Hello everyone, my name is Jim Colquhoun – I am a genuine Glasgow artist not ‘Glasgow-based’ whatever that is. I’ve no idea what ‘medium’ I work in, rarely know what the fuck I’m doing and constantly attempt to sabotage whatever small successes come my way (as you shall see). In other words for all my pretensions I am, sadly, still wholly working-class. There is no escape from the past.
I was asked to come along and talk by Ross Sinclair, mainly because I wrote a short piece of ill-considered invective after viewing the ‘Generation’ documentary on the BBC.
Like many people I’ve talked to since I was taken aback by its wholly predictable structure i.e. Douglas Gordon as the abiding genius, Nathan Coley the canny intellectual, Christine Borland the artist/scientist etc etc. As I said in the initial piece it seemed that another much more interesting film was struggling to get out but was prevented by the BBC’s desire for broad appeal, easy narratives and quirky ‘oo look at those crazy artists’ churnalism.
What we were witnessing was the ‘story’ of Scottish contemporary art being massaged into being before our very eyes, NOT a real in depth exploration of a scene, which for all its faults, was initially concerned with an attempt to democratise, demystify and sex-up the art-making process
Anyway lip service was paid in the film to the background of the oft trumpeted Glasgow Miracle, an ironic statement even when first uttered, but taken up by stupid journalists as holy writ ever since. In any case we can always rely on the media to take the easy option, especially where contemporary art is concerned.
But the media-driven success of the arts in Glasgow has had its own blowback scenario, wherein, due to a combination of favourable press, cheap rents compared to London, state benefits, a genuinely thriving alternative art and music scene and the art schools willingness to cash in on its former success, has seen the city flooded with wannabee art stars and other detritus. All of which is about to come crashing down around our ears thanks to the punitive policies of the coalition government.
Anyway I like to call ‘Glasgow-based artists’ – the prog rockers – a reference to the over-produced, ever so self-conscious and often dull music produced by grammar school boys in the 1970’s. For much of the work produced is strangely weightless, versions of versions of versions and indeed carefully calibrated to appeal to the Toby’s of this world. If I attend another exhibition featuring some shoddy semi-theatrical ‘props’ or see a canvas that has been splatted with a bit of gouache and then propped against a plinth, or some branding that’s been fiddled with somehow, then someone may well have to die.
As you can see I have inhabited the Glasgow art scene for many years, surfing uneasily through openings, chugging free booze, nodding to and being ignored by fellow sufferers, trying not to take offense when snubbed by some idiot I don’t really want to talk to anyway. But I can remember spotting Ross at the Festival of Plagiarism way back in 1989. I had no connection with the art scene then and had just arrived back from an abortive attempt at some bohemianism in London. I can remember thinking WOW! this is what I imagine art to be! Its been down hill ever since really.
At heart I’m nostalgic for a scene that never really happened, where art in Glasgow became a genuinely collective undertaking that broke the middle-class stranglehold, burned down the art school and initiated a golden age of socially-conscious art-making and general upheaval . . . In spite of everything I’m still hopeful.
(unfinished piece for the Steven Campbell Memorial Lecture. Got called away suddenly to have a baby…)