The Alan Woods Collection

October 2001

Publication: The Times

Alan Woods (1956-2000) worked at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art from 1989 until his untimely death last year. Although he taught art history and critical theory, he also combined this with his work as an editor and visual artist.   The journal ‘Transcript’, of which he was founding editor, was a respected publication which specialised in extensive interviews with practising artists.

Over the years, Woods built up a small but impressive collection of art all of which was bequeathed to Dundee University after his death.   The collection, which numbers two-hundred-and-sixty items, includes work by Ian Hamilton Finlay, R.B. Kitaj, Susan Hiller and Tom Phillips, as well as a host of other, mainly Scottish, artists with whom he came into contact in his professional life.  Many of these were students or artists in the early stages of their careers and this goes some way to explaining the nature of this collection — for Woods was not wealthy and the works here were judiciously chosen on a small budget .  An early, delicate and beautiful watercolour by Turner Prize nominee Callum Innes is a case in point.

Other works include those by colleagues at Duncan of Jordanstone College and these include a work by Will MacLean, as well as a painting by Jim Pattison, the latter characterised by its visual trickery based on geometric form.  The organisers of this show have chosen to present it thematically so that works by artists who share particular concerns may be seen in small clusters.  For this reason, MacLean’s work, for example, may be seen alongside that of Mateusz Farenholtz and Fred Stiven.  All three share a particular method of working involving boxed constructions, although while MacLean’s and Farenholtz’s studies are narrative, Stiven’s  are purely abstract arrangements of three-dimensional geometric forms 

Another major thematic constant was Woods’ interest in the combination of text and image which partly explains his fascination with Hamilton Finlay, as well as Phillips, Kitaj and a number of others.  As if to underline the personal nature of the collection a print by Kitaj (itself a tribute to Wyndham Lewis) is inscribed “for Alan from Kitaj, affection”.

A number of Woods’ own works are to be found here and although they owe much to Hamilton Finlay in terms of their classical allusion and typographical emphasis they are nevertheless worthy of inclusion.  In one, entitled ‘The Launching of the Argo’ (made in collaboration with Arthur Watson) each letter of the phrase, on each subsequent line, is changed from a regular to an italic character.  This recalls the tale of the Argo where each timber was gradually replaced so that although conceptually the same, the ship became a physically  different entity.

Woods’ work as editor of ‘Transcript’ is well documented — the journal contains interviews with many prominent visual and cinematographic artists, including Peter Greenaway about whom Woods wrote the definitive academic study ‘Being Naked Playing Dead’.

Despite the rather tragic circumstances of its inception this show is a small, gem-like tribute to a talented and intellectually generous man.


The Alan Woods Collection

Cooper Gallery

University of Dundee

Perth Road


01382 345192

Until 17 Nov


Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 17-10-01