Thursday 16th Jan 2020
5pm - 7pm
Demarco Wing (Level 0, Summerhall)
Saturday 18th Jan 2020
11am - 1pm
Demarco Wing (Level 0, Summerhall)
Saturday 15th Feb 2020
Led by Arthur Watson and Richard Demarco
2pm - 4pm
Opens Daily: 17th Jan - 16th Feb 2020*
Demarco Wing, Summerhall (Edinburgh) 1pm - 6pm
ARTHUR WATSON - RICHARD DEMARCO
This New Year of 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary, not only of the historic exhibition ‘>>Strategy: Get Arts<<’ but also the fiftieth anniversary of the year in which my life and that of Arthur Watson became inextricably entwinned. Arthur Watson was fortunate to be inspired, as a schoolboy at Aberdeen Grammar School, by the school’s art master Charles Hemmingway who had developed the habit of visiting the Edinburgh Festival to attend its exhibition programme. Among the exhibitions that he sought out in 1970 was that of the Demarco Gallery of what was defined as ‘avant-garde artists from Duesseldorf’. It was possessed of a palindromic title and had a large-scale catalogue which was designed as an art work in itself. On his return to Aberdeen, Charles Hemmingway thought fit to gift the catalogue to the youthful Arthur Watson with words which suggested that he wasn’t quite sure of the significance of the exhibition and its catalogue but certain that it would be of interest to Arthur Watson despite the fact that he had not able to experience the exhibition for himself.
I realise that my life has been blessed by my sixteen-year long friendship with Joseph Beuys. This resulted in Joseph Beuys making no less than eleven major art works in Scotland. Perhaps the most meaningful was the five-day performance work that Beuys entitled ‘Celtic Kinloch Rannoch: the Scottish Symphony’. This was his response to the fact that Felix Mendelssohn, in the 19th century, had visited Scotland and had focused his attention on the Island of Staffa as the palatial residence of Fingal, the father of Ossian. Together, they dominated the Celtic mythology of Scotland and Ireland. Felix Mendelssohn had been inspired to compose what has become a famous piece of music known as The Hebrides Overture. Joseph Beuys regarded this as a sentimental response to Fingal’s Cave. Joseph Beuys made eight visits to Scotland and longed for the fact that he would eventually experience the reality of Fingal’s Cave and the Island of Staffa. I managed to lead him to the pier at Oban only to see the last ferry of the day departing into the spectacular light of the setting sun. Like Joseph Beuys, Arthur Watson knew the importance of making the physical journey to Staffa and to the world of Ossian. Unlike Joseph Beuys, Arthur Watson actually reached the reality of Fingal’s Cave, and not only did he do so, but he is probably the only artist I know who managed to spend a night sleeping on Staffa, I imagine that he slept close to the site of what had been a Celtic monastery on Staffa as an extension of the world of St. Columba on Iona. The nearest that I ever managed to experience Staffa was when, in 1980, I circumnavigated the British Isles on board the barque ‘Marques’ and perhaps the nodal point of that 74-day voyage was when I realised that the sea was too unruly to land, despite the fact that the sun was shining and that the ‘Marques’ was a beautiful sailing ship in the shape of Darwin’s HMS Beagle sailed close to the opening of Fingal’s Cave.
I have total confidence in Arthur Watson as an artist-teacher because he has, over many years, been fully prepared to accept the challenge of expeditions on what I know as ‘The Road to Meikle Seggie’ under the aegis of ‘Edinburgh Arts’ within Scotland and beyond to Ireland and to the European Continent where we worked together with art schools, art galleries and museums and artists in their studios. They all represented nodal points on The Road to Meikle Seggie on which artists, art students and their teachers were tested to make art in direct response to where they found themselves as ‘artist-explorers’, particularly in Sarajevo at the Collegium Artisticum, the art schools of Ghent, Strasbourg and Budapest and at the Venice Biennale, particularly on that memorable occasion when Arthur Watson installed a large-scale art work in the official setting of the Biennale’s Giardini inspired by the light of the setting sun over the waters of the North Sea in relation to those of the Venetian Lagoon. For that, I am eternally grateful to Arthur Watson, as well to his collaboration with Dr. Euan McArthur for their determination to mount an exhibition entitled ‘Ten Dialogues’ at The Royal Scottish Academy, celebrating my eightieth birthday in the year 2010.
I was indeed pleased at the positive response from those whom I define as Friends of the Demarco Archive, not only the fifty or so who actually attended the Twelfth Night Celebration but all those who made contact by email to say that, due to varying circumstances, they could not attend. I do believe that all those who did attend fully understood the need for the art gallery where the event took place to be used as a permanent study space for anyone wishing to consider the Demarco Archive as an unique academic resource with particular reference to the fact that this New Year marks the fiftieth anniversary of arguably the most important contribution that the Demarco Gallery presented to the official exhibition programme of the Edinburgh International Festival. This exhibition brought with it the spirit of the international avant-garde to Scotland, challenging the Edinburgh Festival, the Scottish Arts Council, and indeed the cultural life of Scotland, particularly the history of the Demarco Gallery, to a breaking point.
In 1980, as a 10th anniversary celebration of ‘>>Strategy: Get Arts<<’ for the Edinburgh International Festival, Joseph Beuys personified the spirit of this exhibition by involving himself in a dialogue with The Special Unit of HMP Barlinnie. He was testing his theory that ‘everyone is an artist’, meaning that everyone is born to live a creative life, including those who had broken the rules of society and were serving life imprisonment. Beuys stated, unequivocally, that his art resulted from his essential role as a teacher using the language of art as a healing balm. ‘>>Strategy: Get Arts<<’, and his contribution to it, led inevitably to the Demarco Gallery questioning its function and purpose by daring to become a university of all the arts entitled ‘Edinburgh Arts’, in collaboration with Edinburgh University.
The celebratory Twelfth Night event should be considered in relation to an exhibition which is planned to open with a private view on 16th January in the Demarco Wing of Summerhall. This should be regarded as a highly significant exhibition which is entitled ‘>>Demarco : Watson – 50 Years on the Road<<’ and clearly relates to the ways in which I have relied on Arthur Watson, as a fellow explorer on the Road to Meikle Seggie and as the personification of ‘the artist as teacher’, to keep alight the flame ignited by ‘>>Strategy: Get Arts<<’ so that its challenging name is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago.
This exhibition calls into question the future of the Edinburgh Festival as well as the future of the Demarco Archive. It should help inject the spirit of ‘>>Strategy: Get Arts<<’ into this year’s Edinburgh Festival and also into the next Venice Biennale in 2021.
A few years ago, Arthur Watson and I contributed to the International Printmakers Conference, under the aegis of Dundee University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. This gave us the opportunity to speak about our art, working together, not only as artists, but also as art teachers. This was illustrated with images, not only from the Demarco Archive but also from Arthur Watson’s extensive archive. The text was published in a handsome publication which related our collaboration as printmakers to the historic importance of that particular conference.
Arthur Watson and I have been invited to expand upon and bring up-to-date that particular text in relation to the exhibition dedicated to the Romanian avant-garde artists of the sixties and seventies. This exhibition is entitled ’24 Arguments: Early encounters in Romanian Neo-Avant-Garde 1969-1971’ and is presented in the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest by The Institute of the Present. It has resulted from two years of extensive research by the founders of this institute - Stefania Ferdechau and Alina Serban -originating from the Demarco Archive. Both Arthur Watson and myself must surely consider the perceptive analysis of the exhibition by Jonah Kay, recently published online in the magazine ‘Hyperallergic’. Jonah Kay’s text elucidates that part of our collaborative work which is directly related to the cultural dialogue initiated in 1968 by the Demarco Gallery and supported by The Art Gallery of Aberdeen. Arthur Watson is one of the few authorities on this Edinburgh-Aberdeen-Bucharest cultural dialogue. It therefore seems entirely fitting and timely that this particular dialogue should be highlighted during this testing time resulting from the recent political developments.
It should be noted that Scotland’s history, as far back as that period when the Antonine Wall defined Scotland as the extreme north-western frontier of the Roman Empire, linked Scotland physically with the Roman south-eastern frontier on what is now defined as the Romanian Black Sea shoreline. The Roman Legionaries who were on guard duty in Scotland were not from Rome. They were from Dacia, now in the heartland of Romania.
Thankfully, in the Europe of today, long freed from the tyranny of The Iron Curtain, there is now a thriving Romanian community happily ensconced in Scotland, providing hope for the future development of a Scottish-Romanian dialogue, well-grounded in the history of both Romania and Scotland.