The Glasgow School of Art – Re-created

By Bernie Bell

Some years ago, Mike and I were having an over-night stay in Glasgow.  We took the opportunity to visit the Glasgow School of Art.  What a place. The wonder doesn’t just lie in the building itself – the structure – it’s the echoing , reflecting themes and schemes throughout. An art-work of connecting art-works.

Glasgow School of Art

Photo B Bell

What  also makes it such an energizing place to be, is the awareness of so many generations of young  (and not-so young) artists going there, tuning into the vibe of the place, and producing their own work.

Glasgow School of Art

Photo B Bell

I came away, with an impression of the G.S.A. as being almost a ‘machine’ for producing good work.  Our guide mentioned that Charles Rennie Mackintosh was in favour of combining the use of ‘technology’ and advancing methods of production, with the production of beautiful, and useful things.  Something about the structure, all those lines, grids, soaring lines etc.  brought to mind the idea of a ‘machine’ for the production of good art work.  And why not? He used the tactic of leading the student up, through the darker areas, into the light, to inspire.  This may sound daft, but I actually thought of the building in ‘Ghostbusters’, which acts as a focus for energies, if you see what I mean!

Much of the structure and planning of the G.S.A. is to do with light, and darkness, in different ways.  So, here’s a picture I took, from the end of the ‘Hen Run’.  Photography wasn’t allowed in the building, but we were allowed to take pics. in the Hen Run, and this was from the door at the end of the Hen Run, so, it counts!  I think it catches so many of the recurring motifs in the G.S. A.  –  the lines, the grid patterns, the contrast of light and shade.  The end, is actually windows, but it looks solid, illusion – like the stairway with the very Escher-like steps and arches.

Glasgow School of Art

Photo B Bell

I loved the place, and everything about it – every little detail and every big strong statement – everything. All the ideas, all the ways in which those idea were expressed.  I loved it.  A special place on this earth.

When I saw on the news that the Glasgow School of Art was on fire, I took an image, from the on-line news report, and sent it out to those people I know, who were likely to be troubled by what was happening there.  I was troubled by it, as I love that place, and all it holds.  But……..I saw something strong and positive, in what could be seen as an image of a bad situation, and I sent this out, to, hopefully, bring a bit of hope to those who would be feeling hard-hit by this. It looked to me, almost like a wonderful piece of ceramic work – glowing with colour and…light.  And, I received mostly positive responses.

I had the idea that, if it could be re-built, exactly as it was, then all it would take to re-create what was there,  would be years of people, being there –  people’s hands touching the wood, people breathing. This would  re-produce what had been lost. It would need to be ‘lived in’, and then would hold something of what the original held.  It would be different, but expressing the same approach to …life/work/art/beauty/humanity.

It was heartening to see how many people came forward to help the situation. And then, it did look like that was going to be the plan – to involve the craftspeople of today to work as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald and their fellow craft-workers  had worked, and produce a fitting re-creation of the original. What a wonderful thought that was.

I saw on ‘Reporting Scotland’ that that is exactly what is happening – a replica of one of the library bays has been produced, to test whether the materials and techniques used for the original, are viable, and it looks like they are – it looks like it will work.  A complete copy of what was, can be re-created. I can‘t help saying it – a phoenix will rise from the ashes – IT WILL.  Not exactly the same – and why should it be?  But with the same basic structural ideas and art-work.

I realise that the books are lost – maybe research will be able to source and replace some of what was there, but, even if not – well, the building will be re-formed, the ideas will continue, and – we can’t have everything.

I raise a glass to Charles Rennie and to Margaret.

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4 replies »

  1. This should be a link to the news report with the picture that I mention – of the fire behind a window – looking to me like a piece of wonderful ceramic glazing.
    It looks v. complicated – I’m not sure if I’ve done it right!

  2. Monday 18.6.18
    The fire started on Friday evening. It was the weekend. I don’t see/hear the news, at the weekend. It’s the weekend.
    Sunday evening, after a good day in the garden, I put the telly on and caught ‘Reporting Scotland’. There was a man, sitting in a newsroom, saying something about the Glasgow School of Art fire, with pictures of smoke and firemen on tall ladders with hoses. I thought it was hearkening back to the fire, and that the next thing would be a ‘reveal’ of the next part of the re-construction process. I honestly thought that was what was happening, and waited, all agog, to see the developments.
    Last big news, was the successful reproduction of a bay from the library, which showed that the methods and approaches being used, could work.
    Then, it continued – a woman who lived nearby who had been evacuated as the structure is deemed unsafe – a fireman saying they’re still dealing with the remaining pockets of fire ( this was on SUNDAY, from FRIDAY), and that it’s too early to even conjecture about what happened.
    I just sat there. Disbelief.
    There are other buildings which he designed, and there are other works by himself and by Margaret MacDonald. What they did, what they were, and what they placed in this world, is still there. But…But…But…..this is/was the Glasgow School of Art.
    I know it was a building, it wasn’t people, or animals, or…sentient beings of any kind, but, to me that building, was almost sentient. It had The Macs in it, and many of those who have worked and studied there, since. And, the building itself, had a feeling of sentience about it – it was listening and breathing.
    The word used on the news, to describe it, now, was “A shell.”
    They didn’t used to allow photos inside, but, the outside, and views across, from inside, are something of the place. I wonder, do any ‘Orkney News’ readers have images to share?
    And, Sunday evening, I raised another glass to MacDonald and MacKintosh/MacKintosh and MacDonald. To – The Macs.

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