Passed/Failed: An education in the life of David Mach, artist

'I was dopey until I was at least 30'

David Mach, 50, is a sculptor and professor at the Royal Academy whose work, shown worldwide, includes head shapes constructed from matches and coat hangers. His Polaris, a submarine made from 6,000 car tyres, was exhibited on London's South Bank but was set on fire by an objector who suffered fatal burns. Forthcoming sculptures include an 80ft-high female figure at the University of Dundee.

On my first day at primary school in Methil, Fife, I caught sight of my teacher, who had red hair, and made up my mind that she was French. I thought, "What am I going to do? I don't speak French!" It was rough, at school with seven-year-old major thugs. I liked primary school but they thought I was thick. I was shy and quiet. I was a dopey laddie until I was at least 30.

At five, I wanted an E-type Jaguar and decided that I would be an architect, and then I decided that I wasn't bright enough and that I'd be a lorry driver. I remember long division - the books would give an example with the answer. I always divided by the figure in the example. I must have passed the 11-plus. The first couple of years at Buckhaven High School were great, but the rest weren't, because of the confidence thing. I never joined any clubs. I remember a teacher saying, "You're not a member of anything," as if to say, "You'll never amount to anything."

These were the best of the last years of Scottish education. It was such a high-powered school, I almost believed that I'd go to university, but I always sat at the back of the class and didn't put my hand up.

I spent a lot of time in the art department, where there were four hot teachers. They changed my life. You had no sense of the possibility of being able to do anything with art. I didn't know anything about an art world, but Mr Barclay, who was the careers officer as well, said, "Why don't you go to art college?"

I got four O-levels and three "Highers" [A-level equivalent]. I struggled with and failed my applied mechanics O-level. I use applied mechanics all the time now and never have to struggle. In a gallery, they say, "That sculpture won't stand up," and I say, "Yes, it will." I know I'm right. I worked once with an engineer for a piece at the Venice Biennale; we used his calculations and it bloody fell down. In my foundation year at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee, we did painting, drawing, sculpture, design and textiles. When I was drawing my first picture, the guy next to me said, "Christ, that's like Leonardo da Vinci!" Unfortunately, my drawing went downhill after that. I specialised in sculpture, because it seemed to be the most demanding, intellectually and physically.

The teaching was fantastic: I don't think you would get a better education anywhere in the world. In my third year, I began to think, "Now I want to be an artist." I was in there from nine in the morning to nine at night, every day.

People moved to different courses. I was on my tod in third-year sculpture. You got a lot of attention, so much that I got my own studio in Dundee for a bit of space. I was so shy that I would come in early and work right through, but I was hiding away. I remember weeping and thinking, "I can't even speak in front of more than four people." I changed. I became much more confident.

I did a postgraduate year in sculpture. Then I got a scholarship to an art college in Warsaw (my dad was Polish and had been in a labour camp in Siberia), but martial law was declared in Poland and they advised me not to go. Bryan Kneale, our external examiner, said, "Come to the Royal College of Art." It was where he taught. I didn't even have an interview for the three-year MA course. Lucky me.

jonty@jonathansale.com

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone