Scotsmanless

Scotsmanless Scarf designed by Atelier, E.B, EDINBURGH, ©Atelier E.B, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: HC2018.17

The Scotsmanless scarf is a remarkably concise object. Fabricated out of supple grey and black lambswool, the piece features the historical masthead of The Scotsman newspaper reimagined in the form of a football scarf. The graphic simplicity of the pattern, inverted from recto to verso, resembles in no small measure the contrastive black-and-white layout characteristic of historical newspaper printing. The Scotsman was founded in the early 19th century as a radical liberal paper that set itself against what it regarded as privilege and corruption. Broadly supportive of parliamentary reform, regional self-determination, and transparency, the newspaper grew increasingly prominent in the decades that followed and eventually came to occupy an iconic Edwardian building in central Edinburgh.

The history of the newspaper serves as a kind of shorthand for broader changes wrought by economic modernisation over the course of the 20th century, not only to once-thriving Scottish industries but also to a broader marketplace of information. Over the course of the 19th century the paper—a longstanding voice of Scottish political liberalism—was quick to adopt new technical innovations such as the electric telegraph in 1866 and the use of a rotary printing press in 1872. More recently, this has included the decline of hot metal typesetting and attendant introduction of computers into the production process in 1987, followed by the launch of a website in 1999. The significant contraction of print media in subsequent decades has seen The Scotsman’s geographic displacement from the centre of Edinburgh and its material downscaling from a broadsheet to a compact tabloid size whose smaller format is better suited to use by commuters. It is tempting to read these forms of contraction and displacement as emblematic of broader decline in the power of prestige print media and of traditional regional information ecosystems. The original remit of The Scotsman had been to expose local forms of corruption and malpractice; it seems deeply suggestive that the paper’s subsequent headquarters in Holyrood Road were recently taken over by a Scottish video game maker, which trades in highly immersive, fictive digital media environments.

Design for ‘Scotsmanless Scarf’, Atelier E. B, EDINBURGH (Designed by), ©Atelier E.B, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: HC2018.20(9)

Of course, the text of the paper’s name is conspicuously missing from the masthead in Scotsmanless. Instead, the motif frames the subtly variegated fabric of the lambswool itself. Here another history comes into view: that of the weaving industry that thrived in mid-19th century Scotland. The scarf was made in collaboration with Begg x Co, which, like The Scotsman, dates to the 19th century. And, like the paper whose masthead it partially reproduces, the scarf is very much a product of regional Scottish histories of labour and technology. The company was founded by Alex Begg in 1866 in Paisley. The Scottish town was the centre of the weaving industry in Victorian Britain and was famed for its production of textiles bearing the Persian and Indian teardrop motif now synonymous in the English-speaking world with its name. In the early 19th century, highly skilled Paisley weavers were known for their political radicalism and their influential support of reform during the economic downturn that followed the Napoleonic Wars. The weaving industry was also notable for its inclusion of women, who had traditionally done a great deal of spinning and who made up more than half of the industrial cloth production workforce by the middle of the century. The Scottish textile industry was — and still is — particularly vulnerable to shifts in consumer behaviour and international supply chains. By the time Begg x Co was founded, many of Paisley’s mills had already gone bankrupt in response to both the economic crises of the 1840’s and the later disruption of the cotton supply brought about by the American Civil War in the 1860’s. The company relocated to Ayr on the west coast in 1902 and the last of the Paisley mills closed in 1933.

To an extent, then, the Scotsmanless scarf is a product of two of the foremost industries of 19th century Scotland, industries particularly embedded within a tradition of radical progressive politics. Animated by steam-powered rotaries, the printing press and the power loom were agents of economic modernisation and political reform that were deeply rooted in Scottish regionalism. Rather than read Scotsmanless as a eulogy for these industries, though, we might think about how their histories are revived and refashioned into a new kind of living object. The piece remains a product of highly skilled Scottish labour but one whose mobility and mutability can accommodate a much more diverse set of identities and lived practices.

Author Details:

Stephanie O’Rourke is a lecturer in art history at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on 18th- and 19th-century European visual culture, particularly in relation to scientific knowledge, spectatorship, and media technologies.

An Interview with Barbara Rae

Achill Beach, Barbara Rae CBE RA FRSE, HC2013.60, ©Barbara Rae

In 2020, Clare Fisher, research fellow at the University of St Andrews has been focusing on the Harry and Margery Boswell Collection. Some of this work has included conducting interviews with some of the well known Scottish contemporary artists who have works in the collection. A number of the works are by Barbara Rae CBE RA FRSE. Here’s what she had to say about her work!

A number of your works in the Boswell Collection reference places in Ireland. What is the personal significance of these places?

BR: The Celtic culture, the archaeology, pre-modern and contemporary history of the Ireland is fascinating. The people are the dividend, their sense of community, and their intimate knowledge of their heritage. I have travelled to the West of Ireland for twenty years now because there is always something new to discover.

In the past you’ve spoken about the importance of becoming familiar with a setting and gaining an insight into its history. How does this influence your practice?

An artist has to know what it is they are painting. Research is the key. They have to have an intimate knowledge of their matter. My inspiration is socio-political; I record the passage of time. I refine and refine. To do that, I visit a place for weeks sketching and taking notes, and only later – sometimes years – begin creating paintings or prints in my studio from the sketches.

When you look back on your works do they conjure memories of the particular place they relate to?

Sometimes I look at past work and think of revisiting the place, to see what changes there have been since last there. I visit a place many times, for example, I visited the Arctic four times, each time seeing something new. The time frame is important to me.

Are there any artworks or artists that have had a significant influence on your practice? Can you see this influence in any of the works in the Boswell Collection?

There are a few notable painters – mostly Spanish – who have relevance to what I do, but I have never absorbed their work to the point my output is influenced in any way. I evolved my own ‘style’ of expression and techniques from early art school days, developing them endlessly, which is probably why I have never seen any artist of distinction do what I do.

You have mentioned before that you are drawn to places ‘where people have intruded on the landscape’ (2007). Has the current climate crisis had an impact on how you approach subject matter?

Yes, of course. I am forced to cancel trips to far off places. There are a dozen places I want to visit but cannot because modes of transportation are extremely limited in the pandemic. For example, I cannot get back to Ireland unless I quarantine for two weeks.

Have you ever felt compelled to do some work on the landscape and seascapes of St Andrews?

I am not a landscape artist. Topography is not the attraction; people and the history of the location is the motivation. Also, I prefer the distinctive quality light of the west coast, its sharpness and drama, superior to the east coast.

How big a part does the viewer’s reaction to your art play in the making of it?

None at all. An artist would never lift a brush or open a tube of paint if worried about

what the public thought of the end result.

Strong horizons and horizontals are dominant in many of your works in the Boswell Collection (e.g. Moy Bank, Sea Gate, Dead Sunflowers). What is it about this axis that you find so appealing?

It all depends on the subject – if painting Leith Docks there would be no horizon, and in fact there is none in quite a few others.

Do you use colour for symbolic meaning in your work?

No.

The majority of your works in the Boswell Collection are silkscreen prints, what is it about this method that you are drawn to?

I don’t like ‘screenprints’ because if not handled correctly the outcome can be flat, poster-like. The process is difficult to achieve the perfection I need because it’s a multilayered process. Often I layer anything from 30 to 60 different colours to achieve the print image I want. Other printmaking techniques, such as collagraph and etching, are much more forgiving for creating surface and texture. For all I try to create what is in my imagination, I welcome dissonance, that is, unpredictable results.

Dr Barbara Rae CBE RSA RE

Doug Cocker’s Rotterdam

Rotterdam, Doug Cocker, Hollow L-shaped wall-mounted sculpture made of mulberry and yew wood and depicting the distinctive qualities of the port of Rotterdam, HC2017.2, ©Doug Cocker

Doug Cocker’s Rotterdam belongs to a body of work that the artist created between 2004 and 2006. In 2004 he successfully applied for a major award from Creative Scotland, with a proposal to visit cities that he had never previously visited and which were linked by the North Sea, with the objective to create works inspired by the spirit of each place. Over the following months, Cocker travelled to Copenhagen, Hamburg and Rotterdam.

In Copenhagen, he was struck by the hand-wrought nature of the architecture and the extent to which the built environment is punctuated by numerous towers and spires.

In Hamburg, his attention was drawn to how the city’s footprint is determined by two sizeable bodies of water, the Aubenalster and the Binnenalster, which are connected by a narrow waterway.

In Rotterdam, meanwhile, it was the sheer magnitude of the port that inspired Cocker, extending as it does for forty-two kilometres inland. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was drawn to the towering verticality and gigantism of the docks’ infrastructure.[i]

On his return to his studio in rural Angus, Cocker developed his impressions of these three port cities in drawings, etchings and small-scale models. Later, he embarked on a number of large-scale sculptures in timber. In each of these media, sinewy, hard-edged forms predominate, some loosely reminiscent of the angular shapes of buildings silhouetted against low, maritime horizons, others suggestive of the diagrammatic line of a watercourse as it might appear on a map.

Cocker, however, operates at a high level of abstraction, and the viewer who is intent on identifying detailed, recognisable motifs within these works is likely to be disappointed. It is considerably more helpful to regard these visits as his creative catalysts, stimulating him to introduce new themes and shapes into his already-rich, form-making repertoire.

Cocker is a sculptor who frequently seeks inspiration from specific topographies. In the years preceding his 2004 travels, he undertook similar trips to County Mayo in Ireland and to Malta, journeys which, in both instances, generated new bodies of work.

He also created multi-part relief works with titles such as Landsongs, Fast Horizons, and Travelled Landscapes, which writers justifiably associate with the undulating fields and farmlands of Tayside, where he was brought up, and where he has chosen to make his home.[ii]

The serial format of these abstract sculptures encourages viewers to notice small variations in the compositions, and to interpret their rhythmic modifications as reflective of the ever-changing play that weather, mood and point of view have on our impressions of a place.

There is, however, no poetics of locality of the kind that Cocker explores without an attendant investment in travel. Only by actually being in a topography and moving through it can anyone experience place as an enveloping presence, and only by passing onwards is it possible to become receptive to changes in the character and ambience of different surroundings.

While the works comprising Cocker’s ‘Nouns of Europe’ series are about places, they also invoke an associated interest in movement and connection. Rotterdam is no exception.

Rotterdam is currently installed in a stairwell in the School of Art History building on North Street, and is over two metres high, looming well above anyone who is passing from one storey to the next. As you ascend from the building’s ground level it looms suddenly into view, and feels disproportionately large, which is in keeping with Cocker’s intent on conveying the industrial gigantism that is to be seen in this major port.

It’s also worth remembering that Rotterdam’s docks are an international transportation hub, connected by water to hundreds of other harbours around the globe. And this linear work, which loosely resembles a giant L-shape, also strongly implies a sense of directionality, as if marking a definite course between points.

There is another dimension to Rotterdam, though, which is unmissable to anyone who pays the work even a passing glance. Rotterdam is constructed from tree boughs, and Cocker preserves in the finished piece the bulbous, undulating, curving surfaces of the stout branches from which it was sawn. The prominent lower, right-angle bend is, for instance, the crook of a limb.

But if you pay the work further attention you soon notice that Rotterdam is not exactly a found form, and that the timber has been substantially worked. The bark and pithy outer layers have been filed down and abraded before being sanded over, fissures have been filled with epoxy, a small wedge extends from a knothole plug in the lower, horizontal section. There are also visible saw lines running the length of the branches from top to bottom. If you stand at right angles, you also notice that a square channel appears to be gouged into the wood, implying that the branches are at least partially hollow.

I discussed the construction process with Cocker and was surprised to learn how elaborate the procedure had been.[iii] He told me that the timber derived from two sources. He had been approached by a farmer who owned a field near Coupar Angus which had a row of damson trees running along the banks of a burn on one side. In 2004, several had blown down in a gale, and were blocking the water’s passage. In exchange for clearing up the banks and restoring the stream’s path, the farmer invited Cocker to take the timber.

Damson wood is not commonly worked and is seldom commercially available. But it is prized by woodturners for its deep rich tones, which we see in the upper section of the work’s vertical element.

The lower segment of the sculpture, however, derives from an entirely different tree. It is formed from a mature yew branch, which was also locally sourced, although this time from trees that were felled on the Murthly Estate in Perthshire and were subsequently made available for Cocker to use.

Although the tonality of seasoned yew happens to be relatively similar to damson, it is a demanding and very different type of wood with which to work. Yew is identified by the dramatic colour differentiation between the light orangey sapwood and the dark heartwood and it is this that gives the lower lengths of Rotterdam its unusual pied tones and its distinctive protuberances.

Cocker identified a branch that also included a small perpendicular bend, and which matched the thickness of the damson, and carefully jointed the two limbs together securely. Once you know to look out for it, the juncture is clearly visible in the finished work, and the more you study the intersection, the more vivid the differences in the qualities of the species appear, with the damson’s dynamic, swirling grain contrastingly offset against the more placid yew.

To secure this joint mechanically, Cocker made some labour-intensive interventions into both branches of wood. He cut both the damson and the yew lengthwise, carefully feeding them through his bandsaw. Given their awkward dimensions, this can hardly have been a straightforward operation. Then he sliced a long central groove down their now-exposed inner, flat sides, extracting much of the heartwood, and enabling him to insert long, loose tenons into the cavity. Then he glued up and reassembled the branches into their current configuration, ensuring that a concealed length of timber linked both damson and yew.

These details about the source of Rotterdam’s materials, as well as Cocker’s account of the construction process, provide a somewhat different perspective on the sculpture. We see it now in terms of his sculptural practice, involving, as it does, his close engagement with workers on local farms and estates, and as the outcome of a sequence of time-consuming and technical workshop procedures.

As an artist, Cocker is widely admired for his skills in using wood (although he is careful to avoid the impression that his objective is to draw out the inherent beauty of his materials). Learning of the wood’s origins, and thinking of the sculptor in his Angus studio, confirms our impression that Rotterdam derives from the rural Scottish landscape in a tangible sense, and makes it a sculpture about a very different place to that which it is representing.

It is perhaps disjuncture – between geographies, between the wood as a material and the urban, industrial themes it is symbolizing, and between the two timbers themselves – that makes Rotterdam such a compelling and hybrid work.

Places, after all, are connected to one another. We pass between them, and we link them up in our lives in order to make sense of who we are. The damson and the yew grow apart, but here their branches have been cut and aligned, and Rotterdam is not Scotland, although the sea that fills its docks also washes against these shores.


[i] Doug Cocker, Artist’s statement, in ‘Nouns of Europe’, exhibition pamphlet, White Space, University of Abertay Dundee, 2008.

[ii] For a discussion of these works, see the essays by Robin H. Rodger and Finlay Coupar in Leaving Jericho: New Work in Response to Scottish Landscape & Language, Doug Cocker & Arthur Watson, exhibition catalogue, John David Mooney Foundation, Chicago 2013, pp. 37 and 39.

[iii] Doug Cocker, telephone conversation with the Author, 2 October 2020.

Author Details:

Alistair Rider is Senior Lecturer in the School of Art History. He writes about modern and contemporary sculpture, and about art making as a social practice. He is currently preparing a study on long-term artists’ projects since the 1960s.

Maud Sulter’s “Significant Others”

C’est moi…, Maud Sulter (HC2019.5(7) © Maud Sulter Estate, all rights reserved. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews.

Dr Catherine Spencer, lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews writes about the inspiring work of Maud Sulter. Catherine’s research and teaching focuses on art since the 1960s in the US, Latin America and Europe, particularly in relation to performance; technologies of mediation; internationalism and transnationalism; sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis; and sexuality, gender and histories of feminist practice.

The writer, artist and curator Maud Sulter’s Significant Others series (1993) comprises nine large-scale silver gelatin photographic prints, each measuring just over one metre by one-and-a-half metres. They are presented in bespoke wooden frames which the artist painted black and annotated with chalk, sometimes including the individual work’s title together with dates relating to the events captured. All are enlargements of what were originally much smaller snapshots taken from Sulter’s family archive, intimately embedding the series in the artist’s longstanding creative exploration of her Scottish and Ghanaian heritage. Sulter (1960–2008) was born in Glasgow, and despite moving to London aged 17 to pursue her studies at the London College of Fashion, maintained close ties with Scotland throughout her career, before returning to the country later in life and spending her last years in Dumfries. Sulter wrote poetry in Scots vernacular and old Scots, exhibited at institutions including the City Arts Centre and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, and worked with the Scottish Poetry Library on photographic portraits of Scottish poets in 2003–4. Significant Others relates to a number of key concerns in Sulter’s practice, notably the centuries of rich diasporic exchange between Europe and Africa, black feminist thought and activism, and the pioneering interrogations of history and representation forged by many artists associated with the Black Arts Movement in Britain during the 1980s. Significant Others moreover manifests an aspect of Sulter’s work that remains under-studied: her use of family photography, and exploration of both its ideological and affectual qualities.

Sulter created Significant Others during a period which the art historian Deborah Cherry has identified as a ‘highly productive’ one for the artist, as she worked freely across photo montage, film and installation in the mid-1990s.[i] This built in turn on an efflorescence of activity during the preceding decade, including participating in the ground-breaking exhibition The Thin Black Line (1985) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, curated by the artist Lubaina Himid. The show featured eleven black women artists who came together under a shared conceptualisation of blackness as a political identity, while working from a variety of perspectives and across a range of media. As Himid has stressed:

It suited us to show alongside each other, presenting a whole variety of beliefs, life choices and philosophical perspectives. We exhibited in this way to make visible our richness of vision. We did not all think about audiences in the same way or use materials in the same way.[ii]

Sulter’s specific approach within the heterogenous field encompassed by the Black Arts Movement in Britain involved adopting the portmanteau terms ‘blackwoman’ and ‘blackwomen,’ in order to signal her intersectional black feminist politics. These terms appear in the titles of her poetry collection As a Blackwoman (1985), and Passion: Discourses on Blackwomen’s Creativity (1989), an important anthology that Sulter edited. Sulter’s engagement with family photography ran in parallel with, and was deeply informed by, these endeavours. In 1989 she produced the poetry collection Zabat: Poetics of a Family Tree. This relates in turn to another large-scale photographic series from the same year, also entitled Zabat, which re-imagines the nine muses – represented in the Eurocentric art historical canon as white women – as black women creatives and thinkers. This body of work signals how Sulter’s commitment to black feminism and diasporic imaging and imaginings were closely intertwined.  

Significant Others can be understood as a statement of self-imaging, in which the self is depicted as intrinsically relational, sustained by generational links of familial love and support. These are the ‘significant others’ invoked by the overarching title: the parents, grandparents and extended relatives who people Sulter’s Scottish photographic family archive. Sulter herself appears in four of the nine images, including Snap I, which reproduces one of Sulter’s favourite childhood photographs. Taken by a street photographer, it captures the artist as a baby propped up in a pram, with a parrot balancing cheekily on the hood. Best Buddies shows Sulter playing on the beach with her maternal grandfather, who wrote poetry and experimented with amateur photography, providing an important early influence for her subsequent career. C’est moi is a solo photograph of Sulter at Edinburgh Zoo, sitting in front of the penguin enclosure. The title of this image in particular constitutes a statement of becoming, of laying claim to identity: ‘this is me’.

But perhaps the most powerful image in this respect is Maud and Elsie, a photograph of Sulter clasping hands tightly with her mother, who worked as a conductor on Glasgow’s trams. Both are smartly dressed and smiling, with sprays of flowers pinned to their clothes, suggesting a formal family occasion like a wedding or christening. The implications of this celebratory dynamic, however, are dramatically expanded by the chalked words that Sulter has written on the wooden frame: ‘Mexico Olympics,’ ‘1968,’ ‘Blak Power Babe,’ and ‘Panthers’. These powerfully triangulate the revolutionary politics of the Black Power movement which emerged in the United States during the 1960s, its emblematic expression in the formation of the Black Panther Party, and the iconic protest at the 1968 Mexico Olympics by the gold and bronze-medal winning 200-metre sprint athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists in Black Power salutes on the podium. Connected with the title ‘Maud & Elsie’ along the bottom of the frame, Sulter points to her vital formation through networks of black diasporic political thought spanning Africa, the Americas and Europe. The resulting image underscores the need to understand Scotland’s history as fundamentally bound up with continued struggle and resistance in the ongoing aftermath of slavery, imperialism and colonialism. It offers a visual manifestation of Sulter’s assertion: ‘I believe Blackwomen’s Creativity to be revolutionary in its potential. It confronts racism, sexism, privilege, abuse, but tries soulfully not to lose its integrity.’[iii]    

The annotations that Sulter makes on the frames across the Significant Others series provide both a way of training the viewer’s attention on the image, and of excavating layers of embedded meaning. In a 1992 interview with Mark Haworth-Booth, Sulter reflected:

I feel that we’re surrounded by photographic images – we engage with them in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, we read film, we read television images, and so it’s a very immediate process in terms of its production; and it’s a very immediate process in terms of catching the viewer’s attention in the first moment. But obviously the challenge is then to get beyond that superficial glance, to convert that glance into a more concentrated gaze (Sulter, 1992: 264).

Together with the use of annotation, another way that Sulter promotes this ‘concentrated gaze’ in Significant Others is through the rips, tears and creases in First word ‘gaga’, Memories of veils and kisses and Maud Elsie. Rather than creating new prints from original negatives, Sulter re-photographed the images, preserving their signs of use and interaction. These marks convey a sense of the photographs being treasured: periodically unfolded to be looked at, then refolded for safekeeping. While the Significant Others images in some respects conform to the socialising, potentially disciplining effects of the family album, Sulter’s selection, annotation, and attention to the evidence of interaction on their surfaces testifies to the possibility of using photography to (re)construct the self in a positive, empowering way. The use of scale, whereby small, private images are blown-up for public display, underscores this valuation of the often overlooked or ostensibly everyday.

Sulter continued to work with the ideas in Significant Others well beyond 1993, notably through Sekhmet in 2005 at the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries. Like Zabat, it took the form of both a poetry collection and an exhibition, incorporating images relating to Significant Others with photographs from Sulter’s Ghanaian family archive. In addition to gathering family images through research in Ghana, Sulter also made the film My Father’s House (1999), which draws on footage from her father Claude Ennin’s funeral. For Cherry, these works expand the concerns of Significant Others to address ‘the distances between families, cultures, countries and continents,’ and reflect on ‘appearance, legacy, inheritance, kin and culture, the shared and distinctive nature of family archives.’[iv] Building on the important exhibition Maud Sulter: Passion at Streetlevel Photoworks in Glasgow in 2015, the acquisition of Significant Others by St Andrews University Museums provides a significant prompt and opportunity for more research to be done into this deeply compelling series, both in terms of its interaction with other aspects of Sulter’s prolific artistic, curatorial and poetic output, and its trenchant engagement with photographic histories, the construct of the family album, histories of diaspora, black feminist thought and artmaking, and the connections between Scotland and Africa.

References

Cherry, Deborah (2015). ‘Poetry – In Motion.’ In Maud Sulter: Passion, pp. 8–19. London: Altitude Editions.

Cherry, Deborah (2013). ‘Image-Making with Jeanne Duval in Mind: Photoworks by Maud Sulter, 1989–2002.’ In Women, the Arts and Globalization: Eccentric Experience, edited by Marsha Meskimmon and Dorothy Price, pp. 145–68. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Himid, Lubaina (2013). ‘Exhibiting Black Women’s Art in the 1980s.’ In Politics in a Glass Case: Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions, edited by Angela Dimitrakaki and Lara Perry, pp. 84–9. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Sulter, Maud (1992). Interview by Mark Haworth-Booth. History of Photography 16, no. 3, pp. 263–66.

Sulter, Maud (1991). ‘Passion: Blackwomen’s Creativity,’ Interview by Ardentia Verba. Spare Rib, no. 220 (February), pp. 6–8.

Further Reading

Aikens, Nick, and Elizabeth Robles, eds (2019). The Place Is Here: The Work of Black Artists in 1980s Britain. Berlin and Eindhoven: Sternberg Press and Van Abbemuseum.

Cherry, Deborah (1998). ‘Troubling Presence: Body, Sound and Space in Installation Art of the mid-1990s.’ RACAR: Revue d’art canadienne/Canadian Art Review 25, no. 1/2, pp. 12–30.

Ewan, Elizabeth, Rose Pipes, and Jane Rendall (2018). ‘Maud Sulter.’ In The New Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, https://search-credoreference-com.ezproxy.st-andrews.ac.uk/content/entry/edinburghsw/sulter_maud-/0?institutionId=2454


[i] Deborah Cherry, ‘Image-Making with Jeanne Duval in Mind: Photoworks by Maud Sulter, 1989–2002’ in Marsha Meskimmon and Dorothy Price (eds) Women, the Arts and Globalization: Eccentric Experience (Manchester University Press, 2013), p.157.

[ii] Lubaina Himid, ‘Exhibiting Black Women’s Art in the 1980s’, in Angela Dimitrakaki and Lara Perry (eds) Politics in a Glass Case: Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions (Liverpool University Press, 2013), p.89. Emphasis in original

[iii] Maud Sulter, ‘Passion: Blackwomen’s Creativity,’ Interview by Ardentia Verba, Spare Rib, no.220 (February, 1991), p.8.

[iv] Cherry, ‘Poetry—In Motion’, in Maud Sulter: Passion (London Altitude Editions, 2015), p.19.

Grant, Catherine (2019). ‘A Letter Sent, Waiting to Be Received: Queer Correspondence, Feminism and Black British Art.’ Women: A Cultural Review 30, no. 3, pp. 297–318.

Himid, Lubaina (2011). Thin Black Line(s). London: Tate Britain.

Mabon, Jim (1998). ‘Europe’s African Heritage in the Creative Work of Maud Sulter.’ Research in African Literatures 29, no. 4, pp. 149–55.

Marsack, Robyn (2008). ‘Maud Sulter,’ Obituary. The Herald Scotland, 22 March, https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12460747.maud-sulter/

[1] Deborah Cherry, ‘Image-Making with Jeanne Duval in Mind: Photoworks by Maud Sulter, 1989–2002’ in Marsha Meskimmon and Dorothy Price (eds) Women, the Arts and Globalization: Eccentric Experience (Manchester University Press, 2013), p.157.

[1] Lubaina Himid, ‘Exhibiting Black Women’s Art in the 1980s’, in Angela Dimitrakaki and Lara Perry (eds) Politics in a Glass Case: Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions (Liverpool University Press, 2013), p.89. Emphasis in original

[1] Maud Sulter, ‘Passion: Blackwomen’s Creativity,’ Interview by Ardentia Verba, Spare Rib, no.220 (February, 1991), p.8.

[1] Cherry, ‘Poetry—In Motion’, in Maud Sulter: Passion (London Altitude Editions, 2015), p.19.

An Interview with Calum Colvin

Mute Swan by Calum Colvin, (HC1999.3), ©Calum Colvin

To mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Harry and Margery Boswell Collection at the University of St Andrews, Clare Fisher interviews artist Calum Colvin

According to The Courier (July 2017), Mute Swan is your personal favourite from the ornithology series. Why is this?

I think this was because I enjoyed making it so much! I had been working for a few years in a kind of digital photomontage style which involved a lot of pre-planning and multiple shots (this was the two exhibitions The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four last Things 1993, and Pseudologica Fantastica 1996) and the opportunity to return to a relatively simple set-up, involving a large-format camera, a few props and some tins of paint in order to make a work in ‘one-shot’ was refreshing and exciting! There was a kind of looseness of approach and spontaneity which really energised me.

How do you see this work responding to the depictions and symbolism of swans in art history? You mentioned that Michelangelo’s Leda was a distant reference point once.

When creating this work I was interested in the way that symbolism associated with the swan seemed to have multiple associations across various cultures. In some regions it was considered a feminine symbol associated with the moon. Its presence was a sign of intuition and gracefulness, considered feminine attributes. The goddesses Aphrodite and Artemis were sometimes accompanied by swans. More often, the swan was a masculine symbol. Its pure white colour connected it to the sun, almost always a masculine deity. The swan was linked in ancient Greece to Apollo, god of the Sun. The work exploits this duality by incorporating masculine and feminine references within the artwork whilst making a more distant reference to Michelangelo’s ‘Leda’ in terms of structure, colour, shape and of course referencing the story, also from Greek mythology.

Can you tell us how you made the Mute Swan, what was the process involved? How did you decide what objects or props to include?

Deceptively simple! The work is essentially a three-dimensional stage set on the back wall of my studio, created specifically to be read from the fixed-point perspective of the camera. A drawing on the back of the camera is mapped on to this set and gradually painted over the disparate surfaces until a fully formed trompe l’oeil hybrid painting/photograph is created. The props are on the one hand a kind of armature for the three-dimensional qualities and on the other a symbolic commentary on the subject of the image. Other objects suggest layers of narrative, often quite ambivelant. Finally the ‘set’ is lit and photographed onto 10”x8” transparency film, scanned and printed.  

How do you see this work approaching questions of gender?

I was certainly thinking about gender differences, or even tensions in the work, also male and female desire. I also thought of the swan as portraying both masculine and feminine qualities.

How did you come across John James Audubon? What was it about his work that you were drawn to?

I think Audubon is one of those artists you just seem to know. His work is so ubiquitous! I think I was drawn to a taxonomical approach, or more precisely a kind of satire of this approach with a series of allegories which had an ornithological framework for a range of works with a social/ecological context. Audubon was an obvious reference point in this regard, I suppose.

In his Birds of America prints, Audubon chose to depict each bird at its actual size.  How important are questions of scale in your constructed worlds?

Scale is very important. Technically, I make works with a 10”x8” camera onto transparency film which allows a tremendous scope for detailed and richly colour saturated images. This of course lends itself to the possibility enormous scale prints, which I have often opted for. Equally, a smaller scale allows a more intimate connection with the viewer. The venue and context in which the work is displayed often dictates the scale, which of course in photography you have the luxury of varying within your edition of works.

How big a part does the viewers reaction to your art play in the making of it?

For me, this is part of the internal dialogue. How the viewer might ‘read’ the work. You find yourself trying to look anew, detached, to see the works as others might. Of course this is a little futile as there is a kind of silent engagement between the work and the viewer that can’t be fully known or controlled by anyone. This is what draws me to this particular process of image-making, which is both simple and complex, as well as being deeply ambiguous by it’s very nature.

Clare Fisher is a PhD student in the School of Art History funded by the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities. Her research explores the discourse of monumentality in the United States from the Civil War to the present day.

Carolyn Scott and Jeremy Howard: A Conversation about the David Peat photographs in the Boswell Collection

Back Court, Gorbals, 1968, silver gelatin print, Boswell Collection HC2013.1(2) © The Estate of David Peat, all rights reserved

On 18 October 2020 Fife artist Carolyn Scott and art historian Jeremy Howard met up to discuss the David Peat (1947-2012) photographs in the Boswell Collection and their context. Carolyn was born in the same year as Peat (1947) and her own photographs of Newcastle (Elswick), like Peat’s of Glasgow (Maryhill and Gorbals), were taken in 1968 and are now in the University of St Andrews Library Photographic Collection.

While focussing on Peat and his approach, we also drew upon his context, including the relationship of his urban street photography to that of his contemporaries, i.e. Scott herself, Joe McKenzie (Dundee), Oscar Marzaroli (Glasgow), and Aase and Peter Goldsmith (Glenrothes). In addition, we considered a further dynamic with mid-20th-century forerunners such as Bert Hardy (e.g. Glasgow), Edith Tudor-Hart (e.g. Dublin) and her brother Wolf Suschitzky (e.g. Dundee and London), as well as the painter Joan Eardley (Glasgow). We even branched out to a relationship with 1930’s social documentary photographs by Dorothea Lange (USA) and Helen Muspratt (Wales) as well as the later ‘concerned photography’ of Sebastião Salgado and Franki Raffles, much of the latter also being entrusted to the University’s care. And then we pondered the appeal of black-and-white. What is it that it does that colour does differently? Something to do with nostalgia, aesthetics, neuronic reaction? Age-old questions no doubt, but ones the answers to which neither of us knew.

The five Boswell Collection photographs are reproduced in An Eye on the Street: Glasgow 1968, a small book celebrating the series to which they belong that was published in 2012, the year of Peat’s death. Carolyn had bought the book at Peat’s retrospective exhibition, An Eye on the World, when it showed at the Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, in 2013. We considered the book’s works along with the 180 Glasgow and 178 Newcastle photographs that have been digitised as respective parts of the David Peat and Carolyn Scott Social Documentary Photographic Collections of the University.[i] ‘Reading’ these images together a sense of narrative began to emerge, backed as it was by a certain realisation of how Peat both framed and empathised with his subjects.

We first noticed the obvious: all five of the Peat photographs in the Boswell Collection are black-and-white images featuring children in areas of multiple deprivation, three from the Gorbals, two from Maryhill. The first of Gorbals, Back Court, is of a pair of babies in prams set within a scene of apparent squalor: viewed in vertical, cropped, format, the infants are caught between the grey stone façade with broken windows and low, doorless, entrance of the tenement block behind them. Rubbish collects around their pram wheels. Despite the pervasive wretchedness and feeling of abandonment, Peat captures something fundamentally humane: the infants, while strapped in and on their own, are decently clothed and sit up to gaze, with harmonised curiosity, at something beyond the picture frame. Plus their prams look stylish, new and pristine, and there are clean shirts and towels drying on washing lines.

As with the other five images, this one derives from a set in which alternative views of the infants and several young children are found. Some focus on boys with toy guns while others adopt higher, more distant, viewpoints which reveal that a good number of the four-storey tenements had well-kept windows with neat lace curtains. We considered how these connected with the other two of the Gorbals in the Boswell Collection, i.e. Comforting Arm and Back Lane, these being chosen for the back and front covers of An Eye on the Street respectively. Both convey a similar sense of community. So despite the poverty children are depicted finding their own way on the street, one caring for another, others finding makeshift playthings from the debris of the derelict backyards among which they play.

But it was not the Gorbals photographs that we dwelt on. Instead we turned to the two of Maryhill: Paintstore and Boy. These derive from a set of at least 11 photographs taken in front of the old Galbraith & Winston works. How perfectly they make a statement about art and time. Little did the boys in the photographs know that their community was about to be uprooted and dispersed, their homes, as well as whole streets, demolished to make way for the M8 motorway and ‘regeneration’.[i] So they play on the neglected pavement, stirring and pouring paint from tins they have presumably discovered through the broken panel of the door behind them. Their street art is freer, more subversive, enjoyable and collective than that of the CIA pawn Jackson Pollock whose act of splashing paint onto horizontal surfaces they unknowingly mimic. By employing a mix of distance and close-up Peat tells the story of their painterly escapade as well as their encounter with his lens. Set against rectangles containing the logo of Galbraith & Winton, who had actually been highly skilled and much sought after monumental sculptors, marble cutters and tilers founded in Victorian Glasgow, along with abundant graffiti, we decided that this Paintstore leaks art on many levels. To think that the demolition-marked premises which they have raided for their creative supplies had been the place of making, eighty-eight years earlier, of marble baths and a fountain for Tsar Alexander II of Russia’s most extravagant imperial yacht, Livadia, that was built in Govan. And that behind that large sliding door backdrop to the boys ‘all the marble and mosaic, the [still extant] ‘chief glory’ of Glasgow City Chambers’, had been executed by the company’s craftsmen some ten years later.[ii] The boys’ performance could not have been better placed. Peat knew. His children artists of 1968 revel in their creative illicit play, the three taller boys, as revealed by the other photographs, also caring for the younger lad who Peat turns into his grubby-faced Boy. It is one of those boys’ hand that gently strokes the hair of Boy. And so this little child becomes an icon. His face and shoulders and the other’s hand fill the picture space. He gazes out, solemnly, beyond us. Sheepish, and on one occasion smiling, Peat brings him to the fore, his look more doubtful than the others, his dark hair, light sweater and neatly buttoned shirt and carefully tucked in collar, setting him apart in his nervousness from his more motley, confident friends. Who are these boys? Where are they now? They deserve to know how they have been, and continue to be, objectified.

Browsing through Carolyn’s photographs during our pondering of Peat, we noticed how, at almost exactly the same time, she had approached something equally iconic in her capturing, for instance, of a little girl with tousled hair and dirty clothes, as well as a small boy with shovel, on the streets around Elswick Road, just west of Newcastle city centre. So then we considered what it was that drew her, Peat and their ilk to record and interpret such subjects, especially since the late 1960s are often perceived as times of new prosperity and flamboyant fashion. Well, it probably comes down to empathy, and the fact that poverty is picturesque. And so we feel compromised, even now in this continuation of our conversation. For our eyes are those of outsiders, the privileged ones with artificial lenses, pens, computers. And we are feeding off those anonymous subjects for whose benefit? So while some of the children show pride and relish in finding themselves the centre of momentary attention, none of them have agency. Many could well still be alive, all of them being younger than us. We wished we could take the images back to the people and places, hang them up on railings and walls (the nearby shopping, health and leisure centres, and schools, for example) to see if folk, memories and connections could be traced. We’ve done it before (together with colleague Andrew Demetrius), in October 2018, in an empty retail unit in the Kingdom Centre, Glenrothes, with the Goldsmiths’ and press photographs of the sixties and seventies, reminding many passers-by of years and friends gone by. That this happened simultaneously with photographer Paul Duke attaching to the railings of St Andrews’ most expensive residential street, The Scores, his No Ruined Stone series, marking life (but, significantly, not that of the children) on the deprived Muirhouse estate of Edinburgh where he was (happily) brought up, suggested to us that such creative documentation is well served by these ‘alternative’ means of outreach and exposure.[iii]

Yet is it too raw when it is contemporary? We wondered whether waiting for 40 or 50 years (as Peat and Carolyn did with the public release of their photographs) can help overcome issues or deepen understanding of loss and value. And that also made us wonder about the loss of innocence of our times. No more can such photographs of children be taken. There will be no such record as Peat’s and Scott’s of youngsters spontaneously snapped on the Glasgow and Newcastle streets today. We felt conflicted. On the one hand, of course, we realise the need to protect, not least since exploitation and abuse are in close proximity. Yet, on the other hand, the shroud of suspicion divides. We considered how we would feel if we ourselves and our neighbourhoods were photographed by people we did not know for reasons we did not know. Sometimes troubled, sometimes indifferent, was our best answer. We considered how agency, rights and consent may be shared. And how insidious othering or exoticising could be avoided. We worried about whether Salgado is patronising, whether we are and Peat was. And yet we know we want to support diverse cultures and folk coming together, and we realise that photography can be one of the most powerful tools for this. We don’t want everything controlled by external authorities, we want humanity to prevail. The streets belong to all of us, so being out on them makes us fair game. And if we’ve handed over the right for our movements there to be recorded by surveillance cameras, as we become the most surveilled society in the world, surely we should preserve the right to ourselves photograph others as the actors we chance to mingle with on the street.

While Dr Tom Normand’s remarkable book Scottish Photography: A History (2007) included a few words on Marzaroli and McKenzie, and reproduced a small selection of images of (mostly anonymous) children, if Normand goes for a new edition will there be room for the likes of Peat, Scott and the Goldsmiths as photographers of poor, but, to a certain extent, free childhood? Will there be scope for inclusion of children photographers (including those using their phones)? How will the lives of contemporary youngsters be visually conveyed and compare with those of their forebears? And how will fair recompense and acknowledgment work? Familiar questions for photography history no doubt, but more broadly relevant to society, we felt. It was during Normand’s long period as advisor to the Boswell Committee that the Peat photographs were acquired for the collection. As such, with the superb qualities of eye, composition, craft and, dare we say, beauty they possess, he’s on their case. So we must hope, for society’s sake as much as art’s sake, that whatever the ups and downs, pros and cons, the variety of street life and its photographic representation, will endure… Are we naïve and nostalgic in cherishing, as their place in the Boswell Collection suggests we should, what seems to be the open-minded, straightforward, honesty of the relationship expressed between Peat and his Maryhill-Gorbals subjects? Answers on a photograph please.


[i] The site was 48 Balnain Street, now between Unity Place and Braid Square, just north of M8 Junction 17. The Galbraith & Winston building was photographed in 1967 by John R. Hume, then a lecturer in Economic History at the University of Strathclyde, see: https://canmore.org.uk/collection/596995 (accessed 19 October 2020).

[ii] See https://www.mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/name/?nid=GalWin (accessed 20 October 2020).

[iii] See Paul Duke, No Ruined Stone, Stuttgart: Hartmann, 2018.

Author Details:

Carolyn Scott has a Masters in Fine Art from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee (2010). She principally works as a photographer, filmmaker and installation artist. See: http://www.carolynscottimages.com/. Her most recent film (with Andy Sim) is Return to Brownsbank, featuring author James Robertson talking about Hugh MacDiarmid (2020).

Jeremy Howard is Senior Lecturer in the School of Art History, University of St Andrews. He specialises in 19th– and 20th century art, architecture and design, and has a particular interest in the relationship of education and art. He is currently completing a book focussed on Fra and Jessie Newbery’s ‘Serbian’ turn, its working title being: ‘The Art of Balkan Fabrications and Forgotten Distaff Sides’.

Carolyn Scott has a Masters in Fine Art from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee (2010). She principally works as a photographer, filmmaker and installation artist. See: http://www.carolynscottimages.com/. Her most recent film (with Andy Sim) is Return to Brownsbank, featuring author James Robertson talking about Hugh MacDiarmid (2020).

Jeremy Howard is Senior Lecturer in the School of Art History, University of St Andrews. He specialises in 19th– and 20th century art, architecture and design, and has a particular interest in the relationship of education and art. He is currently completing a book focussed on Fra and Jessie Newbery’s ‘Serbian’ turn, its working title being: ‘The Art of Balkan Fabrications and Forgotten Distaff Sides’.


[i] See: Carolyn Scott Rye Hill Social Documentary Photography Collection, Special Collections, University of St Andrews, 1968,  https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/search/?query=ParentIRN:633423&form=grid&mode=query&query_type=query_and&sort=metaID and https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/search/?form=grid&f.Collection%7CCollectionTitle[]=Carolyn+Scott+Rye+Hill+Social+Documentary+Photography+Collection&query=carolyn+scott&profile=_default&num_ranks=50&collection=uofsa-web-sc-photo (accessed 18 October 2020).

The Pentecostal Art of Alan Davie


Zurich Improvisations XII, Alan Davie, (HC2001.14), ©The Artist’s Estate

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in many tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter Two, Verse Four

I don’t practise painting as an Art but a means to enlightenment.’ Alan Davie, Towards a Philosophy of Creativity, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh,1997

Zurich Improvisation XII is one of a series of 34 lithographs that Alan Davie (1920-2014) produced in 1965. He had only recently taken up printmaking and initially worked with Stanley Jones at his newly set-up Curwen studio in Cornwall. Almost from the outset Davie preferred to produce his prints in serial form which was in keeping with his drawing practice. His highly experimental approach to printmaking was to make spontaneous marks and improvised drawings directly onto the lithograph plates. Then he would get the printer to run them off on different presses, introducing areas of transparent colour and printing the plates the right way up but sometimes upside down. By using this highly improvised way of working, Davie radically freed up the usual order and practice in mechanised graphic printing. This allowed him to respond to, and build on, any stimulating accident and unforeseen occurrence, that might emerge.

Such was the keen interest within the printmaking fraternity with Davie’s innovative approach that he was soon invited by the prestigious printmakers, Editions Alecto to work with them. This included a visit to Zurich where Davie produced his ‘landmark’ Zurich Improvisations of which the Boswell Collection’s Zurich Improvisation XII is a fine example.[i]

By this time, Alan Davie had built a national and international reputation with important works of his in the Tate, London and MOMA, New York collections. He had also gained the award of the Sao Paulo 1963 Biennale Prize for best international painter. Davie was not however, particularly concerned with his reputation within the art world. He always saw his art as having, and serving, a different purpose than the pursuit and acquisition of worldly success.

A student at Edinburgh College of Art (1937-41), where he felt he learned very little that was of use to him, Alan Davie gave up art during his war service. Even after his return to civilian life he preferred music, poetry and jewellery-making, while earning his living as professional jazz musician. However, on a belated travelling scholarship trip to Europe in 1948-9, Davie rediscovered his love of art. Furthermore with the encouragement of Peggy Guggenheim, whom he met at the Venice Biennale in 1948, the long-term support of Gimpel Fils Gallery and the appointment to an art teaching position from fellow Scot, William Johnstone, Principal of The Central School of Art, Davie found his main creative outlet to be painting again.

The 1950s was an exciting time for young emerging artists like Alan Davie, when the practice of painting was opening up to radically new approaches in content and technique. The most influential innovation was Jackson Pollock’s all-over method of working with the canvas spread on the studio floor. Davie followed this example, but for a very different purpose to Pollock’s ‘drip painting’. Unlike the American Expressionists Davie felt that ‘self-expression is something contradictory to Art.’[ii] He did not wish to impose his own emotional personality on his painting and turn it into an autobiographical ‘event’. Rather, like the tribal shaman, he sought to lose the controlling power of the ego over his actions, This then would allow the spiritual forces of cosmic creativity to pass freely through him as he immersed his whole being in the intuitive and spontaneous process of laying paint down on the canvas lying out before him. As he said, ‘If a work is to be of any value it must convey something that transcends the material.’

Along with the development of his absorbing art practice, Alan Davie also sought out sympathetic support and rapport for the deeply spiritual purpose of his art. He found this in a range of sources, for example, in the spiritual exercises of the Japanese Zen Masters and also in the alternative philosophy of the psychiatrist Carl Jung. Davie was particularly taken with Jung’s concept of the Collective Unconscious where the transcendental language of archetypal symbolism is seen as a universal one. With this Jungian cosmic concept Davie could link his own psychic and artistic revelations with the earliest and far flung traces of human language in the form of tribal and religious symbols and communal pictographs. Thus Davie’s art looked to evoke, the same spiritual intensity and cosmic communication as that which he found in the wide range of religious cultures he sought out in his readings and travels. These included Byzantine iconic mosaics, Pictish iconography and early Christian illuminated manuscripts, then later in Tantric mystic symbols and Jain esoteric imagery.

Scottish art for a variety of socio-historical reasons has produced little or no religious art since the Reformation. This makes Alan Davie a rare, if not unique, figure in Scottish modern art in having a deeply, all-pervasive spiritual dimension to his work. In many ways he is closer to earlier religious artists/craft persons when he says for example, ‘I paint to find enlightenment and revelation. I do not practice painting as Art.’ Davie used his art to ‘conjure up the unknowable’ and reveal the divine spirit in all things, as has been the case with all great religious art – from Palaeolithic cave painting to modern Theosophists like Kandinsky and Mondrian.

The Zurich Improvisations suite of lithography prints is a wonderful demonstration of how Alan Davie infuses spiritually expressive power into his art. His use of the series format echoes such Christian art examples as the Twelve Stages of the Cross and the Seven Sacraments. However, instead of having a linking illustrative chronological narrative, Davie’s highly abstracted prints are simultaneously interconnected by the repetition and variation of boldly outlined symbols and vibrant splashes of luminous transparent colour.  Each print sings out with its own visual voice, but together, the whole series becomes a glorious multi-chromatic anthem, like a great cathedral stain-glass rose window.


[i] An illustration of the complete Zurich Improvisations series is to be found in the catalogue for Alan Davie, Work in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2000, (Fig. 92)

[ii] All the quotes of Alan Davie are from Notes by the Artist, in the catalogue of the Alan Davie, retrospective exhibition, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, June, 1958

Author Details:

Bill Hare is an Honorary Fellow in Scottish art history at the University of Edinburgh. He has written extensively on Scottish modern and contemporary art and has recently published Scottish Artists in the Age of Radical Change-1945 to the 21st Century, Luath Press, 2019.   

Exploring the Boswell Collection with Dr Tom Normand

Dr Tom Normand, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Art History
image courtesy of the University of St Andrews

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Harry and Margery Boswell Collection of Scottish contemporary art held in the Art collections of the University of St Andrews. A series of interviews with some of the people involved in assembling the collection and artists themselves provides a deeper insight into what it means to those who have created the works to have them held in this wonderful collection. Clare Fisher, PhD student at the University interviewed Dr Tom Normand Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Art History and co-ordinator of the collection on what the Boswell Collection means to him.

How did you become involved in the Boswell Collection, what was your role?

This was a generous gift from the Boswell family, and it came as a pleasant surprise for all of us involved. 

In fact, it wasn’t presented to the School of Art History but was directed towards the St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute.  SASSI was an interdisciplinary group that offered a degree in Scottish Studies.  These degrees encompassed aspects of Scottish Literature, Modern and Medieval Scottish History and Art History, all focussing on aspects of Scotland’s contribution to world culture.  I was the art historian in the group.  Douglas Dunn, the eminent poet and now Emeritus Professor of English, was the Director of the Institute and suggested that the gift be used to purchase Scottish art.  It fell to me to become the coordinator for the collection and its development.

Broadly, I was encouraged to conceive of the shape and nature of the collection, to source artworks, to suggest possible acquisitions and to enact the decisions of the Boswell Committee.  Little did I know then that this would engage nearly twenty-three years of my life, but it was always a positive experience.

University of St Andrews staff and members of the Boswell family, image courtesy of University of St Andrews

Did you know Harry and Margery Boswell? If so, can you tell us anything about their vision for the collection and its place at the University?

Sadly, Harry had passed on by the time the collection was created.  I did meet Margery early in the process, but she too left us.  In my opinion the collection is their memorial, I hope a worthy memorial.

For the most part I was involved with Bruce Boswell, and his siblings in the extended Boswell family.  It became clear in our early discussions that they were a generous and empathic group.  Also, the whole family was fiercely proud of their Scottish roots and gave expression to this in many forms, not least in their gifts to the university.

Bruce reminded us that Harry, in particular, was an avid collector of Scottish art.  He frequented the auction houses in Edinburgh and Glasgow during the 1960s and had acquired a fine collection of historical and contemporary works.  The collection at the university would recognise and expand this enthusiasm.

Of course, I was familiar with the art collections at the Talbot Rice Gallery in the University of Edinburgh and the Hunterian Gallery at the University of Glasgow.  These are venerated and historic collections.  In comparison St Andrews held a rather random assembly of art works, most usually casually bequeathed to the university and often arriving in our collections by accident.  I had no thoughts that we could compete with the established collections in Edinburgh and Glasgow, especially given their proportion of canonical works.  But the continuing generosity of the Boswell family has created the foundations of a substantial collection.

Untitled, Elizabeth Blackadder
Medium: etching on paper
Size: 80cm x 64.5cm (framed)
Accession no.: HC1995.3(2)
Part of the ‘Thursdays Child’ group of prints.
© Elizabeth Blackadder

Some of the first works purchased by the Fund are part of the Thursday Child series. Could you provide any information about them and how they came to be part of the Collection (or nearly didn’t!)?

‘Thursday’s Child’ was a portfolio of prints that was available, in a limited edition, from the Dundee Printmakers Workshop.  It was the first purchase for the collection.  I was keen to purchase this portfolio for it included many images from The Edinburgh School, that group who were highly represented in Harry Boswell’s private collection.  And so, prints by Elizabeth Blackadder and John Houston were important in this context.  These were complemented by the works of younger artists including Margaret Hunter, June Redfern, Elspeth Lamb, Elaine Schemilt and Paul Furneaux.  It was a way of initiating the collection with a group of images that would give a broad representation of contemporary Scottish art, and might be displayed collectively.

Now, in those days, the physical collection of works from artists, their representatives, and dealers was nearly always my responsibility; I travelled over half of the country visiting studios and galleries to accept the works and to return them to St Andrews, by car.  In this process, ‘Thursday’s Child’, the first item in the collection, was lost.  I say lost, but I had placed the portfolio on the roof of my car, turned and spoken to someone, then drove way with the portfolio still on the roof.  Not my finest hour. 

When I realised what I’d done I was distraught.  I did that classic thing.  I went to the local police station and asked if anyone had handed in a red box with the words ‘Thursday’s Child’ embossed on the lid.  Amazingly, a laughing officer reached under the counter and handed me the box.  It was flattened and with a tyre track beautifully impressed across the embossed lettering.  Those familiar with Robert Rauschenberg’s 1953 work titled Automobile Tire Print will understand.  Anyhow, I went back to the Dundee Printmakers Workshop and showed them the evidence of my hapless incompetence.  To their eternal credit they simply gave me a replacement portfolio.  But true, this was not my finest hour.

Portrait of Tom Normand, Stephen Campbell
Medium: mixed media on canvas
Size: 182cm x 97cm
Accession no.: HC1999.1
©The Estate of Steven Campbell, Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art

Your involvement has been central to the success and growth of the Collection, but you are also integral to it in other ways. Can you tell us about Steven Campbell’s portrait of you? How did that come about, what’s the story behind it?

Well, this was neither planned, nor desired on my part.  I didn’t know Steven Campbell, but I knew he should be approached for the collection.  He had a stellar career, in New York city, during the 1980s and was lionised on his return to Scotland late in that decade.  I approached him, by letter, with a modest budget and suggested we would like a print for the Boswell Collection.  He was fine with this, but shortly after he called me and said he wanted to paint my portrait.  I was temperamentally reluctant to agree this but Steven was a very forceful character.  He visited me at home and took away some photographs.  It happens that the one he used in the portrait was an early 1980s photo of me, taken by Calum Colvin, in Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art.  So, the young man in the painting is a tyro teacher in the art college; looking wide-eyed and terrified.

The constructed artwork is a typically visionary and vivid work by Campbell: by turns comic and ironic, inventive and challenging, benign and acerbic.  I recall that he would telephone me, at odd hours, asking questions about my work and opinions.  He also said that he wanted the image to resemble a poster, left to deteriorate in a Parisian café, and so embodying a passage and a history.  In this way the work incorporates a stylised version of the Colvin photograph with a negative shadow behind this representing my image in the present time of the portrait.  Also, a number of sketch books and other objects are pressed into the picture.  The sketch books are quite detailed and show his workings and thoughts.  There is a host of other esoteric symbols and insignia, and, of course, my name emblazoned on the image. 

After some negotiation we bought it into the collection.  I must admit it is a bit of a burden for it will be difficult to conserve.  Still, it’s one of the very few portraits that Steven Campbell ever undertook during his lifetime.

The focus of the Collection is Scottish art. How did you think about ‘Scottishness’ when selecting works for it? What is distinctive about Scottish art?

Of course a question like this is fraught with political and cultural issues, particularly in the current climate.  For me Scottish art was, and is, simply art from Scotland; in the broadest sense. 

It is the case that as I emerged as an academic certain national discourses were prevalent within the discipline.  So much so that the Royal Academy, in London, ran blockbuster exhibitions on the subject of ‘German Art in the 20th Century, ‘Italian Art in the 20th Century’, and ‘British Art in the 20th Century’: indeed ‘The Vigorous Imagination’ exhibition was a riposte to this last presentation which had barely represented Scottish art in the context of Britishness.  In some senses, then, the collection was designed to foreground artists whose work was marginalised or under-represented in the wider context.

But, it was never the case that artists were obliged to be Scots, or to live and work in Scotland.  They should only, in their biography, training, or output have some meaningful connection to Scotland.

Given this open and fluid sense of Scottish art it is near impossible to give a ‘definition’ of the field.  Indeed, I would be chary of this kind of essentialism.  It is the case that many of the works I was engaged in collecting had connections to Scottish history, cultural mores, and national characteristics, but this was often secondary to their being simply fine works of art by eminent artists.

Moreover, I’m deeply sensitive to the way that the discipline of art history has developed in the contemporary period.  The kind of ‘national discourses’ I have spoken of are now suspect in the academies.  Issues of globalisation, and more importantly the debates surrounding the decolonisation of the curriculum have impacted upon these types of approaches.  The challenge in the future will be to collect Scottish art that is attuned to these changing tropes.

What or who inspired your own interest in Scottish art? How have you applied that expertise to the Collection, as well as any insights gained from knowing some of the artists personally?

Again, this is historical; and suddenly I feel old. 

I came to the discipline from a background in sociology.  My interest was in art, social class and ideology.  This was part of something then called the ‘New Art History’, the development of an interdisciplinary approach that eschewed traditional methodologies and looked to view art within the frame of critical theory, politics, feminism, psychology and related fields of study.

In this respect, I had focussed on British art.  Principally because I had no expertise in languages, but also because I was interested in the ways that modern(ist) British artists varied in respect of the political debates of the 1930s.  Consequently, I wrote my doctoral thesis on the ways in which Wyndham Lewis’s ‘fascism’ was embedded in his art.

Later this developed into a concern with Scottish art. Partly because I recognised that Scottish art was ‘lost’ within the discipline. 

In fact, this became most evident in the period after the failed Devolution Referendum of 1979.  Following this there emerged a desire to foreground Scotland’s distinctiveness in all kinds of areas.  In art history Duncan Macmillan would publish his ‘Scottish Art 1460-1990’ and this was the first comprehensive survey of Scottish art since James Caw’s ‘Scottish Painting Past and Present 1620-1908’, published in 1908.  There flowed from this not so much a torrent but at least a bubbling burn of books, articles and catalogue essays on Scottish art; I contributed to this stream and it became my specialism. 

It was in this context that I tried to provide for the Boswell collection the best and most dynamic artists from Scotland in the period.  Naturally, I was assisted in this by the fact that I was writing on their work, and presenting essays in their catalogues.  It was a natural synergy made easier by the fact that Scotland is a small nation, and is generally collaborative in matters of culture.

Croft Table with Field Flowers and Wine Jars (1962)
James Cumming
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 111.3 x 141.5 cm
Accession no.: HC2016.24
© The artist’s estate

Do you have a favourite work in the Boswell Collection?

This is interesting.  As I look at the collection online I see Anne Redpath’s Still Life, Abstract from 1962.  Increasingly I’ve admired Redpath’s work and this is a fine example.  In fact the last piece I wrote, before retiring from the university, was an essay on Redpath published in the book I edited on the collection in the Royal Scottish Academy; the book was Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art 1540-now.  The irony is I think this work entered the collection after my tenure for during my time the work of Redpath was prohibitively expensive.  Whatever, this is a fine painting.

Of course, it’s impossible to have a favourite work but let me suggest James Cumming’s Croft Table with Field Flowers and Wine Jars, 1962.  When I demitted from the committee, after some twenty-two years, the Boswell’s kindly offered a sum of money to purchase a kind of ‘memorial’ piece that would recognise my service and would become part of the collection. 

Cumming is a fascinating artist, and hailed from my home town of Dunfermline.  An collegial figure in The Edinburgh School he was also an academician.  But his style was modernist and an intriguing take on post-cubist experiment. 

Anyhow, when he completed his training at Edinburgh School of Art he was awarded a travelling scholarship.  Invariably Scottish artists went to France, or Italy, sometimes to Spain.  Cumming chose to go and live with crofters on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides.  This dark, sensual painting is a memory of those ‘Black Houses’ and the lives of their inhabitants.  It is both local and particular in its subject, while being modern and expansive in its style and vision.  Perhaps this combination is what I always aimed for in collecting Scottish art for the Boswell Collection.

Clare Fisher is a PhD student in the School of Art History funded by the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities. Her research explores the discourse of monumentality in the United States from the Civil War to the present day.

History of the Harry and Margery Boswell Art Collection

‘An Ceo Draiochta’ by Barbara Rae, ©Barbara Rae CBE RA

The Boswell Art Collection was founded in 1995 with the ambition to reflect the best of modern and contemporary Scottish art. It was conceived as a memorial to Harry A. Boswell, by his wife Margery Boswell, to celebrate and share his enthusiasm for Scottish history and culture. Harry spent most of his life in the United States, where he worked as a successful lawyer and real estate investor, but Scotland always held special place in his heart.

As a child, Harry had learnt of his family’s ancestral home at Balmuto Castle, near Kirkcaldy in Fife, and would spend many years restoring the castle in later life. He would often visit the nearby auction houses of Edinburgh during this time in search of artworks for his own collection. Some of his favourite artists included John Houston, Elizabeth Blackadder and Robin Philipson, to name just a few who are now represented in the Boswell Collection. When Harry died in 1990, thoughts on how best to commemorate him turned to the keen interest in Scottish art he had cherished.

The most compelling proposal was to build an art collection in Harry’s memory. Regular annual purchases of modern and contemporary artworks would allow for longevity and continued relevance, helping foster conversations and spark ideas. Consolidating the family’s strong links to Fife, the Collection was to be based at the University of St Andrews, where one of his sons had attended. Here, it would serve as a teaching resource as well as a memorial.

The Boswell Committee was established following discussions with the University’s newly founded St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute (SASSI). The SASSI was an interdisciplinary body responsible for the encouragement of all aspects of Scottish studies across the University. Staff and students from various departments formed its membership and Dr Tom Normand, an eminent scholar and lecturer in Scottish art, represented the School of Art History. Normand was ideally suited to recommend artworks and promising artists for the new Collection, and its development owes much to his vision and dedication. The artist Steven Campbell even created a vibrant mixed-media Portrait of Tom Normand (1998), making him one of the Collection’s treasures in more ways than one.

The Committee’s first acquisition was a suite of prints titled Thursday’s Child in 1995. The portfolio was produced by the Dundee Printmakers Workshop and comprised of prints by some of the leading names in Scottish art, including Barbara Rae and John Houston, as well as younger artists such as Elaine Shemilt and Elspeth Lamb. As a group, the prints provided the Collection’s initial grounding and set the tone for future collecting. Exemplifying great diversity and breadth, they fit perfectly with the Committee’s aims to provide a comprehensive sample of Scottish art. 

Over the years, the Collection has continued to embrace works of both historic and contemporary significance. William McCance’s Tree Trunk Composition (1920-8), for example, now sits alongside Katie Paterson’s Future Library (2014), an art project that involved planting a forest in Norway to supply the paper for a special book anthology to be printed in 100 years’ time. This chronological breadth and encouragement to think forward as well as back is one of the Collection’s key strengths, as is its thematic diversity and stylistic range. Figurative works by Ken Currie such as his ghostly Story from Glasgow series (1989), for example, find a counterpart in the later cloth-like abstractions of Alison Watt’s Untitled (2004). Urban themes and challenging social issues, on the other hand, unite and prompt parallels between other works such as Currie’s Age of Uncertainty (1992) and the scenes of childhood precarity photographed in the Gorbals by David Peat (1968).

These works amongst others seek to widen perspectives and, in 2014, steps were taken to expand the official remit of the Collection itself. In addition to the traditional media categories of sculpture, prints, photography and painting, other ‘forms of visual art’ were now eligible for inclusion. This has enabled the Collection to remain responsive to present-day practices, both artistic and art historical.

Indeed, a selection of the Collection’s works can be found in the School of Art History on North Street. Hanging on the walls and in the stairwells of the building, sculptures and pictures are put in close proximity to learning and critical thought. Here, they encourage students and visitors to explore and ask questions: how can art lead to a sense of belonging? How can it make someone feel at home? What actually constitutes ‘Scottishness’ in art?

In recent years, these questions have become all the more crucial as the Collection seeks to reflect current debates in the study of Art History. Major acquisitions have included artworks that address important issues such as gender and transnationalism. In 2018, for example, the Collection acquired a number of works by the designer collaborative Atelier E.B, whose engagement with feminism, football, and fashion ask us to think differently about the separation of spheres. In 2019, Maud Sulter’s important photographic series Significant Others (1993) also joined the Collection. These large-scale photographic prints offer a powerful starting point for reflecting upon inherited histories, both national and familial.

The Collection continues to acquire works that actively support learning and creative inquiry across the University. Indeed, thanks to the Boswell family’s continued generosity and the dedication of the Committee, the Collection’s future assuredly looks as bright as its past.

Author Details:

Clare Fisher is a PhD student in the School of Art History funded by the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities. Her research explores the discourse of monumentality in the United States from the Civil War to the present day.