Sunday, 4 February 2018

GLASGOW GROUP at 60; AGES of WONDER from the RSA, The Maclaurin Gallery, AYR

The Glasgow Group is arguably the oldest artists co-operative going. Now celebrating its 60th B-day, it was established in 1958 by 3 GSA students, Jim Spence, Anda Paterson & James Morrison, who invited 10 others to join them. 

Anda Paterson is exhibiting here with her signature Mediterranean peasants. Sadly the beloved Jim Spence, who worked 33 years as GG president, died last year & is much missed. 

The GG has held  annual shows, & frequently more often, all over Scotland, England, Wales, Norway & Spain, and for over 30 years filled the then splendid McLellan Gallery with their work.  

The GG were also invited to provide the huge, exciting inaugural opening show for Tramway back in 1989, (see my Herald review with a pix of Jim Spence) when Douglas Gordon and Rosemary Beaton were invited as 2 young folk, and George Wyllie installed his entire life sized Paper Boat !!

Members have included Bet Low, Philip Reeves, Dawson Murray, Jack Knox, Willie Rodger and many more.

Today the painter Shona Dougall chairs the group which is exhibiting about 100 works in 2 galleries at the Maclaurin Art Gallery in Ayr to celebrate its 60th anniversary
Artist members now include sculptor Tom Allan, painters Claire Paterson and Susan Kennedy and printmaker Damian Henry. 

"When the Glasgow Group first met in 1957 Scottish art was in a bad way," remembers Alasdair Gray of New Lanark fame. He was there so he should know! Back then the GG had an average age of 22. It went on to become a cutting-edge affair, with folk like Sandy Moffat, John Bellany, Richard Demarco et al included. Long before Transmission and current societies, GG has always been a true cooperative. 

To keep anything running for 60 years takes time & effort. Current chairman Shona Dougall does a great job, organising - while also painting. I enjoyed her colourful sunlit Still Lifes.   

I have been writing about the Glasgow Group for 39 years! I was asked to open their 1989 Tramway inauguration and so was happy to do the same for their 60th b-day exhibition at the Maclaurin GalleryAyr 
where the work looks very good filling 2 long galleries with vivid, colourful paintings, photographs & prints. 
It's an enjoyable array with CLAIRE PATERSON's figure paintings a standout contribution. Great to see her good drawings here.
There is today so much plastic & cardboard installation, sound & 'immersive' - how I hate that word! - stuff, you all know what I mean, that it is a relief to see some fine draughtsmanship & skilled painting. She too studied at GSA as did most others. 

Sculptor Tom Allan has at last space here to make an impact. 
There is an impressive stormy seascape from Gregor Smith 
and wooded landscapes by Susan Kennedy 
     Prints by Damian Henry include his signature animals 
& Claire Paterson's oils complete the picture. 
Across the courtyard the RSA's loan exhibition AGES OF WONDER contains some STUNNING prints 
from Will McLean, 
Ian Hamilton Finlay, 

Stuart Duffin,
Elspeth Lamb, 
Beth Fisher - 
and Philip Reeves, who was a GG member for many years!! 
Master printmaker IAN MCNICOL who lives in Ayr, will be doing print demonstrations & workshops at the Maclaurin. So make sure to go! 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

STEVEN CAMPBELL, LOVE Tramway Glasgow 2018

Steven Campbell: Large-Scale Collage Work Rich In Formal Inventionby Clare Henry in ARTLYST     January 2018

When Steven Campbell arrived at Glasgow School of Art in 1978 age 25, he was a man in a hurry, fiercely ambitious and with enormous energy. Eight years later having conquered the New York art world, he returned to Scotland with his family to continue his assault on contemporary art, producing now famous monumental canvasses teeming with fantastical narratives, vivid in imagery, complex in detail and rich in formal invention.
A flamboyant, charismatic if difficult, prickly figure – CH
Campbell was known for producing paintings at terrific speed, yet between 1988-91 he created a series of 12 large-scale, experimental and complex collages, painstakingly and laboriously made, in an obsessive, even compulsive and time-consuming manner. Only shown once, in 1993, they fill Glasgow’s Tramway gallery till March 25th.
Created out of simple cut paper and yards of painted string, they took hours of careful, intricate diligence. As far removed as possible from the quick painterly gesture of oil and brush, these ornate ‘tapestries’ were constructed hour by hour.

The string, (regular, ordinary cheap white household string, Campbell always kept costs to a minimum,) had first to be painted in multiple shades and tones, then hung out to dry before being cut in 5 or 7 inch lengths, and aligned, thread by thread, side by side, length by length, then stuck individually on the picture. Areas of paper were also textured or patterned by printing from scrap corrugated cardboard or stamps of curled string.While this obsessive homemade technique would, for the vast majority, limit things to stilted, sterile, tight compositions, Campbell with his genius for compositional fluency, made exciting, dense, free-flowing but never restrained landscape-tableaux of metaphysical territories, or ambiguous, bizarre mise-en-scenes.
How – and why- did he set himself such an arduous task? Carol Campbell explains it with reference to prisoners of war who created masterpieces out of matchsticks. “A repetitive, exacting, all-consuming process can be therapeutic. I think at that time Steven needed a focus, a change of pace, and he found this contemplative, reflective practice allowed for a healing process for body and mind.”
Usually, Campbell worked in a barn at their remote house in the Fintry hills. It was messy, cold, dark, draughty. But the string needed to dry, and the glue needed heat to work effectively, so he made these works on the kitchen table or floor amid the flow of domestic life. “I could get quite annoyed,” Carol Campbell remembers. “Move all this stuff, I need to get dinner!”
As Sandy Moffat his tutor has commented, “Campbell’s paintings were spaces or theatres of the mind where the viewer would meet and experience bizarre utopias and dystopias, and which created the feeling that the artist’s own life and personality were only screened from us by the thinnest of veils.”
                            Two cousins with the same Mother ....1991
Campbell was not just well read, he devoured books, skimming through to extract just enough to feed his over-active, fertile imagination so that in these collage pictures myth merges with masque or pose to create illogical charades with a singular sense of urgency.
Campbell’s titles are often as disquieting and confusing as his pictures. Portrait of Two Cousins with the Same Mother who Left them Alone when she was Seventeen, from 1991, includes a large butterfly with a reclining nude to each wing, while below the path to a fairytale cottage comes under sharp-looking shears or scissors. There is obviously no return. Love – which gives the title to the show, also features a central nude plus blue butterfly wings, one hiding      Campbell’s trademark hunter with gun – who reappears the most powerful image here: Dream of the Hunter’s Muse, 1991.
This complex interweaving of doe-eyed but very dead deer and a beautiful nude woman fallen in a pool of her own blood while a kitten plays in it, and the impassive hunter looks on, is quite chilling. Despite the beautifully delineated surrounding animals and birds: badger grouse, playful rabbits and pheasant, it sings a sad song of female sacrifice and male indifference.
The Family of the Accidental Angel is another angst-ridden group where the father struggles with heavy rope while his baby lies face down on a bed of actual feathers. Did the angel’s all-seeing green eyewitness and save the child’s fall? Or did she cause it?
I Dreamt I shot Mussolini at Cowes Week, with its floundering, gaily tipping yachts and drowning waving hands, includes Campbell’s favourite murder scenario. Happily, Thoughts of a Vegetarian 1989 is more upbeat and shows Campbell’s beloved Italian sunlit landscape.
Each picture rewards careful scrutiny, sometimes, as here, with serious questions, other times with wit or whimsy, The results are impressive, memorable. Campbell died 11 years ago, but his work continues to enthral.
LOVE, Collages by Steven Campbell, Tramway, Glasgow till March 25th 
Photos: Courtesy Marlborough London  © Artlyst 2018
                                                       LOVE  1991 
Exhibition opening at Tramway Jan 2018 

Monday, 8 January 2018

SANDY MOFFAT: Poets Portraits, The Lillie Art Gallery Milngavie, Glasgow

2018 January.

SANDY MOFFAT self portrait
Forty years ago when the young Sandy Moffat set out to create powerful portraits of seven of Scotland's poets, he could have had no idea that he was to immortalise them for generations to come. 
Long a friend and fan of that remarkable generation centred around Hugh MacDiarmid who met in Edinbro's famous Rose Street pubs, he aimed to position them in their home surroundings,
 be it George Mackay Brown in Orkney, 
Sorley MacLean shadowed by the Cuillins, 
or Edwin Morgan in his Glasgow University study with his Paolozzi print & Modernist chair. 
First launched at Glasgow's THIRD EYE Centre in February 1981, despite their fame, many of these key pictures have not been seen together for many years. Now, till Feb 8th they are at Milngavie's LILLIE GALLERY. 
Make sure you visit. Nothing prepares you for the power of these images. Strong, simplified, assured of stroke, each mark describes a memorable, sensitive, pensive personality at one with his surroundings. And despite their solitary stance - apart, alone in thought - they each pulsate & radiate rich colour, as though the better to communicate their words, their optimistic message. 

I reviewed the Third Eye 1981 show for the Glasgow Herald, but re-reading my words, I'm aware that I overlooked the profound importance of Moffat's pastel & charcoal sketches to the entire project. These swiftly caught studies with their soft line, are the key to its success. "All portraits begin with the live encounter between sitter & artist. These portrait were labours of love." 
He began with MacDiarmid. Moffat was, he told me, well aware he was "just in time". MacDiarmid was 86 & already battling cancer when Moffat visited him at home at his Brownsbank cottage, near Biggar, in 1978. He died shortly afterwards. 
"I went with Neal Ascherson, and immediately got down to work while Neal engaged him in conversation. He was in good form. We'd taken a decent bottle of malt whisky which he said was the best pain-killer. The body had gone, but the brain was still very, very active. I drew them for a couple of hours as they talked. His wife Valda said, 'You should put your false teeth in." But he said, Oh no, no. Sandy can do that; an artist can always do things like that.'  "I kicked off with the pipe and chair of course, but I wanted the finished painting to be about MacDiarmid's vision for Scotland, a kind of history painting if u like. The landscape behind moves from the Borders where he was born, to the Shetlands where he lived in the 1930s." 
The finished picture, titled Hymn to Lenin, 1979, contained figures like Lenin & Mayakovsky, relating to the Soviet Revolution, which was a crucial event for MacDiarmid, plus John MacLean - emerging from the side of MacDiarmid's chair. Tatlin's Tower. "The picture is a straight-forward homage," Moffat said in 1981.  
It is a magnificent picture, the dry oil handled very like Kitaj. Moffat was a great admirer of Kitaj, who along with Peter de Francia encouraged him in the Poets project.  
As Moffat explained, "Drawing and the finished painting are different things. Painting takes time. I'd like to be able to make a painting like a drawing, that is a cherished ambition. To have all the elements one has in drawing, the spontaneity, the vigour, the sense of design. But the point is to produce a painting that is a work of art & not just just a superficial likeness of someone."
Soon Moffat had the idea of putting all the poets together in Milne's bar. Moffat has a romantic idealistic view of his student days haunting the Bohemian atmosphere where his heroes gathered and talked. "The poets took on the world and we wanted to be like them. They were political, unlike the painters. They linked art & politics in a wholly challenging way. ... These poets played a leading role, both in their verse & prose in shaping the artistic conscience of this country." 
The main figure here is Sydney Goodsir Smith,  who died before the series started. He is centre stage. "It seemed right as he was always the life & soul of the party."  
In the intervening years Moffat went on to teach & inspire many many painting students at Glasgow School of Art, retiring in 2005 after 25 years there. 
A committed portraitist, & dedicated to his task, he is credited with encouraging and steering the resurgence of figurative painting at GSA. 
Last year Moffat tackled a new canvas: Scotland's Voices, as a companion piece to the Poets' Bar.  This latest picture, full of hot colour and joyous music, celebrates Hamish Henderson as he toured Scotland with his tape recorder in the 1950s recording traditional songs. Here around a campfire, with references to the Penny Wedding in the background, are musicians & singers: Aly Bain, Dolina Maclennan, Willie Scott, Belle Stewart, Jeannie Robertson ..." At last the women get a look in!! 
Most folk who see this show will not know the back story to its creation. Nor the hicups along the way!   
It began as a Scottish Arts Council commission - allowing Moffat the luxury of time & money, a touring exhibition &  knowing the 7 pictures would stay together.  But in April 1985 the SAC decided to dispose of its collection!  The oils were up for bids and dispersed, with Brown going to Orkney Stromness Academy (where it has got very wet)
Norman MacCaig to Edinbro City Art Centre, & Sorley's portrait  to the Isle of Skye. Happily the rest belong to the SNPG but are not now generally on show. 
A lifelong supporter of both communism and Scottish nationalism, ever controversialMacDiarmid is now considered one of the principal forces behind the Scottish Renaissance and has had a lasting impact on Scottish culture and politics. Edwin Morgan once said of him: 'Eccentric and often maddening genius he may be, but MacDiarmid has produced many works which, in the only test possible, go on haunting the mind and memory; casting seeds of insight and surprise.
The same can be said of Moffat's poet portraits.  They loiter in the mind, haunting the memory, their unique power emanating from faces well studied, well drawn, the human condition "forced into the centre of one's vision." In 1981 Moffat said he would like people to contemplate his paintings; "to come back again & again."
                                              I think he has his wish.