Starting a new series of articles in 2020, in which I go back and reflect on some of the experiences I had last year. This is the first one: ‘Glasgow Drawing Club’ was a group exhibition of 12 Glasgow-based or Glasgow-connected emerging artists in the Cookhouse Gallery, Chelsea College of Arts, 7th – 11th November 2019.
In November 2019, during the final part of my MA at Chelsea, I did what I had wanted to do since first attending the university’s open day in February 2018 and hearing about what the course had to offer: I put on an exhibition of 12 Glasgow artists in our Cookhouse Gallery, bringing together my past and present, and keeping doors unlocked for the future.
Patti, our MAFA commander, kindly offered me the Cookhouse space for this exhibition – even though it was technically to be solely used by the new MA students – as the GDC project theoretically was the kind of project that widened networks and brought together disparate artist communities in a collaborative and mutually supporting exchange, exactly the ethos that this course was founded on.
It was important to me to come full circle at the end of the MA, which finished in December, by bringing in artists from my home into our gallery space at Chelsea, sharing with a new audience their/our experiences of survival, support, art school and the city of Glasgow, all things which form a huge part of my personal identity. To celebrate these amazing artists, I could only offer my time, energy and my access to the central London gallery space. It was the first time I’d ever curated a show solo, chosen the participants, installed by myself and did everything else by myself. It was liberating to have it come together and have the show exactly as I wanted, but that week was exhausting. Organising and installing an exhibition around full-time work was not an experience I hope to repeat. However, it is not something I would have been capable or even would have conceived of doing before starting the MA in London, so it’s important to acknowledge that growth.
The feedback from the participating artists and visitors was overwhelmingly positive. The quality and beauty of the selected work shone through, complimenting each other in their variety and vibrancy, and interest was maintained by the unexpected definitions of drawing and the experimental, alternative art practices demonstrated by the artists that hopefully inspired the current students with some fresh ideas.
It was the curation that I actually really enjoyed, which I haven’t so much in the past, as it brought interesting challenges. As most of the artwork came to me by post, I was worried the drawings would be appear small and look bitty, and the space would feel too empty, but fortunately for me some of my friends were very generous and sent me quite a lot of drawings and pieces that helped to bridge the gap. As the Cookhouse is so well-known to me, exhibiting my work or attending events in there weekly for the past 15 months, I also wanted to curate in a way that I hadn’t seen done before in that space, challenging myself to find different curatorial solutions rather than the automatic.
It turned out that it is five whole years since the Mackintosh fire and our graduation from the Glasgow School of Art. We talked about doing a Glasgow Drawing Club show (including my work next time!) every 5 years, as a kind of arty reunion. It did indeed feel very reunion-y, which wasn’t intended; I think just a large group of us working on something art-related together and reminiscing a little made it feel like Glasgow, a time warp. A pleasant, unexpected result; an important reminder of my origins.
Below is my statement for the press release that accompanied the exhibition:
“This show came from a simple trio of ideas: my memories of the life room at art school; the artists I first met as a student at the Glasgow School of Art; and my relationship with my home town of Glasgow now that I have moved away and can see it as an outsider. I asked friends from home to share this show with me and reflect upon these three themes.
The twelve artists exhibiting in this show all studied with me at the Glasgow School of Art between 2009 and 2016; most studied Painting & Printmaking and were in my class. Some came from further away to study at GSA, some were born and bred in Glasgow. Most of the work shown is brand new (such as Hannah Clarkson-Dornan’s drawings, made with her students specially for this show, finished only this week) but some is from our time as students, reworked or salvaged (such as Kate Gallagher’s small framed works on paper, rescued from the Mackintosh fire in 2014).
Over the past five years, all the artists in this exhibition now demonstrate interesting alternative practices, which I think Glasgow is especially able to accommodate. Some have set up their own freelance businesses giving workshops and access to equipment in their specialist area, such as Mobile Print Studio and Dastardly Line. Others have gone into education, such as Hannah and Kate, and others work in contemporary art galleries, museums, archives, art school technical workshops, artist publishing. A few have gone into post-graduate education, with Ella Porter just starting at the RCA and Ailsa Sutcliffe studying arts community engagement at University of Glasgow.
This show is a way to connect with old friends and celebrate their achievements; to reconsider our formative years together, and the good and bad of our art school education; to consider alternative practices, supporting oneself and the work one wants to make, the importance of your city and community around you. And underpinning all this, as only such a fundamental activity can do, is the simple act of drawing.”