Saturday, 25 January 2014


I first met Nicola in 1985 when I was a selector for a London Serpentine Gallery exhibition. She was just graduating from the Royal College & quickly making a name. Her work stood out due to 3 things: her superb draughtsmanship; her animal subject matter; her use of straw. In 1987 we both went to India along with Anish Kapoor, as part of a big British Council/ Henry Moore Memorial event. 
One gets to know people much better on a trip like this to somewhere strange, hot and exotic. Hicks was a delight, & after a symposium in which we all took part along with Indian artists, Indian critics, Indian filmmakers etc, she went off to lead a 2 week workshop at the Delhi Art Institute. Using straw and plaster was perfect for India! She was of course a great success with the students. 
Almost 30 years on Hicks, now MBE, still uses straw for her large, fierce sculptures, (now often cast in bronze) & still draws her dynamic donkeys, horses, stags & cats in charcoal on large sheets of brown paper. Living on a farm helped her rigorous study of anatomy which translates into animated empathy. No sentiment here however. Her creations often have a mysterious menace. In new works at Flowers Gallery, www.flowersgallery.comBears,  Bankers & Hypocrites, she creates her own take on social moral critique. 
Banker II 2009; Banker I 2009
This NYC show coincides with Hicks' exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art. Here seven recent sculptures are installed amid a selection of 18th & 19th C paintings, chosen for their expressive emotion demonstrating human empathy for the life-force of different creatures. 
Why animals?  "Animals are the stuff of life" she says!
The Yale Center is home to one of the world’s most important collections of British animal paintings and portraiture, and Hicks’s intervention offers a unique opportunity to reflect upon the contemporary resonances of these traditions.

Friday, 17 January 2014

GLASGOW DIVERSITY: Glasgow Group at the Lillie Art Gallery & LIVING PROOF at Glasgow Print Studio

"When the Glasgow Group first met in 1957 Scottish art was in a bad way."  So says Alasdair Gray of New Lanark fame. He was there so he should know, & he is present again in the Glasgow Group's latest exhibition at The Lillie Gallery, Milngavie, 55 years later. Ten members plus 3 founders make for a diverse array. .
                                                                   Jim Spence's Picador.
The Glasgow Group, which in 1958 had an average age of 22, went on to become a cutting edge affair with founders James Spence & Anda Paterson (also exhibiting large scale pictures at the Lillie) instrumental in keeping things both alive & lively, & international, alongside John Bellany, George Wyllie, Sandy Moffat, Richard Demarco et al. All a true cooperative with members volunteering time & effort. 

Shona Dougall, the current chair, shows a colourful Cliff Face; Claire Paterson's oil nudes are especially ambitious; Gregor Smith's atmospheric watercolours of Mull & Lewis, just lovely. Anda's diptych Pilgrims, is a wonderful example of her powerful drawings of time-worn people, their swollen feet, wrinkles & arthritic hands a testament to hard work and endurance.  
Sunday. I have just found, in among my archive papers for GSA, a piece dated August 1990 for the Herald: "I was very touched and honoured to be asked to launch the Glasgow Group's inauguration of the city's brand new Tramway, exhibition space in June 1989. Since then Tramway has seen many exciting shows, both international and Scottish, but with the exception of the Compass 21st B-day, none as important in terms of local involvement. In European City of Culture Year it's worth remembering that, without the longterm spadework put in by local organisations such as the GG, Glasgow 1990 would never have happened. It was entirely in character that the GG should take on the awesome challenge of inaugurating such a large. difficult space as Tramway on an almost non-existent budget. Lack of basics: no proper lighting; no moveable screens, no wall cladding, much less rails to hang pictures. So far more than 400 guest artists, from David Donaldson & Sir Robin Phlipson to Peter Howson, Tracy Mackenna & Louise Scullion (plus Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Norway & Wales) have participated." Till February 20th. Tues-Sat 10-5pm.  Prices £75 to £7000. The Lillie, a purpose built gallery, dates from 1962.
Shona Dougall & CliffFace. 
Alasdair Grey's Nude

When Glasgow Print Studio was founded in 1972 Scottish printmakers had nowhere to print (except Edinburgh), so again young artists, (average age 28) got busy & made it happen in a basement & ground floor of an old electrician's shop at 43 St Vincent Crescent. Over the last 42 years GPS has received big Lottery & Arts Council etc funding, & now has a world class gallery & workshop on 3 floors of Glasgow's art hub at 103 Trongate.

The current good & also diverse GPS exhibition, Living Proof, alludes to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, but also the printmaking term artist's proof. Really it's a way of gathering images of creatures, a current fascination of many GPS artists like Elizabeth Blackadder or Helen Fay. 

Watson's Goats in Tree                                       Cook's Survival of the Fittest. 
Ashley Cook & Fiona Watson both did tackle the subject of evolution to great effect, but most prints - like John Byrne's Boy+ Lion or Ray Richardson's dogs are familiar images. I especially liked Marion MacPhee's Whales and Murray Robertson's detailed sea creatures. Ironically Gray is in BOTH shows, at the Lillie with an outrageous nude, On a Very Striped Coverlet" and at GPS  with  his Scots Hippo! Terrific!

As Watson says, "The medium of print has historically been important in the dissemination of natural history information (and misinformation)!"  Till Feb 2nd. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014


Happy 2014 to u all. I will start the year as I mean to go on - looking at exhibitions and art events on both sides of the Atlantic. 
Calcutta born, St Martins London educated, Shaw's detailed erotic dreamscapes are painted with 3D delicacy, rather like cloisonné on canvas. Inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost, his hybrids of man and beast fight & fly in settings of Piranesi-esque classical ruins. 
Shaw's cherubs have a deeply evil smirk as they fire their arrows at St Sebastian amid a field of gorgeous blood-red poppies. Fanged fish, prowling big cats, male lizards make up giant-size paintings, one 60ft long. Scary stuff - but memorable.

This seductive story telling of violent,
yet opulent fantasies embellished with enamel, glitter and crystal has been shown at Tate Britain, MoMA, the Met, Prague & Sydney.  In NY it occupies all 3 Pace galleries in Chelsea. 

Shaw begins by outlining with gold stained glass paint. Then, using porcupine quills for their precise point, he applies colourful enamel. Oil paints are used for modelling the images. Surface then embellished with inlaid semi-precious stones, glitter etc. Vulgar but irresistible.

At GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART,  there's another great show which, like Shaw, closes Jan 11th, so run see it. Templetons carpets are world famous with commissions from the White House, Titanic, Queens Coronation, Holyroodhouse and Scottish Parliament. Founded in Glasgow in 1843, it had a terrific in-house design department with commissioned outsiders including Voysey, Walter Crane, Frank Brangwyn, Mary Quant.

The show was researched by GSA textile staff member Helena Britt who has already interviewed over 30 folk with Templeton-Stoddard memories of working there. T-S was renowned for its design quality & the show, (a minute selection from the vast archive) is full of gorgeous floral, geometric, animal & oriental prints, folios, with1920s-30s especially well represented. 

We forget that 100 years ago - no internet, little photography, no xerox, travel by sea. So directors abroad brought home actual books, paintings, screens, design objects from all over the world to inspire their staff. Vibrant hand coloured pochoirs by guys like Benedictus, Delaunay, Seguy, Sorokine, are my favourites. GORGEOUS! 

John Byrne's play, The Slab Boys, from the 1970s, immortalised the people who ground pigments, sketched at the draughting table, worked the looms.(In an average year the 50 staff - majority MEN till mid 1980s - sharpened away 475 pencils, wore out 97 erasers, applied 700 lbs of paint to 10,000 sq inches of paper, using 960 brushes. Designs were transferred by hand onto gridded drafting paper with each square representing a different tuft of wool. 

Templetons was established in 1843 by a Paisley shawl producer and weaver. Stoddart joined on in 1871, and carpet design and manufacture became an important industry for the West of Scotland. Employees often had a job for life staying for over 50 years. Designers attended classes at GSA. When Stoddard finally closed in 2005, their Design Studio archive was up for grabs. Happily a combination of GSA, GU & Glasgow Life have saved the day.

Founded in 1845, Glasgow Art School has a long & golden reputation. New director Tom Inns comes from a design background. Welcome to him. And a new £50m building will house textiles and design depts when open later this year.  
        Film at