Saturday, 15 April 2017

FRANKI RAFFLES: Observing Women at Work. Glasgow School of Art

The ZERO Tolerance campaign was instigated by Franki Raffles  in 1992. How can it be 25 years ago? Impossible, but true. 
This remarkable achievement was aided by her key large-scale black & white images of middle class women in comfortable homes accompanied by searing text. No bruised faces; no battered wives. Just stark statistics of women most at risk at home from the men they knew and loved. 
                                             "Male abuse of power is a crime."  

But Raffles should be well known for much more than this, important as it is. In a professional career of 12 years, 1982-1994 before her tragic early death thro childbirth, Raffles made her mark as a passionate feminist documentary photographer, crusading tirelessly.
I first wrote about her in the Herald in 1982, commenting on her portraits of a weather-worn Lewis farmer's wife. Raffles herself said,"I want my pictures to say something, otherwise there's no point in producing them."
Happily her archive is now safely at Napier Uni and St Andrews Uni and looked after by Dr Alistair Scott who has assisted with a book and exhibition now at Glasgow School of Art. 
Titled OBSERVING WOMEN AT WORK, it records in harsh black & white the manual labour of women in Edinburgh and Russia. These 1980s British cleaners, home helps, factory & hospital workers, office temps, whose drudgery keeps the world ticking are shown to have humour, tolerance and strength of purpose. Their essential role in society - at a time don't forget, when men in general & husbands in particular, did little of nothing at home, was still badly paid. 
In Russia the scenario was even more extreme with peasant women working in arduous, almost medieval conditions on state farms in the Ukraine & Caucasus, and even working in saw mills, as builders or on the railways.  Raffles rarely used close-ups, preferring long shots to anchor the figures in their environment, be it field or hotel. 
The Russian series was exhibited in Glasgow as part of 1990 European City of Culture, and also shown in Rostov-on-Don.
It is beautifully displayed at GSA taking up 3 big walls where is looks really impressive. 
Raffles's belief, that "What u require for women's equality is economic independence. If u don't have that, u have nothing," is, sadly, just as true today. 
I believe Raffles was inspired & influence by her mother, the very successful and determined London Cork Street art dealer, Gillian Raffles, who ran the wonderful Mercury Gallery from 1964 till 2001. 
She also had a great gallery in Edinburgh on the Mound in the 1980s. In 1985 she and Franki went to Mexico  to a festival in Guerrero, and masks and rattles from there were later shown in Edinburgh - where I bought one. I still have it. 
Gillian showed Elizabeth Blackadder in London and did much for Blackadder's career. I met her first at the Bath Art Fair in 1981 or 2, and rate her highly. She gave Blackadder 18 solo shows starting in 1965. Her mother's career and determination in a male dominated art world must have inspired something in Franki for sure. 
Blackadder cat

U can find more on 
Blackadder Flowers. 

Friday, 14 April 2017


In 1990 lots of wonderful things happened. In those halcyon pre-Brexit days, the more we could exchange with Europe the better. Glasgow's position as European Capital of Culture facilitated all sorts of collaborations & swops, (20 in all from 10 different countries) but none better than VIER + FOUR, a fabulous book which involved 4 artists & 4 writers to collaborate. 

The 2 artists from Glasgow were Joe DAVIE and Murray Robertson, the writers none other than Liz Lochhead & Alisdair Gray! 
Yesterday I saw that book again, as part of Joe Davie's FIDRA GALLERY `show in North BERWICK. It really is superb. 
Then Davie's idiosyncratic narrative wit tackled the German language. Today, using his favourite familiar characters, hapless heroes, obsolete soldiers, sinners & teacher, bee-keepers and pilgrims, he is involved in maths & electricity, identity, faith and its absence, misplaced faith - modern day golden calves. All good for Easter Friday. Great watercolours too.

Davie shows alongside fantastic Edinbro etcher ROBERT POWELL 
and fantasist Mark BANNERMAN. They are in good company for Joe has long played Fantasia with a cast of make-believe characters who have - obviously - stayed in my imagination for over 25 years!

Let me know via Fb if u read this - or should I just add photos! 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Historically GPS has not been known for its support of women. So this show of 7 curated by Claire Forsyth, GPS technician, is welcome. 

It is also a sophisticated, very minimalist presentation of assorted, varied work, some with a tenuous link to printmaking; others with a close involvement with  materials like plaster, felt, brass, bronze, leather, wax, stone, canvas and especially s/s mesh. Most of the artists graduated from GSA, often MA. 
'Materials guide ideas', believes Forsyth. 
Rushka Gray has a memorable piece made of white cast plaster. Its title 'Cumulus Rubble (Forms of Erosion)" is exact, tho here it hovers near the floor, a 21st century ruin.

Another series of fragments: dark etched shapes, (intaglio transfer/photo etching) create a column of dark intaglio. 
The nearest to old fashioned gestural painting is Grace Woodcock with her coloured drags & smears, but she equates these marks with smart phones or tech-swipes - 'a conversation between man & digital interface."
Applied to semi-transparent mesh it does reminds us that space need not be virtual.
Woodcock also makes rectangular structures or low tables out of tightly stretched mesh.
Elle Elks Herrmannsen likes objects trailing onto the floor or placed very high. One drooping creation is made from felt and brass, another, titled Soft Candy, of leather. Tho quite a nice addition to the gallery space, these works lack significance.
So too with sculptor Gabriele Jogelaite. Jogelaite's canvas swing is playful - and her Fishing Vases refined, but the totality is overly minimal and effacing.     
Euphrosyne Andrews has something of a mini show all of her own with 5 pieces in one space: 
3 wall plaques of tight, detailed pencil drawings on plaster or stone plus embossed tile patterning displayed on 2 stands.  
Minimal overall and 
and nice to see - at least one representation image - sissors!