Saturday, 28 February 2015

TIM STEAD & J D FERGUSSON at PERTH Museum & Art Gallery 

Tim Stead MBE was passionate about wood. Chestnut, elm, sycamore, ash, oak, chestnut, beech. These made up his palette, his tones, his textures. He inspired many to look at wood with fresh eyes & long before 'green' was a popular ethos, he set about changing attitudes to the environment. 
Many Glaswegians got to know his work thro Cafe Gandolfi  where his eccentric but memorable - & comfortable- furniture is still a feature. He went on to make an elaborate chair for the Pope's visit in 1982 + an entire chapel for Aberdeen's St Nicholas church. 
Tim died in 2000 aged 48. This major retrospective exhibition is touring before his work passes to a Trust. I was so glad to see it! The work spans 27 years from early student pieces (Nottingham + Glasgow Art School) via boxes & gifts he made for his wife, wall panels with copper inlay & towers from burr oak. An impressive circle of chairs - Stata, Skeletal & Gnasher are my favourites - greets u at the entrance together with a panel of Tim's words which he wrote aged 19. It is a very moving piece. 
His chairs were always sculptures in disguise. Tactile in the extreme. it's hard not to reach out and touch. Pragamatic and sensible, Tim knew it would be hard to make a living as a sculptor, so put his talents into innovative sculptural furniture. His widow, Maggy said his mantra was that anything he made should be comfortable, useful, practical but visually stimulating.
I wrote about him many times in the Herald from 1982 onwards. Happily you too can now search my 30 year archive via GSA archive o Link to
In January 1983 he showed at the Collins Gallery. I wrote, " He has used this grounding (training as a sculptor) in the interplay of solid form with spaces round and in between to great advantage. Each piece of oak, ash, elm seems to come to life again as he carves and shapes it with saw & chisel, developing planes & curves, facets & edges which invite caresses. He encourages this feeling of approachability by lavishing oil & beeswax on to his chairs, tables, shelves & dressers to reveal & enhance the grain & colour of the wood." 
In 1990 his big show at Glasgow's Compass Gallery was called Layers: An Exploration in Wood. We looked at a complex carved piece of pink grained yew. Tim turned it from the horizontal to the vertical. "You could easily put it on a plinth - but I wouldn't want to. I don't like to. Conventional sculpture is off-putting; remote. You're not supposed to touch"
There, as at Perth, there were many wooden pieces to play with, 3D jigsaw puzzles with towers & slots, grooves, secrets.  "Pick it up. Handle it. Feel it. Look. This one opens out and that one lifts up." Multiple segments of excavated wood are here to explore. 
Stead told me "When a tree is sawn thro each slice reads like a book revealing colour & lines from the past which suddenly reflect light after 100 years or more. All of nature inter-relates & within the wood there is landscape, history, sky, water, interlocking forms, & infinite scope for speculation." The show has a nice video too, so u can see this 'object maker' as he called himself, talking for yourself. 
Perth Museum & Art Gallery: 16 Jan - 3 May 2015
Barony Craft Centre, West Kilbride: 23 May - 2 August 2015
Smith Museum & Art Gallery, Stirling: 7 August - 4 October 2015
McLaurin Art Gallery, Ayr: 8 November - Mid-January 2015/16

REACT- REFLECT-RESPOND presents work by 11 artists who have been inspired by the spirit and themes of Stead's work. It is a lovely, graceful show demonstrating the skills and talents of people around today. 
Perth is  home to the FERGUSSON  GALLERY nearby in Marshall Place, but currently Perth Art Gallery also presents FERGUSSON & NATURE. He lived in Glasgow's West End from 1939 till his death in 1961 age 87, while his partner Margaret Morris lived there till 1989, aged 89. 
Their flat overlooked Glasgow's Botanic Gardens so it's not surprising to see the Gardens feature in his oil paintings along with the River Kelvin. I visited Margaret Morris in their flat in the early 1970s. She was lying in bed & was very autocratic. She had summoned me there for tea - ringing me at 7am to arrange it! 
They normally lived between Scotland and the south of France. The exhibition also includes studies of flowers, and landscapes of verdant greens and blues. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

ALASDAIR GRAY, Glasgow Art Gallery & DAVID EUSTACE at Edinburgh's Scottish Gallery

At long last , and none too soon, ALASDAIR GRAY has been given serious consideration and appropriate recognition with a large & glorious retrospective exhibition at Glasgow's Kelvingrove. 
Over 100 works from 1952 to today demonstrate his eagle eye, the strength and simplicity of his line; his superb use of colour & pattern, his dramatic viewpoints. For many Glaswegians it's a trip down memory lane, seeing old friends like Bethsy Gray, Liz Lochhead, Edwin Morgan, Elspeth King captured in their prime. A young Margot MacDonald, Jimmy Reid and his family at home, Tom McGrath in his chaotic Third Eye office looking onto Scott St, Reo Stakis before the Grosvenor Hotel burnt down Xmas/New Year 1977/8, Frank Worsdall and his Tenement book. 
We owe all these wonderful 1977 records of people & places to Elspeth King, who as curator of the People's Palace, took the initiative to invite Gray to be official "City Recorder."  She told me, "He worked as part of the government's Job Creation scheme. It was about 30 quid a week . A pitance. We got all the pictures that were a product of his time." Gray remembers it as "the pleasantest steady job of my life."
They agreed Gray would paint streets about to be demolished; folk in politics and the arts; interiors of work places including the workers. This produced street scenes of Bridgeton where Gray's family had lived; staff at the Daily Record newspaper, The Pewter Pot pub, Teddy Taylor MP drawn in a constituent's home in Castlemilk,  Jack House who was rightly often called Mr Glasgow, and who campaigned against the motorways destroying much of the city's centre. 
Gray quit his Recorder post to become Writer-in-Residence at Glasgow University."I would never have left if the wage had been enough to pay my half of my son's school fees." 
The show is chronological. Gray was drawing and writing by the age of 8, with his father typing out his "stories of magical worlds where I was rich and powerful."  
Nude at Red Table 1954
Gray attended Glasgow Art School for 5 years from 1952-57, and Nude at Red Table 1954 exemplfies Gray's characteristic, spare linear graphic style. He was to draw and paint single nude figures for the rest of his career. He also drew his son Andrew from babyhood onwards, with several delightful and heartfelt studies: on show here. 

  Lamlash Tearoom dates from a summer homework in 1952. The Campsies and Arran were a constant inspiration while a landscape of Brodick Bay seen from Goat Fell dates from 1965. Gray spent his honeymoon on Arran, then as so often, unemployed and strapped for cash.  
"People didn't want my work. It's only recently that people will buy it," he says. 

Bethsy Gray in her kitchen. 1983.

Lamlash Bay 1965
Murals have featured prominently in Gray's career - but that's another story. (Follow the West End Walking Tour and you can find 4 very near Kelvingrove on Byres Rd, and several others not so far away. )

Many know Gray for his novels, notably the award winning Lanark which Gray entirely designed - text, margins, illustrations and cover. He used the faces of many friends and family in these. The book was a huge success and remains a seminal work. Many books followed, and their readers may not have been aware of the strength and depth of Gray's visual art in its many & varied forms, including Hillhead subway murals 2012, Oran Mor's auditorium and - soon to be unveiled, St Mungo. 

For me portraiture is an outstanding feature of this exhibition - which concludes with Now & Then. His portrait of his American granddaughter Alexandra 2008 is as good as anything on show - not bad for Glasgow's resident genius and polymath. For the show celebrates Gray's 80th birthday. Happily he is in fine form & good spirits, able to savour this long overdue acclaim in his hometown.  
 A Gray by D Eustace

DAVID EUSTACE, Scottish Gallery Edinburgh

By happy chance international photographer David Eustace has also captured Gray on camera, a brilliant penetrating shot. Eustace has photographed many famous folk: Paul McCartney, Sophia Loren, Tracy Emin and Eve Arnold, herself a luminary of the camera world. 
 Eve Arnold 1996
Eustace has spent a lot of time in the States - sometimes working on large scale projects with NBC and Tom Brokaw. But his Scottish roots show thro' here with dramatic Highland landscapes of Torridon, Assynt, and Skye, and portraits of art world personalities like Emilio Coia, Robbie Coltrane and the lovely John Byrne.
Emilio Coia 

John Byrne 2011
This is a first for the Scottish Gallery. Established in 1842 when photography was an infant, the gallery has never, till now, exhibited photographs. It's also a first for me as I never write about shows I have not seen. But hospitals and a broken hip have put paid to that, and I am relying on the catalogue. However I do know David's work well having first written about him 20+ years ago.  Moreover last year he took MY portrait in New York - so I have the advantage of seeing him at work behind the camera - a thrilling experience. 
The show runs till February 28th so I may yet manage to see it in the flesh. 

Eustace has just published a monograph via Clearview Books plus he has a photo spread for a mens fashion story in Harrods Magazine. Busy guy!

Sunday, 15 February 2015


I think it's supposed to be about provoking enough of a memory that people take it away and do their own thing with it. For me, artwork... is something that you should be able to take away—you don't have to be present in front of it, and that's the potency of the artwork when it works.—Douglas Gordon
We all know Douglas Gordon’s Psycho (1993) but I had never seen his PHANTOM (2011) so I was glad to take advantage of his New York showing of it in a small but - location location - key corner space on Park Avenue. Happily this new Gagosian gallery has a big window and Gordon took advantage of this by playing this impressive video 24/7. Passers by no doubt surprised, enthralled, disturbed - or not - by the silent gaze of a tar-blackened eye slowly slowly blinking. 

The eye belongs to singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright who provides the memorable, hauntingly beautiful, accompanying music.  Filmed over a few minutes employing a high-speed Phantom camera, it translates into slow-mo echoing melodramatic performances by stars of the silent screen. On stage in front of the screen, a baby grand piano stands over another piano that has been burnt to ashes—a recurring symbol for Gordon that here might allude to the cyclical nature of life.
Wainwright's requiem-style soundtrack for this installation, is his 2010 album All days are nights. It includes the apt Who Are You New York?  New Yorkers are notoriously hurried - but also inquiring - so maybe they can slow down here.   

This coincided with Gordon's major new installation “tears become... streams become...” which was on view at the NY Park Avenue Armory from December 2014–January 4, 2015. 
For a review of this see my Herald piece: