Ash to Art

Ash to Art at Christies King St , 8 March 2017

Today, 25 truly remarkable artworks – all made with or from burnt fragments of the Mackintosh Library – will be auctioned at Christie’s for the benefit our campus appeal.

Having seen the works in the catalogue, the emotional response I had upon entering the small preview exhibition was rather unexpected. I was reminded of walking into the library for the first time post-fire: the punch in the gut, the lump in the throat, the tearing eyes. And perhaps most surprisingly, while standing in front of GSA alumni Martin Boyce’s wonderful ‘Spook School’ piece, a faint scent of smoke. A smell mostly long-vanished from the Mack, yet those of us who frequent its halls for the project still catch the occasional unexpected whiff.

Rachael Purse contemplates Martin Boyce’s work.

This was an experience shared by some of the contributing artists, as GSA alumni Chantal Joffe noted:

“Receiving the box was quite upsetting, like receiving the ashes of a dead friend. The charcoal was softer than I’m used to, it was hard to get an edge. As I drew, it released the smell of the fire.”

Rachael and I are in London for research, but we timed the trip to take in the auction, which will no doubt be very exciting. But from an academic perspective, it is bittersweet as this will be the only time this collection will be exhibited together before dispersed to fortunate private collectors – though there is always the hope that a savvy public collection will bid on some of these pieces, which are all rather reasonably priced, if you’ve got that kind of budget. My own lottery ticket didn’t come in, so sadly the Grayson Perry urn, poignantly preserving a bit of library-charcoal, won’t be coming home with me.

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Grayson Perry, ‘Art is dead Long live Art’. Charcoal from the Mackintosh Library in glazed ceramic. 21 x 10cm.

As a body of work, the lot is worth a much more considered analysis than I’ll offer in this quick post, but the range of responses is truly impressive. From Anish Kapoor‘s minimal encasement of an unaltered fragment in rich red Perspex to Tacita Dean‘s dreamy charcoal drawings, the variation in approaches is reflective of the manifold artistic practices taught at the Glasgow School of Art.

One GSA alumni, Alison Watt, offered and exquisitely minimalist canvas that to my eye looks very like an elegant detail from a piece of Mackintosh furniture. The work reflects the loss Watt felt, as many of us did, at the fire:

“I cried when I heard of the fire. The Glasgow School of Art has a particular hold over those who studied there, not only through its remarkable physical presence, but also as an idea. The idea of creativity coming from the wreckage resonated with me. I delicately shaved small slivers from the charred wood and ground them to a powder mixed with Payne’s Grey and Burnt Sienna oil colour, creating a particularly intense black. It’s a darkness which is hard to define.”

Alison Watt ‘Deep Within the Heart of Me’. Oil & charcoal from the Mackintosh Library on canvas. 46 x 46cm.

Some pieces are not such emotional responses, even irreverent, and I was particularly delighted by Joseph Kosuth’s ‘O.M.C.’ – of which he said:

The title ‘O.M.C’ signifies ‘One Mackintosh Chair’, which is a semi-ironic reference to that well-known early work of mine. So, potentially, the charcoal used in the drawing is the remains of the chair being depicted.”

Joseph Kosuth ‘O.M.C’. Charcoal from the Mackintosh Library on paper. 92.5 x 79.5cm.

Referencing his iconic 1965 ‘One and Three Chairs‘, a piece that opened my young art student mind to semiotics and conceptual art, it rang a doubly personal note.
But perhaps my most favourite piece – and surely I am biased here – is Sir Peter Blake’s velvety composite image of the library before and after the fire. The classic Annan photo hovers at the surface, in which the artist has employed his charcoal.

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Sir Peter Blake, ‘Untitled’. Inkjet graphite and charcoal from the Mackintosh Library on paper. 57.7 x 71cm.

The caption reads:

“Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the Library at Glasgow School of Art, both before and after the fire (his cravat is drawn in charcoal from the burnt Library).”

While my fingers are crossed for a massive return on the time and heart these artists invested and gave us, I confess a bit of sadness thinking these pieces will not be seen together again. Perhaps they might be gathered once more in another 100 years, when even the reconstructed areas of the Mack will again be viewed as historic cultural icons.

And here we go…

EDIT: What an exciting event! The final results can be viewed by clicking here (lots 240-264), but a quick & dirty calculation shows that the auction realised just under £570,000 for us! Deepest thanks to all the artists who gave time, care, and effort to support the Glasgow School of Art.

Celebrating Mackintosh

http://www.gsaarchives.net/archon/index.php?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=1337

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, ‘Autumn’, 1894. From ‘The Magazine’, November 1894. GSA Collection MC/G/6.

In addition to the delightfully cool, crisp autumnal weather, we especially welcome October at Glasgow School of Art as our students return and the campus becomes a hive of creative activity. We therefore thought it a particularly felicitous time to be launching this blog, which will highlight some of the research and activities related to the restoration and reconstruction of the Mackintosh Building (which we will refer to henceforth with our affectionate sobriquet ‘The Mack’).

October is also the month of the annual Mackintosh Festival. Each year the Glasgow Mackintosh group celebrates Charles Rennie Mackintosh (and company!) through a programme of talks, events, tours and exhibits. GSA staff have organised several great activities for the Mackintosh Festival, including talks by several of our Restoration Research Team members.

Our Mackintosh Curator Peter Trowles kicked things off with an enlightening talk on the evolution of the Mackintosh Building over the past 100 years. Walking tours will also continue to run every Saturday in October: these 2.5-hour perambulations around the city centre are given by our very own students and provide insights into Glasgow’s architectural and design history.

Indoors, the ground floor corridor of the Reid building is currently hosting an exceptionally beautiful exhibition, “The Mack” Digital Recovery Begins Physical Re-imagining. On display until the 29th of October, the exhibit features the astonishing laser scans of the Mack created by the GSA’s School of Simulation + Visualisation (formerly DDS). Cross-sections of the Mack post-fire have been enlarged and printed onto fabric to reveal the interior and exterior of the School in intimate detail, highlighting just how advanced laser scanning has become, but also providing a crucial record of the building that is being used by the Restoration Design Team as they bring back the Mack.

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Laser scan of the Mackintosh Building, 2014-15. School of Visualisation and Simulation, The GSofA.

On Monday 17th, we will be hosting an evening of short talks in the Reid’s main lecture theatre from 18:00-20:30. Entitled ‘State of the Mack’, this event will provide an excellent opportunity to hear from the experts working on the Mack Restoration & Collections Recovery projects. Speakers will share up-to-the-moment stories from our overarching reconstruction and conservation approaches, including the ground-breaking research being developed to restore the school’s scorched plaster casts and iconic library lights; as well as sharing news on the recovery of the library collection, the laser scanning project, and new discoveries about the Mack that have arisen from this important endeavour.

The following week, on Tuesday the 25th at 12:30, our Archivist Susannah Waters, will not only be discussing what life was like for the GSA’s 19th century students, but she will also be providing attendees with the opportunity to see original Mackintosh sketches and watercolours from the period.

We hope you will visit us during #MackintoshMonth, and follow this blog to keep up with us on our journey with this unique project. You can also follow us on Twitter @MackRestoration.

http://www.gsaarchives.net/archon/index.php?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=1068

Design for Glasgow School of Art: east/west elevations, 1897. GSA Collection, MC/G/60