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View from Outside
1. Catalogue cover: Jose Garcia y Mas, Robert Burns and his Dog have Royal Visitors1996 Oil on canvas. 1500 x 2000mm. Photograph ©the artist.
2. Sean Read, Wee Timorous Beastie (1996), Fibreglass wood and acrylic. 2000 x 500 x 400mm. Photograph ©the artist.
3. Graham Ibbeson, Mousewife (1996), Fibreglass wood and acrylic. 2200 x 580 x 580mm. Photograph ©the artist.
4. Kevin Harrison The Best Laid Schemes of Mice
and Men (1996), Wood and household pain. 2100 x 620 x 450mm. Photograph ©the artist.
5. Kevin Harlow A Red Rose for my Luvvie (1996) Fibreglass and mixed media. 500 x 400 x 330mm. Photograph ©the artist.
6. Kevin Harlow Lord Eglinton's Dog (1996) Fibreglass and mixed media 800 x 380 x 700mm. Photograph ©the artist.
7. Nicholas Treadwell, gallerist, in his world.
View from Outside
A Collaboration with the Nicolas Treadwell Gallery
In 1996, the bicentenary of Burns' death in Dumfries, it seemed fitting that the Maclaurin Art Gallery, located less than a kilometre from the poet's birthplace, should participate in the celebrations which recalled the death of the poet in Dumfries. The difficulty was how to achieve this in a distinctive and unique way.
In 1989, in partnership with the Gracefield Studios, Dumfries, we commissioned a number of artists to create work which could be linked with Burns' life and work. This highly successful show. For a' That, toured to numerous venues in Scotland. One group of works in the exhibition, created by the English artist Conrad Atkinson, remained in my mind. Four simple, neutral canvases, marked with elegant but simple text married language and painting; Atkinson reminded us that the basis of poetry is imagery and that the painted images are language that can transcend race, creed and politics.
It is said that Burns was a simple man who lived life to the full. His arduous labours as farmer and excise man, his pursuit of physical pleasures despite his poor health, brought him to an early grave. But in that short life there was a great blossoming of talent as Burns revelled and rhymed in his native tongue. The songs, his poetry, his loves and his letters remain as a remembrance of that simple man.
In 1796 Burns was laid to rest, in the cold Dumfriesshire clay. In August 1844 a great festival in honour of his genius took place on the meadow before the Auld Kirk in Alloway, in sight of the poet's monument beside the Doon. This day of patriotic fervour brought the bletherers to the fore and in a speech, too long to be completed, a certain Professor North dwelt on the errors of Burns, that he might lift him out of them in power and glory, as one of the very greatest of Scotsmen who ever conferred honour upon his country. By 1996, on the site of that great festival, Burns was recalled in a multi-media parody! (Today, there is a more fitting tribute in The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum created with the National Trust for Scotland.)
Burns has been widely recognised as a serious scholar worthy of study and approbation. At the same time his memory supports an industry of maudlin kitsch. This dichotomy is typical of the contemporary approach to western culture which has to be popularised into marketable, catch penny fragments. Were he with us now, would the poet rail against this degradation and loss of innocence?
To the untutored foreign reader the printed language of Burns is obscure; they may not hear the nuances and melody of this spoken Ayrshire dialect. But, in this exhibition, these artists have responded with images to lead us to immediate recollection of fragments of the master's verse. This exhibition is trenchant, witty and refreshing in outlook; it is presented as an honest response of the outsider looking into a peculiarly Scottish phenomenon.
A King con mak a belted knight
a marquis, duke, and a' that.
But an honest man's a boon his might,
Guid faith he maun fa a' that!
For a' that, and a' that.
Their dignities, and a' that.
The pith o' sense, and pride o' worth
Are higher ranks than a' that.
In 1996, the Maclaurin Trust marked the bi-centenary of Robert Burns' death by inviting artists associated with the Nicolas Treadwell Gallery to present an Exhibition entitled A View from Outside. The works included in the exhibition were originated by artists who were not imbued with the traditions of the Burns' cult that existed within Scotland and in Burns societies throughout the world; the objective was to present the honest response of London-based artists who were, for the most part, not familiar with his works.
The exhibition curator, Nicholas Treadwell, was a gallerist of many years standing, having presented his uncommon taste in Art in a variety of venues. The Nicholas Treadwell Gallery was founded in 1963, and had always followed a policy of promoting to the public in general, ignoring the Fads and Fashions of the Mainstream Art World. Starting with a Fleet of mobile galleries, including a double decker bus, the Treadwell Gallery had moved around, locating in quite a number of different venues, including three London Galleries (The Friendliest), a Kent Mansion House for ten years (A Kind of Art Safari Park) and after eight years in a 32,000 square foot Bradford Mill, it moved back into London in 1985. The continual evolution of the gallery in its various and varied locations, and its consistent policy of showing art about people, since the mid-sixties, had given it a very special kind of individuality.
The Gallery had remained maverick and seemed unable to avoid controversy. Internationally, it was famous for its quality of English Eccentricity; and yet the English Establishment would rather disown it, usually with some barbed comment - 'It does very well in Germany'. Germany's Arts channel has, in fact, done a forty minute film about the Gallery.
Nicholas Treadwell is known as a Showman and Entertainer and for his 'Bad Taste', but anyone who looks a little closer at the Treadwell phenomenon might find some surprising and incongruous subtleties.
Treadwell is now based in Austria.
In his catalogue note, entitled A View from Outside or Robbed Who? Treadwell
wrote - To many of us outside Scotland, Robbie Burns is a well known poet, but if asked to name more than two or three of his poems, we are likely to be in difficulty; and as to reciting any of them . . .Well! . . . . I personally can recall having had to learn Ode to a Field Mouse, twice, as a punishment, while at school, and I can still only remember the first two lines. Any further knowledge might well include that he liked A Dram and was specially interested in women - two facts which could have been shrewd guesses -1 mean he was A Poet.
We often have current poets and songwriters perform their work at my gallery and had I been around all those years ago, I like to think I would have invited Robert Burns to do one of his works for us. By the same token, I think he may well have appreciated our small involvement in these Celebrations, had he been around today.
None of the contributors to the exhibition were Scottish although one had settled in Scotland and studied at Glasgow School of Art; another was born in Glasgow and studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College. Some contributors were self taught but most had benefited from formal art instruction; all responded in their individual ways to the works of the bard.
Jose Garcia y Mas was born in Canary Islands and studied at the Santa Cruz Art Academy. At the time of the exhibition he lived and worked in London. He is now based in Germany. On conclusion of the exhibition the artist gifted the painting to the South Ayrshire Council collections.
Kevin Harrison was born in Enfield, Middlesex in 1953. He studied at Norwich, Chelsea and Cardiff Schools of Art. He has been represented by the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery since 1984 but from 1973 he has shown widely in public and commercial galleries. Kevin's work is figurative, narrative even, now more than ever. His themes are urban life, human frailty, the squalor, violence and general untidiness of life, as well as its counterpart, the abundant humour that emerges from it and makes it bearable.
Sean Read was born in 1961 in Sheffield. He studied at Barnsley School of Art and Trent Polytechnic. He is represented in the collections at Glasgow Kelvingrove Museum; Return to Sender, a deliberately vulgar figure of Elvis Presley, greets visitors coming up the west stairs from the lower ground floor entrance.
Graham Ibbeson was born in Barnsley in 1951. He studied at Trent Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art, London. He has worked as a professional sculptor since 1978, exhibiting extensively in Europe and in the USA.
Kevin Harlow was born in 1952 at Peterborough. He studied at Birmingham College of Art and Leeds Polytechnic. His recent works come in all shapes and sizes, covering all subjects, from sculpting the Beatles for the Beatles Story Exhibition in Liverpool, to sculpting the Millenium Statue of Christ for the Ucheldre Centre at Holyhead. From humorous pieces for the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery, to the Gothic horror of the London Dungeon.
(This text is based on the exhibition catalogue and personal recollections of the exhibition organiser.)
©Photography by Harvey Dwight and individual artists.
Jose Garcia y Mas ~ Kevin Harrison ~ Sean Read ~ Graham Ibbeson ~ Kevin Harlow