Friday, 25 September 2015

I never thought I would live to see the day!! Glasgow's successful artists actually showing their work in Glasgow's prime civic Gallery of Modern Art. Twenty years ago it looked unlikely. Things in Glasgow had deteriorated into farce. So this is all Better Late Than Never etc .. altho I still have some concerns. Of which more later. 
This show of contemporary art includes 21 now well known figures & runs in parallel with the Turner Prize opening at Tramway. It's the first time the prestigious Turner Prize will be held, not in London, but in ScotlandGlasgow is, rightly, showing off its famous artists. 
As no less a person that Nick Serota, the Tate's director, says, "Over the last 20 years, Glasgow and Scotland has gained national and international recognition as a centre of excellence in, and for, the visual arts and for many years artists who are from Scotland or who have trained at the Glasgow School of Art – one of the world’s leading art schools – have been nominated for, or won, the Tate Turner award."  A great puff for Glasgow.
It was not always so!  
In 1996 when the £7m new GoMA opened to the public, Glasgow became a national laughing stock. Heralded as "a mockery, fundamentally flawed & fourth rate, a travesty, an aesthetic and intellectual disaster," the works on show were banal. And despite the international success of many Scottish artists, especially GSA graduates, Glasgow had made a point of totally ignoring them. Perverse. Stupid. "GoMA, an ugly bilious name to match an ugly, bilious collection, a painful guddle of mediocrity" I wrote at the time, angry that with £250,000 a year to spend on art, (quite a sum 20 years ago) no young Scots benefitted & that Glasgow's reputation was - tragically -  in the gutter.Later that year Douglas Gordon won the Turner Prize. As I wrote, "The first video artist to win it, the first non-London-based artist to sweep the board, belatedly allowing the London art establishment to acknowledge the vibrancy of the Glasgow scene. So despite officialdom turning its back on Gordon, the rest of Scotland is proud." I also wondered if it was "too late" to change things. Scotland's top artists had already got to be very expensive, - and anyway, who would want to show in Glasgow when Berlin, Paris & New York called?  
Happily it was not quite too late, as this exhibition demonstrates. However I do wonder if, in some instances, the city could not have acquired better pieces. 
Things get off to a good start with Ross Sinclair's terrific neon signs installed across the facade.
Sinclair at the opening 
The show fills GoMA's difficult ground floor gallery & despite the gilded columns & awkward entrance, looks lively. I was happy to see what a great energy & spirit was present at the opening.

Kenny Hunter's Churchill's Dogs fit well at the entrance, David Shrigley's funny film continues to crack people up - (he's now establishment enough for him to feature amid the Annunciations & angels in NGS Xmas cards! )- 

& Jim Lambie's pile of colour soaked chairs together with Alex Frost's mosaic Ryvita packet make quite a statement. 
In this huge space, scale is crucial, and here Claire Barclay has the edge with her 2 giant wood cylinders, but a shame the inside tubes etc add nothing to the piece.  
One of the more thoughtful pieces is by Nathan Coley who not only examines the Lockerbie Bombing trial evidence but created an exact replica of the witness box complete with microphone.     
This sits alongside eight drawings representing evidence presented during the trial. The trial was held in the Netherlands, but for 36 weeks the small area where the court stood was temporarily legally Scottish. Coley highlights the arbitrary rules that enabled a country to‘appear’ somewhere else + the assumption that a person is telling the truth just because they are sitting in the witness box.. 
Coley loaned this work. Unlike most here it does not belong to Glasgow. 
Thus Christine Borland is represented by a piece from 1997, the year she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize; Douglas Gordon by a video from 1998; Roddy Buchanan by his brilliant Gobstopper film of kids holding their breath thro the Clyde Tunnel, while Churchill's Dog date from 1995.
It makes u wonder - Has Glasgow bought nothing since? And will this show look old-fashioned when compared to the current Turner Prize exhibits- all sound, politics & collaboration?  And with such a boom in installation, film & performance art of the last decade, is Glasgow still behind the curve? And what about the OLDER generation from the 1980s who got missed out from  the funded buying spree both times round? What of them?  
Simon Starling's Desert Bike was part of his 2005 Turner Prize winning exhibit - and encapsulates a lot of his diverse concerns. He used it to cross the Tabernas Desert in Spain. 

On the journey the unusual powering method created a small amount of water that was collected in a bottle on the bike, & then used to produce a watercolour of a prickly pear cactus, a plant this survives because of its sparing use of water
On the down side some pieces like Martin Boyce's neon have been seen far too often, there are some unlikely & unlikable pieces, (Nick Evans's white blobs)
and Karla Black's crumpled heap still looks like an old shower curtain.  
 I could also name a few who are strangely absent. Maybe they were too expensive? Maybe they still didn't want their work in GoMA. Maybe, maybe ... 

But, post 1996, what a triumph! Devils they may be. Meanwhile I hope Glasgow continues to support the home team for many years to come. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

PHIL BRAHAM, Billcliffe Gallery, Glasgow 
I was happy to see some great new paintings from Braham at Roger Billcliffe Gallery. They posess a lyrical luminosity, yet provide a strong impact - which also hints at the German Romantic tradition of Landscape as a metaphor for the human condition. 
Now course director teaching at Dundee Uni, Braham has been painting seriously for 35 years & while many desert it, he is committed to exploring life via light, canvas & old fashioned oil paint. 
Braham played an important role in promoting Scottish artists exhibiting at the Ed Festival. In fact without him & the late lamented Ian Hughes, maybe the 1980s would have continued its focus on artists from abroad while ignoring home grown talent. In 1985 Braham & Hughes hung their pts outside the RSA in protest at yet another French exh. 
Ed Festival director Frank Dunlop took note, hence 2 major shows of Scottish art at the Ed Fest in 1986 & 87. 
first saw his work back in 1984 when he was 4 yrs out of Dundee but had already won scholarships to Holland & California, In 1987 in the Vigorous Imagination at the SNG Braham showed a series of paintings of sunlit forest clearings, which captured the poetic spirit of the place. 
He has never tired of this subject. 
He said then, "a balance between what the image is itself and the surface texture, the moment when when things finally come to a tension - that tension is what provides life to a painting."
Braham has had over 20 distinguished solo shows in London & Berlin but one I remember well was in 1988 in Edinburgh. 
Braham will be showing more work at The Billcliffe Gallery in the next year or so - and I look forward to it - especially if the paintings are as dramatic as this red field & storm. (Some pix via Braham's Fb., some from the Clare Henry Photography Archive. Not all pix at Billcliffe yet.)

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

DERRICK GUILD, After A.D.  at Summerhall, Edinburgh 
DURER’s painting of a hare - which he did in 1502 - is so well know, such an icon. Amazingly it turns out that anatomically, no hare, is actually like that! DERRICK GUILD decided to make paintings of the hare - but from different angles. His taxidermist broke the bad news. 
Regardless of this GUILD has orchestrated a wonderful mis en scene at Summerhall, utilising the sinks & glass cases of the old Vet building to great effect. 
He imagined a melancholy film involving the hare and the hero, with actor Ewen Bremner, in the lead role. 
The entire room is called into play with props, antique tables, cases, paintings & photographs enticing you onwards inviting the viewer to explore the mystery. 
Phoebe Grigor has collaborated to provide beautiful, sensitive, atmospheric photographs. Intriguing music from Marty Hailey completes this unusual installation. Quite memorable.   

Monday, 14 September 2015

GEORGE WYLLIE at Paisley Museum, GSA MLitt Graduate Degree Show, McLellan Galleries, GLASGOW

George Wyllie in Sarajevo 1988

I am ashamed to say we went to see this excellent Geo Wyllie show on its last day. Hopefully it will tour elsewhere.
The large scale metal exhibits do well in Paisley Museum's big Victorian spaces, and how I miss Wyllie's exuberant wit & cheeky songs!
Murray Grigor's terrific TV videos enliven the whole show, and bring back the outrageous events of Paper Boat, Day down a Goldmine, & Straw Locomotive. Classic Wyllie at his showman best.  
Wyllie in Goldmine. 
Clear, concise & interesting explanatory panels are in type big enough to read. What a blessing. 
In the last room there is a huge artists book made by George full of vigorous drawing spilling across the page in wild abandon. 
It is not dissimilar to Spain's Sara Alonso-Martinez's notable artists book The Peep Show of Hearts. Likewise outspoken & witty, it uses lithography in red & black to attack the downside of social media.  
She is one of 30 MLitt graduates who are showing in the McLellan Galleries, (enter from Renfrew St.). Nine are Asian, 1 from Sweden, 2 from Denmark, 1 France, 1 Netherlands, 1  Lithuania. With this cosmopolitan mix, I would have expected more variety.
A stand out for me is Rennie Buenting's semi-circular tower constructed out of metal plates which carry the story of abandoned factories world wide. 
Other interesting work comes from Ellen Doggett whose textiles hide the 'uncanny n the ugly' + Norman Sutton-Hibbert's dolls in a rucksack, high key videos reminiscent of Ashley Cook by Will Kendrick, elegant white mesh cubes from Victoria Evans & ceramic tiles of text by Zheng Li. 
Very criss-cross in discipline, technology was less evident than I expected, with a lot of found objects carrying too heavy a burden. Spread across the floor the various rods, string, cans, pegs & bottles do very little for the viewer. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


 We often wonder how young artists will mature. In 1981 a group of 4th year art students exhibited at Edinburgh's New 57 Gallery. "They are going to be a prize crop," I wrote in The Herald. "Bold man" Ken Currie presented "huge black & white chalk drawings of prominent 20th century figures - an ambitious project & his monochromatic oil of a brawny mechanic is as remarkable." 
 Currie at 3rd Eye 1988

Adrian Wiszniewski's work was "full of sensitive passages." 
Roll on to April 1984 when "Whizz-kid Wiszniewski", already internationally known, had his first one-man show at Glasgow's Compass Gallery, with a solo show at London's famous Air Gallery later that year plus Nicola Jacobs Gallery, in Cork St, London. 

New Image Glasgow 1985 & the Vigorous Imagination 1987 confirmed their place in Scottish art history. 
So where are they now? Happily, 30 years on, full time artists, exhibiting world wide but also showing right now in Glasgow. Both have matured in impressive ways. 
Currie at Glasgow PRINT STUDIO + Wiszniewski at The Compass are the MUST SEE September shows. 
KEN CURRIE spent several months at Glasgow Print Studio making these etchings & monotypes. "I was a great experience. I couldn't fault it. The technicians were superb" he says. 
The results, 17 etchings & nearly 40 monotypes, are spellbinding. Black, An array of portraits, some from life, some based on legendary figures, others imagined, often make for gripping if uncomfortable viewing as they confront us with the human condition in all its aspects: savage, vulnerable, pitiful, desperate.

This is inky blackness, gouged & split, knifed, battered & veiled, used to extremes with great effect & sensitivity.
The faces age before your eye, or loom closer out of the mist. The skull is merely covered by fragile skin & Currie plays with possible ravages from facial accident, via decay  to death.     
Deeply affected by political & humanitarian events, Currie has always responded to society's ills with intense, timeless images. These faces could belong to one of the innumerable Syrian refugees - or equally a soldier from 1914 at Mons.  Back in July 1988 as I wrote on the occasion of his Third Eye show, he was just as passionate about bigotry. 

These are serious works: considered, worked at with risks, triumphs & failures. 
Dead Gannet, Hung Gull North Uist, Dead Finches & Crows are also impressive etchings, drawn with sympathy, skill & acute observation.  A memorable exhibition. (GPS till Sept 27th)
ADRIAN WISZNIEWSKI has a lighter approach to life but non the less considered. This year, with an award from Creative Scotland, he is off to explore Scotland & New Zealand in all their complex history & geological splendour. Meanwhile till Sept 25th his bold, vibrant figurative oils fill the COMPASS GALLERY. 
It has often seemed to me that Wiszniewski's family - his wife & offspring - inspire his romantic, handsome, blue-eyed figures. 
Idealised maybe, yet this personal mythology of colourful fantasies of sunlit brilliance, overflowing patterns of people & plants & dreamy imaginings have served him well with his latest project

Asked to design a CD sleeve for a new recording of Stravinsky's famous Rite of Spring by David Patrick, he extended his research, so many new paintings here are inspired by this avant-garde ballet/concert scenario, whose sub-title was, significantly Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts.

Another Russian reference is 'Red Wedge", the constructivist icon, which pops up in several works. He also has a Red dog/black dog.. 
Black backgrounds set off crystal clear colour. "if in doubt use black!" Wiszniewski jokes. Maybe his good friend Currie heard him! 
 One of his pix is called Dance of the Maidens" Youthful flowers are dancing. They want attention," he tells me. "The chosen maid dances in frenzy till she falls with exhaustion - and dies." All pre-Christian mysticism & Russian folklore. Strong stuff. 

One of Adrian's signature styles is his use of swirling sinuous curves & arabesques, fluent, flowing draughtsmanship. He makes it look so easy, relaxed. 
Wiszniewski has always been ready to try out different media - design, tapestry, ceramics, neon, furniture, stage design, even writing a novel. Apropos Rite of Spring, he's now keen to do sets for a ballet. 

1984 LONDON AIR Gallery, Fergus muir, JUNE Redfern, Clare, Adrian 1984

So wonderful to see Glasgow graduates & Scottish at that, forging ahead over a period of 35 years with impressive determination, inspiration & control. Success hard won.  
          Steven Campbell, Clare Henry, Adrian Wiszniewski 1987 London