Richard Demarco at 80
20th December 2010
The current plethora of Richard Demarco-related events and exhibitions around Edinburgh signals a kind of homecoming for the wayward and lovable genius that is the phenomenon known as Ricky.
A recent double page spread in The Times (27.11.10) recorded Demarco’s receipt of top honours from both the Polish and German state for services rendered in the promotion and dissemination of art and ideas from these respective countries.
Demarco activities in eastern Europe from the late ‘sixties onwards signaled his own attempt to ‘demolish’ the Berlin wall twenty years before it happened. His orchestration of a meeting (which also included Sean Connery) between Joseph Beuys and Tadeusz Kantor at ‘The Poorhouse’ in Edinburgh in 1973 was as symbolic as it was actual. Two giants of the post-war European avant-garde were meeting in Edinburgh under the aegis of The Richard Demarco Gallery at a time when Scotland was mired in its inward-looking industrial decline and effete belle peinturism.
Edinburgh and Scotland weren’t ready for Beuys and Kantor but they came anyway. Without Demarco’s intervention and charisma they wouldn’t have.
These and some of the enormous totality of Demarco’s other achievements have been acknowledged by the revamped, reinvigorated RSA under the enlightened leadership of Bill Scott and Arthur Watson. Elsewhere, I wrote:
One of the exhibits here is a short film, dating from around 1970, of a group discussion. The group, which includes the art critic Cordelia Oliver, the Scottish artist Fred Stiven and, pivotally positioned, Richard Demarco discuss the work of the Romanian sculptor Paul Neagu – who is also present. The excerpt is remarkable in a number of ways not least because all, with the exception of Demarco, are no longer alive; but more than this it illustrates what Demarco was (and still is) all about: dialogue, conversation and what he refers to as the “meeting of friends” as the true catalyst for art and ideas. It’s a precious moment among thousands of precious moments captured by the cameras of Demarco and others such as George Oliver and Rory McEwen.
The stature of the artists in this show (10 Dialogues: Richard Demarco, Scotland and The European Avant Garde ) – Alastair Maclennan, Ainslie Yule, David Mach, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Rory McEwen, Paul Neagu, Günther Uecker and Marina Abramovic, as well as Beuys and Kantor – illustrates the regard in which Demarco is held, as well as the internationally acknowledged stature of those with whom he has worked.
It’s tempting to regard 10 Dialogues as a coda to Demarco’s long, distinguished and, at times, precarious career but rather than rest on his laurels, in the offing, as ever, are a series of events and exhibitions including a show in Brussels and a presence at the Venice Biennale.
Those who were lucky enough to listen to Edi Stark’s recent all-too-short interview with Demarco on BBC Radio Scotland (broadcast 11.12.10) may well have felt pathos (either sympathetic or empathetic) at the image of an eleven-year-old Italian boy being beaten to a pulp in the showers by four older youths in Portobello Baths. Italy had just declared its support for the Nazi regime, at a stroke turning all of those with Italian origins from citizens into enemy aliens. Incidents such as this coupled with Demarco’s Roman Catholicism forever confirmed his outsider status. As such he has always served on the side of the underdog, eschewing fame (he had the chance to bring Rothko, Rauschenberg and de Kooning to Scotland) and preferring to be a risk-taker in the name of truth. He has a genuine integrity in this regard which is greatly to be respected. His mission was therefore to release artists from the “biggest prison ever created by humanity” – the ‘eastern Europe’ which resulted in the carve-up at Yalta.
Throughout his life he has combined many roles: teacher, promoter, gallery-owner, writer, lecturer and indefatigable proselytizer for the necessary healing energy of art. All of these activities have been undertaken at great cost to his own artistic development. As a draughtsman he has an excellent eye, and his compositional sense – combined with swift, deft once-only mark-making – singles him out as a recorder or landscape and townscape of great skill. It is interesting to ponder Demarco’s potential achievements solely as a visual artist had his energy not been channeled into so many other time-consuming causes.
Anyone who doubts Demarco’s artistic talents can judge for themselves from two Edinburgh current shows – at the RSA and the Scottish Gallery.