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Celebrating Prints by Scottish Artists
Miriam O'Connor Perks
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In celebration of Burns Night, our Assistant Curator, Miriam O’Connor Perks, explores some of the fantastic prints by Scottish artists that are part of our collection.
As Burn’s Night approaches, it’s a timely opportunity to celebrate Scottish creativity and cast a spotlight on some of the prints produced or made by artists and studios based in Scotland. Collecting prints from Scotland was one of the initial interests for Mark Golder and Brian Thompson, whose gift forms a major part of the exhibition, and demonstrate a desire to better reflect the artistic output of all areas of the UK. Glasgow and Edinburgh have been internationally significant centres for modern art up to the present day and in the last couple of decades numerous Scottish based artists have been nominated for the Turner Prize. Scotland attracts artists from around the world, due both to its unique landscape and its major visual arts festival, Glasgow International.
Influential exhibitions in Scotland such as A Vigorous Imagination and New Image Glasgow in the 1980s drove interest in artists such as Ken Currie, Peter Howson, Adrian Wiszniewski and Steven Campbell, many of whom are represented in Hockney to Himid. The work of these artists varied in style, however they all reflected a shift towards figurative and expressive painting in the 1980s, away from the conceptual and performance-based art prevalent at that time.
In response to the needs of graduates from art schools, studios including Edinburgh Printmakers and Glasgow Print Studio were founded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, representing some of the first open access print studios in the UK. The foundation of these studios reflected the optimism of this time, finding new ways to circumnavigate the traditional art market, and explore the medium of print in an environment of cooperation and innovation.
In consideration of this nurturing artistic background, the prints highlighted here put humanity at the core of their work; for example through tackling themes such as conflict and the abuse of power, take the people of Glasgow as their subject, or through practices which engage wider communities.
The Age of Uncertainty portfolio was the first time that Ken Currie had made etchings, an experiment that Currie described as a ‘learning process’. Currie wanted to create as many plates as he could, to fully explore what the medium was capable of. Working at the Glasgow Print Studio with master printer Stuart Duffin, he produced between 30 and 40 plates, from which 27 plates became the final series of prints.
An image of anxiety and death, global concerns in the 1990s such as the dissolution of the USSR, the Gulf War and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia filter through the works in the series, mirroring an important influence on Currie, the art of Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, in particular his posthumously published series of etchings, The Disasters of War. The 82 sheets depicting Napoleon’s occupation of Spain and the Peninsular War (1808-1814), convey the brutality of this period of history. Both Goya and Currie’s prints demonstrate how the subtlety and beauty of the etched line create a dissonance with sombre, sinister imagery, drawing into focus the horrors of war.
Peter Howson’s monumental woodcut is a powerful image of working class life in 1980 Glasgow. Howson’s studio was next to a homeless shelter in the Gallowgate area, and he constantly returned to depicting the people that he saw there, creating an archetypal Glasgow man in his paintings and prints. The Heroic Dosser began life as a painting, Howson had seen this man holding onto a rail and then painted him from memory, adding a Gallowgate building behind him which gives the image a sense of strength, and also a specific sense of place in the work.
Like Currie, Howson also worked with Glasgow Print Studio to realise this work, which is reminiscent of the woodcuts of the German Expressionist artists in the early 20th century. The German Expressionists used the rough grain of the wood as part of the finished print, alongside deep forceful lines, maximising the effects of the medium to create bold, simplified imagery, taking inspiration from living in the city in their choice of subject matter. The rise of Scottish artists like Currie and Howson in the 1980s was affected by a greater sense of cultural autonomy in Scotland during this period, which was both nationalistic and outward facing, with a larger international scope.
Canadian-Irish artist Ciara Phillips came to Glasgow in 2004, to study for a masters at the internationally renowned School of Art, and still works from her studio there. She is also one of the initiators of Poster Club, a group of Glaswegian artists that work together to create posters, often with bold and vivid slogans. In past interviews, Phillips has highlighted the importance of affordable studio space for artists, which makes Glasgow a more accessible place to work.
Her practice looks to media that questions traditional hierarchies; an important example of this for Phillips is screenprinting, which has a rich history of being used for commercial design, but also as a political medium. She exploits certain qualities of the technique, for example in A Lot of Things Put Together (Sophie), she makes visible ‘Ben Day dots’, a process in which small dots are printed closely together to form an image. The title of this work makes reference to a book by the artist and educator Sister Mary Corita Kent, who taught at the Immaculate Heart College in California and created joyful political banners and posters as part of her participation in Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War marches in the 1960s.
Phillips’ work is predominately collaborative; in 2014 she was nominated for the Turner Prize for The Workshop, in which she set up a print studio where she worked with women from Justice for Domestic Workers to create a banner for their campaign. Taking inspiration from feminist print collectives including Seeing Red Feminist Workshop and the Chicago Women’s Graphic Collective, Phillips’ practice engages with the representation of women and her prints often make reference to her friends, other women artists, in the act of producing or at work.