Heart Of Stone: Alasdair Thomson
The sneakersphere is blessed with countless creatives who combine their natural talents with a love of fresh footwear. For Edinburgh-based sculptor Alasdair Thomson, carving out a niche using one of the toughest materials on Earth has become his forté. His striking stonework might have its foundations in classicism, but his insane marble Jordans and Dunks are heavy duty works of art!
I enrolled at university to study art history without the faintest idea it would lead to my current career. Being exposed to the history of sculpture, I found it fascinating to think about all the architectural forms that are carved from stone, and the fact that these forms, no matter how simple or complicated they are, were all initially concealed within one of nature’s most formidable materials.
Some years later, I had the good fortune to try stone carving for myself. I really enjoyed that experience, so I sought out learning opportunities. This led me to train in Connecticut, and later in Siena, Italy. I figured if I was going to take things seriously, I had to commit to a program that would impart traditional techniques and processes, rather than an art-college approach that teaches students to think abstractly.
Naturally, working with marble is really hard. It’s certainly a very slow process. There are contemporary techniques and tools that help speed up the action, but a lot of planning is required before you even start carving. You have to be very sure about what you’re making well before you start deconstructing a very costly material.
I think the greatest thing I have learned is to work efficiently. Stone is such a difficult material to work with, and it takes a long time to see the results, so you have to be smart. Identifying the excess material around the shape, and getting rid of it as quickly as possible, is the key. My Italian training taught me a lot, including processes that enabled me to identify the form in the stone – and the confidence in using dangerous power tools to find it!
Watching the end result emerge as I carve away the excess material, and seeing something as rigid as stone reduced to powder, is both joyful and perplexing. I still remember seeing that happen for the first time, and the amazing feeling it gave me.
Italy is one of the few places that still teaches traditional stone-carving. With their rich art and architectural history, I knew going there would inspire me. The amazing food, wine and landscapes helped as well! There was an element of risk that I knew deep down was important. The environment of discomfort that I was stepping into, with a new culture, new language, and a certain degree of solitude, meant that nothing was familiar, which I have to say definitely provoked new ways of thinking.
Studying sculpture produced during the Renaissance inspired my interest in making drapery and clothing out of marble. I was fascinated by the swathes of fabric that surrounded figurative sculptures from those periods. After carving sculptures using contemporary clothing, it seemed that the natural progression was to focus on footwear.
Marble immediately gives objects a sense of gravitas, which I love. It seems to impart a sense of indefinite longevity on the object as well. At the same time, I get to reinvigorate a classical material using contemporary objects to reach a young audience who wouldn’t normally find marble all that appealing or accessible.
Each project I undertake varies in scale and complexity. A pair of normal-sized sneakers normally takes a few weeks, but I made a pair of Air Jordan 3s last year that were 2.5 times larger in scale. They took three months to finish, which is a large portion of the year to commit to a single project. For anything bigger than that, I would move to an Italian studio because I’d need heavy-lifting equipment and enormous blocks of marble.
That said, my workspace in Edinburgh suits me perfectly. I love making small sculptures that people can easily keep in their homes. At that scale, anyone can hold them and examine the details closely. I really like this idea of making things that people live alongside, and enjoy on a daily basis.
When it comes to sneakers, I wouldn’t consider myself a sneakerhead by any means. However, over the last few years, I’ve gradually immersed myself in the culture and learned to appreciate the beauty of a well-designed shoe. I’m a recent convert to the Dunk after my project with Jeff Staple, but I’m afraid of wearing his ‘Panda Pigeons’ for fear of ruining them!
Showcasing my work on social media is a huge part of my job, and vital to running a successful creative business. Those sustained conversations take time to nurture, but they often turn an enquiry into a commission. However, I must admit I feel a pang of guilt if I’m on Instagram and not in the studio overseeing a new creation.
I also love seeing the variety of ways that artists use sneakers to create something new and unique. I love what microdudes, freehandprofit and theshoesurgeon are doing, but I also love seeing people expressing themselves creatively. Kids need to be encouraged to develop their passions. Putting your work out on social media takes a lot of courage.
Due to the formidable nature of marble, and the fact that my work takes so long to produce, I have a backlog of ideas that I doubt will ever materialise. The Yeezy Foam Runner is one project I’d love to recreate in marble as I really admire its abstract sculptural form. I’d also love to carve a pair of LeBrons to mark the moment he breaks the NBA’s all-time scoring record. A couple of exciting projects are coming with some prominent people in the sneaker world, but unfortunately I can’t talk about them just now.
There’s always another idea just around the corner I have to add to my must-do list. One dream I have is to carve a large set of doors for a major building using a single slab of granite. Not only would it be a bold statement, it would involve solving some interesting engineering problems, such as how to hang them safely and make them functional.
Each piece of stone has an identity formed over millions of years. It’s an absolute privilege to reveal that innate beauty to the world through my sculptures. I hope that people see the same magic in marble that I do!
This interview was originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 43. You can cop it now via our Shop!