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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Richard Demarco - Art Alchemist Extraordinaire

The feature below appeared in The Herald Arts supplement on December 18th

I interviewed Richard earlier this year for the current issue of Homes & Interiors Scotland. I'll post it when the mag goes off sale - but it's a good read anyway, so why not buy one and forget about the weather.

The Royal Scottish Academy
The Mound, Edinburgh
0131 225 6671
Until 9 January
Earlier this year, in advance of this exhibition celebrating legendary art alchemist Richard Demarco’s contribution to the visual arts in Scotland, I spent a few hours in the company of the man himself.
Demarco is one of these figures who seems to have been around forever. But it’s not until you sit down – or to be more precise move around – with him from one place to the next (both mentally and physically), that you gain an insight into what makes this man tick.
Scotland’s most celebrated Anglo-Italian man of letters, may have celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, but he redefines the cliché ‘sprightly pensioner’. During the few hours I spent in his company, we sped around his vast archive at Craigcrook Castle on the outskirts of Edinburgh (‘over there, my dear, lies the birthplace of the Enlightenment’) and drove to his long suffering assistant’s house for an unscheduled lunch.
All this via an instructive detour to Cramond Brig which included a lesson on ‘Pet Marjorie’, a little girl whose short life is commemorated there on a plaque and whose published journal was a huge success in Victorian times. This was followed by an extensive ‘on-the-record’ chat about his life and times followed by the highly entertaining ‘unofficial interview’ over lunch. So far, so Demarco.
As one of the co-founders of Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 1963, Demarco went on to establish the Richard Demarco Gallery in 1966, which in turn set up close links with a seam of international avant garde artists from behind what was then known as The Iron Curtain. Through this, names such as Tadeusz Kantor, Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Gunther Uecker and Paul Neagu were introduced to Scottish audiences.
Demarco also regularly mounted exhibitions and sourced opportunities for Scottish artists on the continent. The maelstrom of creative collaboration generated by the coming and going between Eastern Europe and Scotland coalesced in the pivotal exhibition Strategy: Get Arts, held during the Edinburgh Festival in 1970.
This new exhibition, mounted by the RSA in association with the National Galleries of Scotland, pays tribute to Demarco as he celebrates his 80th birthday by giving him his place as the man who introduced audiences in the UK to the international avant-garde and who created a slipstream which saw Scottish artists take their work to hitherto unexplored parts of Europe.
The six international artists represented here are; Kantor, Beuys, Abramovic, Abakanowicz, Uecker and Neagu, while the four from Scotland are Rory McEwen, Alastair MacLennan, Ainslie Yule and David Mach.
Artist and academic Arthur Watson, who has played a key role in digitising the mammoth online Demarco Archive which is now available online, was heavily involved in curating the 10 Dialogues exhibition through his role as RSA Secretary. He describes his old friend and colleague as someone who ‘has never been a follower.’

“This whole exhibition grew out of the experience of working on the archive. It became abundantly clear as the digital archive took shape that we were dealing with key images in at history.

“Richard believes he is there to bring artists to people. He is at his best in a room enjoying old style teaching – when it’s all about the charisma of the teacher. He thinks art is all about physical things in a real world and he there is a particular feeling too of him being connected to the artist who made it.

There are some remarkable sights to be seen in this exhibition, which runs until the middle of next month. Abakanowicz's Court of King Arthur, fills the main gallery with a glowering group of griffons and other strange, mythic creatures fabricated from welded steel. The contribution from Beuys takes the form of blackboards, sections of blackboards, film and photographs of the epic ‘action’ trip made with Demarco to Kinloch Rannoch in August 1970. Also on show from Beuys are Three Pots Action Object, and New Beginnings are in the Offing, made in Edinburgh for events organised and presented by Demarco.
There is also photographic documentation by Demarco of performances and actions, such as Abramovic’s Rhythm 10 and films of Beuys, Kantor, Abramovic and Neagu, including the latter’s Gradually Going Tornado', broadcast in 1974 by Grampian TV.
Some works are being shown in Scotland for the first time ever, including Yule’s sculptures and drawings, made over the last year, MacLennan’s installation NOR KNOW NEMESIS and two large-scale portraits of the man himself by David Mach, whose ‘big heids’ by the side of the M8 are familiar to many viewers – unconsciously or consciously.

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