"I Am The Coyote"

University of Hull, Exhibition Space, Brymor Jones Library 28th August - 3rd November 2019

Photography © 2019 Marco Federici

Jimmy Boyle: Artist, Student, Participant in the Richard Demarco Gallery's Experimental

University of All the Arts: 'Edinburgh Arts' 74, 75 and 76

 

Jimmy Boyle was part of 'Edinburgh Arts 74'. As a participant in 'Edinburgh Arts 74', Jimmy Boyle was not a prisoner but a student and an artist working with the other participants.

 

'Edinburgh Arts' developed as a direct result of my friendship with Joseph Beuys in 1970. I introduced him to the English-speaking art world of Europe in Scotland.  I had been much impressed by Beuys' concept that 'everyone is an artist'. The exhibition 'Strategy: Get Arts' sowed the seeds which resulted in the Demarco Gallery becoming an experimental university of all the arts. Like Joseph Beuys, my art was my teaching and regarded Beuys' masterpiece 'Celtic Kinloch Rannoch' as a thought-provoking example of an art lesson expressing the role of Joseph Beuys as a teacher. I had to wait until 1972, when I established 'Edinburgh Arts' as an experimental university of all the arts inspired by Black Mountain College in North Carolina, when I could invite Joseph Beuys to return to Scotland as an artist-teacher and therefore be part of a university faculty in which the Demarco Gallery would be working in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and in particular the School of Scottish Studies and the School of Extra-Mural Studies as well as the Edinburgh City Art Gallery.

 

So it seemed inevitable that when Joseph Beuys returned to Edinburgh in 1973, he was a member of the faculty of the University which I had entitled 'Edinburgh Arts 73'. He contributed to the programme of 'Edinburgh Arts' in 1973 by working in close collaboration with Tadeusz Kantor and his Cricot 2 Theatre as well as with the Romanian artist-teacher Paul Neagu and the Serbian artist Marina Abramovic. He also collaborated with Caroline Tisdall and with George and Cordelia Oliver as artists. Beuys' most important contribution to the 1973 academic programme was his 'Twelve Hour Lecture' inspired by Anarchasis Cloots. Anarchasis Cloots was an inspiration to Joseph Beuys because he personified the true nature of freedom thus the 'Twelve Hour Lecture' was essentially about the life of Anarchasis Cloots and his involvement with the French Revolution. In 1973 I was concerned about the fact that Germany was divided by the Iron Curtain and indeed East Germany, like a large part of Eastern Europe, could be identified as a prison on a large scale containing many important artists who had been deprived of their freedom under Stalinist communist rule.  

 

The principal concerns of 'Edinburgh Arts' were embodied in the nature of the role of the artist in society, the Beuysian concept of 'social sculpture'. Beuys firmly believed that by using the language of the arts a human being is expressing the purest concept of freedom.  

 

In 1968, I began the first of over 30 crossings of the Iron Curtain focusing my creative energy on how to make manifest the art of those artists, particularly from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, who were oppressed under the Soviet Communist empire. I discovered that the art of these countries possessed an energy and a truth which I could rarely find in a so-called 'democratic' society.   Because Joseph Beuys was essentially concerned with the language of art as an expression of freedom, it was inevitable that I should have invited him to help me deal with the challenge of the Special Unit in Glasgow's HM Prison Barlinnie. 'Edinburgh Arts 73' coincided with the opening of the Special Unit and therefore I found it necessary to include the world of the Special Unit in that of 'Edinburgh Arts', particularly because, in 1972, I had found myself presenting my Edinburgh Arts programme in what had been a notorious prison known as the Forrest Hill Poorhouse. It was Edinburgh's version of London's Bedlam. It was where the great Scottish poet Robert Fergusson died among countless numbers of those who represented the detritus of 18th century society.  

 

Joseph Beuys questioned the language of art history when he made his famous art work 'How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare' in 1965. This was followed by his equally notorious example of 'performance art' in 1974, this was entitled 'I like America, America likes me' in which he was involved in dialogue with a coyote as a creature despised by twentieth century American society. Jimmy Boyle was undoubtedly the personification of the success of the Special Unit in transforming a convicted murder into a highly regarded artist. I therefore knew that 'Edinburgh Arts' in the Poor House would provide the ideal setting for me to introduce Jimmy Boyle to Joseph Beuys during the 1974 Edinburgh Festival and for Jimmy Boyle to choose to introduce himself with the words: 'I am the Coyote'. That was the beginning of an historic, life-enhancing friendship and artistic collaboration which made it clear that the art of Jimmy Boyle was not to be consigned to that which is defined as 'prison art' and indeed the art of Jimmy Boyle in his sculpture and in his writings is an expression of art on the highest professional level. Through his art, he bestowed upon himself the freedom which all artists enjoy.

 

During 'Edinburgh Arts 75', Jimmy Boyle's participation in 'Edinburgh Arts' was further developed and enhanced by his collaboration with the American artist David Jansheski and the Polish artist Zbigniew Makarewicz and Barbara Koslowska in which, though incarcerated in the Special Unit, Boyle was able to be a full participant with them in the journey undertaken by 'Edinburgh Arts' from Edinburgh to Callanish and back again. This was achieved by a daily interchange of letters between David Jansheski, myself and Jimmy Boyle but also between Boyle and other 'Edinburgh Arts' participants, taking the form of postcards entrusted to the Royal Mail at all points of the journey. This dialogue was published in the form of an art work in the form of a limited edition publication which, together with correspondance, art works and sculptures by Boyle, played a central role in the 'Edinburgh Arts' exhibition 'From Hagar Qim to Callanish'. This took place in the then derelict Fruitmarket building in Market Street by Edinburgh Waverley Station which was to become, in 1980, the Edinburgh City Art Gallery and Art Centre.

 

Jimmy Boyle described the collaboration between himself, me, Jansheski, Makarewicz, Koslowska and the other 'Edinburgh Arts' participants thus: 'The journey that the 'Edinburgh Arts' group were about to embark on was shrouded in a mist of hidden qualities that embrace Time, Space, Art, and Society, each of which must be clarified in relation to people, and this was the salient point of the exercise - People. By design the group set out from an area that was a superstructure of modern technology containing electronic eyes, barbarous wire, radar equipment, all surrounded by huge walls. This space is a monument to society's failure to make positive social advances, the antithesis of the monuments at Callanish where the group were heading. Within the huge walls there is contained a minute sample of society - six men - who are so physically restricted that their total space is a few steps in any given direction. The journey is significant in that it defined unequivocally the restrictions of certain 'civilised' dwelt-in spaces in relation to those uninhabited. As the groups parted within the walls, the 'Edinburgh Arts' group walked through all the electronic devices unfettered, whereas the restricted group stopped short of the door. Communication was then to be the link between both parties, the one walking/driving to the far north-west of Scotland through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, the other pacing, colliding, clashing within the small area. Times were made for correspondence each day, some religiously kept to, others not, but the mail flowed in abundance either way. The focusing point of the journey was the centre fold between that which is real, and unreal, therefore, a balance had to be struck in order to keep track of the here and now. It was a search for truth and sanity - a catharsis of the present and a return to the past to find it. the interchange of ideas between the groups is basically a fusion of minds co-operating on a project that brings people closer together. A closeness that in many ways transcends the physical barriers that prevent the restricted group from taking the journey physically together. Objects sent by the 'Edinburgh Arts' group are personifications of the spaces they had been to, i.e. flowers, grass, peat, and stones. Correspondence sent from an area of confinement to spaces that are the essence of freedom, all of which contained connotations relative to the wider spectrum of society. It was a combination of mental processes, using art as the medium to achieve positive co-operation and social consciousness.'

 

It was therefore through 'Edinburgh Arts' as an experiment in art education, and not the concept of an art gallery such as that of the Traverse, or indeed the Demarco Gallery, that Jimmy Boyle was able to engage in a fruitful dialogue with Joseph Beuys which resulted in Joseph Beuys identifying himself as Jimmy Boyle in 1976 when he opened the exhibition of Jimmy Boyle's sculpture in the Demarco Gallery in Monteith House in Edinburgh's Royal Mile. This exhibition was significantly entitled 'In Defence of the Innocent'. It would therefore seem entirely appropriate that the exhibition entitled 'I am the Coyote' is presented under the aegis of the University of Hull and its involvement together with City of Hull in the Hull Freedom Festival because all the existing programmes I associate with the Edinburgh Festival in the 1970s involving Glasgow's Special Unit in HMP Barlinnie are significant to a striking degree to those involving the community I was privileged to meet in HMP Humberside. There I was most impressed to experience how the friendship between Joseph Beuys and Jimmy Boyle is a source of lifeenhancing inspiration embodied in what must be considered as an exhibition which gives new meaning to what Joseph Beuys defined as 'New Beginnings in the Offing' in which all those who live, work in and inhabit Yorkshire's prisons can live a life of creativity.

 

Professor Richard Demarco Kingston University, Emeritus Professor of European Cultural Studies Edinburgh 5.7.19

 © 2019 

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