might resemble some kind of bizarre island. I had sketched up a rough idea of what I wanted it to look like, but in no level of detail, with the optimistic idea that I would just cut away at the polystyrene block until I felt satisfied with how it looked. Once I felt that I was satisfied with its shape, I decided I wanted to paint it.
I have since decided that there is significant work that should have been done on the mountain (if you will), before painting it. The texture of the polystyrene is incredibly obvious, which makes the work look poorly executed, and does not resemble bizarre terrain as my hopeful mind had expected. I was so keen to add some colour to block of white polystyrene that is my studio space, that I went in a bit too early, and now had to take a few steps back. That being said, however, I am glad that I reached for the paint, as it made me consider how exactly I wanted to introduce colour.
I was undecided as to what colour I should paint this polystyrene form, and if it was to be just the one shade, or perhaps multicoloured. I was then reminded of a conversation I had had with someone recently, concerning the Granton Gasworks – near Edinburgh, and directly across the water from where I am from in Fife. We were all discussing whether or not the gas station has been demolished or not, and, as any un-concludable debate seems to finish, we ended up googling it. It seems that the station as a whole has been reformed, with a large portion of it being taken down and new buildings constructed, yet some of the original structures remain. ‘Gas Holder No.1’, the massive circular framework visible from the passing road, still stands, and it turns out is actually a listed building, despite being inactive for some time now. This meant that the result of the debate was a lovely fair draw, and also led to the following story. Apparently this gas holder has its pale blue colour, as some school was asked to design its appearance, and decided that it should be painted blue to match the sky. This phrase stuck with me, and later on I did some research into Granton Gasworks to try and gain some insight into the logic behind it. Following this, I found absolutely no information to solidify this story, or anything at all related to this specific holder’s colour. There are various forums that discuss how the general colour scheme of British gas holders has changed throughout the last century, but the closest related tale is that they were painted in a green/blue/grey colour scheme as camouflage during the war period.
Perhaps the reasoning has got slowly reinterpreted over time, and the story misconstrued in different ways. I liked the idea that perhaps the locals did not think much of the gas holder, and deemed that it should be painted to match the sky so as it is less conspicuous. Maybe they wanted to make it appear like some kind of visual illusion, giving it more interest than simply industrial equipment. The story does not become any less interesting through the discovery that it is probably not true. If anything, this realisation opens up the topic of storytelling, and the unreliable nature of the narrator. We believe the brief, throwaway stories that are presented to us, passing them on to other people as we have no reason to believe them to be untrue. I am sure that I will tell this short story, should Granton Gasworks come up again in casual conversation, as it is a good story, regardless of whether it is fact, and perhaps including my own small spin on it. This throwaway comment lead me to research the history of gas holders, something I previously knew little to nothing about, and I found it genuinely interesting.
It is for this reason that I chose to paint my polystyrene mountain blue. It is blue to match both Granton Gasworks’ Gas Holder No.1, and the sky.