Richard Demarco – Scotland in Europe: Europe in Scotland

April 2011

Publication: The Times

It is a mark of Richard Demarco’s apparently ever-increasing stature that the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslopcould be persuaded, willingly, it must be said, to attend this somewhat idiosyncratic show – in a far from ideal exhibition space – in Scotland’s de facto ‘embassy’ in the heart of Brussels.

 

That said, and despite her ‘captive’ status, Ms Hyslop listened with wrapt attention as, virtually uninterrupted for over an hour, Prof Demarco unflaggingly, even though he is now in his eighty-second year, explained the significance of each of the fifty, or so, annotated photographs (supported by fascinating fragments from his vast archive of publications).

 

Here are the, by now, familiar images of Joseph Beuys, Sean Connery and Tadeusz Kantor. But despite – or even because of – their familiarity, these images still retain surprises and revelations. Through written annotation Demarco elevates the image to what has been described as ‘event photography’ – a purportedly new genre. So although the photographs may date from the 60s and 70s they are never faded, either conceptually or physically. Demarco prints them anew and with each new printing is a different annotation, providing endless variations on a theme. All are dated 2011.

 

Demarco’s written commentaries are almost always insightful and because the are always written anew (he is not of the digital age) the information can offer new perspectives. The images emphasise the multiple connections between Scottish and European art. 

 

Commenting on Beuys’ Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony performed at Edinburgh College of Art in 1970 Demarco writes: “…Beuys stands sentinel over what he regards as the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Artist’…”. In another work featuring the Romanian artist Paul Neagu is written “…[he] made a definitive contribution to the 1972 Edinburgh Arts programme in the waters of the Firth of Forth on an incoming tide on Inchcolm, the island of St Columba…”

 

Here we are offered tantalising glimpses from the past, fragments of urgent art historical significance which may fade or be lost forever as the number of first-hand witnesses inevitably dwindles. One longs to see films and more extensive footage of the work of these masters. Where are the interviews, the exegesis and the analysis? A great deal, it must be said, is still retained by Demarco. But that magnificent memory too will fade and thus with great urgency facts, names and opinions must be sought and saved.

 

One of Demarco’s main tenets is that art originates in the meeting of friends. So, here too are such images – of Robert McDowell and Sandy Moffat, loyal supporters both. They are recorded as artists in their own right and as such are components in the story of a man who brought some of Europe’s best, but unknown, artists to Scotland – to his credit and to our lasting benefit.

 

If Ms Hyslop previously was in any doubt about Demarco’s achievements – or his high seriousness – she must have left with these reservations thoroughly