GLASGOW ART SCHOOL

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A doorplate I photographed at GSoA in 2006.

When we were in Glasgow last week, the scaffolding on the art school obscured most of the Mackintosh building but indicated that it would soon be re-opened, improved beyond its condition when fire struck in 2014. Now comes the shocking news that another fire has damaged the building, undoing most of the painstaking restoration of the last three years.

The cause of the fire in not known yet. The 2014 fire was caused by gases from a canister used in a student project. (The Harrow art school fire at the University of Westminster in 2007 was also said to be caused by the ignition of materials used in a student project.) Will there be funds for another restoration?  I hope so: the Mackintosh building is Grade A listed and an important part of Scottish heritage.

Glasgow was one of the first British government art schools to teach pottery. In 1893 the school opened its Technical Art Studios, teaching stained glass, needlework, bookbinding, painting on china, and metalwork. The chairman of governors was James Fleming, a pottery manufaturer.

CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH (2)

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh, bedroom at The Hill House.

I contrasted the plain walls and restrained patterning in Mackintosh’s houses with the busy Arts and Crafts style, by which I really meant the style of Morris & Co., which many middle class homes had adopted by 1900. But Mackintosh, of course, shared many design ideas with the Arts and Crafts movement, including attitudes to ornamentation. When I looked at the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s website, I found that Mackintosh was a member (when it was the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society).

Alan Crawford’s biography relates an account of the Society deriding Mackintosh’s exhibits in 1896, but says that it’s hard to find evidence, and notes that he exhibited again in 1899 and 1916.

CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH

Glasgow is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and we went to see the Hunterian Gallery’s reconstruction of the house he designed for himself at Southpark Avenue, the exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum about the Glasgow Style, and The Hill House, his most important domestic project, made for the publisher William Blackie.

All the photos here were taken at Hill House, except the last, taken at Glasgow Art School.

Mackintosh lived at Southpark Avenue in the later years of his partnership with Honeyman and Keppie and just as he began to practice on his own, so the house was his business card. He and his wife remodelled it, added doors and windows and commissioned furniture, fittings and textiles. It was designed to be airy and open, they used pattern sparingly and most of the rooms have white walls. A rare innovation was fitted carpets, made from stitching together narrow-loom runners. The effect is forward-looking and modern and strikingly different from the busy Arts and Crafts style popular in England at the time.

Mackintosh’s inspirations are partly Japanese and partly Celtic but he made something new out of them, designing houses with light, clever management of space and controlled use of colour. (He objected to Mrs Blackie putting yellow flowers in Hill House.)

His buildings are so iconic that it is surprising to find that Mackintosh was not successful in Glagow and was more appreciated in Vienna, where he influenced the Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte. The Blackie family loved Hill House and lived there until the 1950s.

Mackintosh was meticulous and demanding and the Glasgow Art School was horribly late and over budget.

The Art School is still covered in scaffolding as it undergoes major repairs following the fire.

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THE SOCIETY OF DESIGNER CRAFTSMEN GALLERY

I went to the gallery of the Society of Designer Craftsmen (of which I’m a trustee) in Shoreditch, to meet our architect and Hackney Council’s conservation officer to talk about the Society’s proposed improvement of the building. We want to enhance the gallery space, with proper disabled access, and to make the upper storeys more useful.

The building, one of a group of four, is listed Grade II because of its significance in the South Shoreditch furniture industry, which flourished between 1860 and 1945. The group was built by William Ratcliffe in 1897 and is typical of the small workshops that dominated the area. Behind the Veneer, English Heritage’s history of the South Shoreditch furniture industry, records that it was organised into a network of interconnected trades in small workshops rather than big factories and that the production line was effectively the street, where work was passed from shop to shop.

Ratcliffe’s workshop is an interesting home for the Society of Designer Craftsmen because we began as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, with Walter Crane and William Morris as our first presidents. The work done by Arts and Crafts furniture makers, however, was quite different from that of the Shoreditch workshops, where “Curtain Road stuff” was a byword for cheap and nasty.

"ALTERNATIVE VISIONS", CHELTENHAM

Max Frances, Hidden

I was in Cheltenham at the weekend, exhibiting at Handmade in Britain in Cheltenham Town Hall, a well-chosen craft fair with very good quality work in all media. While I was there I went to The Wilson, Cheltenham’s museum and art gallery, which has a famous collection of Cotswolds Arts and Crafts, which I have wanted to see for a long time.

We caught The Wilson’s temporary exhibition “Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West” just before it closed on Sunday. Several of the artists deal with physical or mental pain and their work is raw and sometimes difficult to look at. I was struck by the directness of their statements and the absence of artbollocks.

Sometimes they are witty too. I very much liked Max Frances’s statement attached to his sculpture “Hidden”, in which he said, “I am an artist made of wire, string and the bones of someone else I used to be. For me, creativity is as necessary as respiration. I fight my demons with pencils, and paint them into corners. Inspiration comes from nature and the magic and mystery to be found behind the banal mask of the everyday. All nature is precious, but I am especially fond of vultures. As a scavenger myself, I enjoy using found, recycled and unexpected (cheap) materials. I find beauty that is overlooked, ignored or disdained.”

ARCHIBALD KNOX’S TEACHING

Following up Archibald Knox (above) after visiting the Kingston exhibition about Denise Wren and the Knox Guild, I found an article about him by Winifrid Tuckfield, Denise’s sister, in Mannin, a journal of Manx life, written in 1917.

Here is an extract, which shows his originality and independence of the national art curriculum.

“Mr. Knox’s system of teaching was essentially his own. Instead of insisting on the English method of art education by making laborious copies of scraps of museum specimens of ‘styles’ he made at his own expense three thousand lantern slides, illustrating works of art from prehistoric times down to the gipsy caravans of to-day, showing how Art was produced by the workman in the joy of using his chisel or hammer. To you of MANNIN it will be interesting to know that he gave lectures on your grey thatched homes, your churches, and your crosses, making us love them as if they were our own.”

The full article can be found here.

Knox was in post at Kingston art school in the first decade of the 20th century. By that time art education had been revolutionized by artists associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, notably at Birmingham (reformed in 1877) , Glasgow, the LCC Central School,  Camberwell and the RCA. Knox’s difficulties show how long it took the government schools to catch up. But change was coming fast. In 1916, Charles Holme, founder-editor of The Studio, published a survey of art schools that showed how they had all been shaped by the Arts and Crafts aesthetic.