Sensational, emotional, voyeuristic and grim; does this year’s Mayfest visual art programme sum up the psyche of Glasgow? Beatrice Colin reviews a selection.
The first picture in Canvassing the C lydc at Kelvingrove is a life-size black-and-white
photograph of painter Stanley Spencer at a Clydeside shipyard. He stands guffawing. clutching a roll of
toilet paper on which he used to sketch while a crowd ’
of shipbuilders watch. granite-faced, as if contemplating a human freak show. The feeling was
obviously mutual as Spencer‘s long, thin paintings of
the riveters, welders. burners and caulkers depict enclosed panoramas where dynamic humanoid cogs toil in the enormous shipbuilding mechanism.
As well as displaying a number of paintings lent by the Imperial War Museum. this exhibition is also an intelligent and interesting examination of the reality
behind the pictures. The gallery has been transformed
into a quasi-shipbuilding environment where large wooden and brass structures replace flats and the floor is partly set with a vast metal plate.
Set against wire netting and placed alongside his pencil studies. Stanley’s large-scale pieces bristle with clanking industry. He took one skill as the subject for each painting. and in Plumbers the men curl and stretch among wriggling pipes. distorted by physical effort. In all, his compositions are
decorative with dozens of ﬁgures woven into crisp and ﬂuid scenes which resound with suggested
The show is also interactive. capitalising on the public’s interest in the heyday ofthe yards and apart from the somewhat predictably wandering oral history on tape, there are original tools. a vintage ﬁlm and comments from workers who were around in the I940s.
Yet where this exhibition succeeds is in its investigation of the gap between reality and blatant celebrationary propaganda. Spencer never claimed he understood his subjects. makes no political comment, and although his work is fascinating. it is devoid of any emotional content. In contrast. the lay-out and direction of the show aches with nostalgia. The truth must lie somewhere in between.
French artist. Christian Boltanski‘s work is also partly concerned with Glaswegian heritage. Lost Property — one of his three concurrent shows — at Tramway makes a reference to the building’s original purpose as a tram depot.
A warehouse has been set up with rows and rows of labelled objects such as gloves. wallets. homework jotters. rosary beads and of course umbrellas which have all been found on buses and handed into the city’s depositories over the last year. Some have details of exactly who found them and when. and others are simply bizarre. like a couple of wheelchairs or a pair of white knickers.
But wandering round the show trying to summon up short histories of loss fails to spark the imagination. The objects didn‘t seem to matter much to the people who lost them or they would have claimed them. Even the gallery couldn‘t validate their existence. As an exhibition. it employs an attractive conceptual idea but the execution renders it ultitnately facile.
Boltanski‘s other major show. Dead Swiss at the CCA is marginally more interesting. Towers ofold tin boxes each labelled with a small black and white photographic portraits create a forest of stacks which a limited number of viewers are invited to wander through. The people represented all died in Valais in
Duncan Shank's ‘Trocs by the Clyde' Study VIII Switzerland in 1991 and the pictures were cut out of the local newspaper obituary column. Big deal. you cry. but the actual experience of walking through the boxes is a sobering. haunting one.
Like a gust of fresh air. the work in The Creative Process at the Hunterian focuses on Duncan Shanks' paintings of his garden which overlooks the Clyde at Crossford. Two poplars and a couple of damson trees veil the view ofthe river. and Shanks spent four years continually returning to the same place and sketching thejagged forms ofthe trees.
One piece Red Pole and Pink Cloud painted in 1978 is at the heart of the show and is flagged by other related paintings. sketches. and mixed media studies from the same period. They reveal how Shanks explored the scene and recorded a fleeting summer sun or damp winter rain in spontaneous line and colour. But the works are not simply abstracted and instead capture the tension of an atmosphere or an emotional response to a particular time of year or state of mind. More ofShanks’ work is currently being exhibited at Roger Billcliffe Fine An and both shows ought to be seen for the deftness and diligence of the artist‘s approach.
David Hosie‘s work at the Compass is much more disturbing as it takes the human face ofpoveny, despair and death as its subject. Desolate figurative studies in oils. etching. drypoint and pencil depict Armageddon in 93. Men are wrapped in barbed wire. they travel through burning wastelands or await execution. Women with black eyes stare hopelessly or drink with cripples in sordid-looking bars in Leith Docks.
Hosie‘s figures are reminiscent of Peter Howson in their slightly clumsy posture. Depicting the impotence he obviously feels in the face of atrocities around the world. the subjects look inwardly warped and socially chastised. His portraits echo Otto Dix in style but are soaked in bleak. sombre melancholy. Canmssing the Clyde is at K elvingmve until 7 Aug; Christian Bullanski is at 'I’ramway and C CA until [2 Jun; Duncan Shanks is at Hunterian tutti! 25 Jan and David Hosie is at The Compass tutti! l 9 May.
The List 6—!9 May 1994 59