One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Boys Are Back In Town

If you happen to be in London, run-don't-walk as fast as you can away from the RA where they have an exhibition of The Glasgow Boys school of painters. Myself, I'm only in London once every five years or so, but I caught it when it was at the Kelvingrove Museum.

Jaysus, but I fucking hate them. 'Round these parts they're meant to be wonderful and innovative and everything. Well...I'll admit that they were technically accomplished, but innovative they were not. In fact, they were a thoroughly reactionary school, churning out their sub-Millais, 'kaleyard' pictures of romantic peasants, as seen here. I mean...Fuck. Off. Some of them were inspired by the way Cezanne painted light. I'm sure it would be lovely to pick cabbages in the climate of Southern France, if cabbages grew there. But, sorry, now matter how hard you squint, Dumfries and Galloway ain't Provence. (It goes without saying that my objections are as much political as aesthetic).

And then we come to this one. There's a fuzzy line between 'The Glasgow Boys' and 'The Scottish Colourists'. Whatever. But anyone who's ever visited the Kelvingrove with me, and many who haven't, will be aware - will have been told forcefully - that this is my very least favourite painting of all time.* I loathe it with a passion. Jesus fucking wept - I'm allergic to pseudo-Celtic mythology at the best of times, but this is just taking the piss. No need, no need. 'Bringing home the Mistletoe', I ask you. And it's huge!

I really don't know what it is about these fellas and why they're held in such esteem. I guess there's an inevitable tendency for provincial cities to idolise their own, 'World Famous in Glasgow' etc. etc, and since these guys were working at a time when Glasgow was the Second City of Empire (and fifth largest city in Europe), maybe they made a dispproportionate splash simply by dint of Being There. Because - their technical prowess admitted - they really aren't that special. Are they? Where's the originality? Where's the depth? Where's the Art?

The thing is, though, that Glasgow has produced its own innovative artists (as have many other cities). I'm a fairly recent re-convert back to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I'd become blasé about him due to over-familiarity and the ubiquity round here of piss-poor rip-offs. But then you see The Glasgow School of Art** and see the way he uses Japanese references the way a contemporary artist might use Manga or Super Mario, all mixed up with Scottish vernacular, Gothic and Arts and Crafts. Plus he really does have an international reputation. On a recent visit to The Hill House I learnt that one of his tables was once owned by Andy Warhol***.

Plus Glasgow has its own, thriving artistic scene, as do many cities, and crucially one that's not regarded as a stepping stone to London or New York, but as a thing in itself. International artists are attracted there (and not in the same way as they are to Edinbugger where they arrive en masse to choke off the local culture). There's a sense of making local-but-not-provincial art. Elderly Glasgow pedestrian Alasdair Gray put it well: "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation."

'Fraid I don't get any of that from these boys. Any Fine Arts course can teach the rudiments of painting, and their 'Glasgowness' was merely incidental. It seems to me that their chief skill was to be born wealthy enough to go to art school and settle into a career turning out chocolate box interior decor for their own type.

FULL DISCLOSURE: At home we have this and this on the wall and are looking for a frame for this. Harrumph.

* With the possible exception of Frederic Leighton's 'Flaming June'. Or anything by Edward Burne-Jones or Lawrence Alma-Tadema (especially this piece of crap). In fact, any of that Pre-Rapahelite scheisse with all it's pictures of dopey, swooning women lying around - often in harems or the like - being all lethargic and available. (apologies to JE if she reads this. ;-) )

** Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand once taught at GSoA. For those who haven't heard my story, I was in a bar a while back and the guy next to me waiting to get served was a skinny guy, beige jacket, stripey top, floppy hair. I turned to him and said 'Either you're the world's biggest Franz Ferdinand fan, or you are Alex Kapranos.' 'Can I just stop you there?,' he said, 'I'm Alex Kapranos.' Oops.

*** National Trust for Scotland properties have old ladies in each room, as guides. Ours told us about the table and said. "Mind you - I wouldn't even know what Andy Warhol looked like." Ah, what a terrible thing esprit d'escalier can be. We were half way home before I realised I should have told her "Andy Warhol looks a scream." See also this previous post.


polonius said...

But what about the human factors? Mackintosh's designs may be very pleasing to the eye, but I'd bet his chairs are a pain in the butt.

Edward the Bonobo said...

You have a point there. As well as those unconfy, straight backs, some of 'em seem awfy low down.

It's called 'suffering for art'.