Saturday, 24 August 2013

Richard Demarco, Artist and Citizen of Europe

A statement from Dr Donald Smith, Director of The Scottish Storytelling Centre, in Edinburgh’s Netherbow   Friday 23rd August 2013

Dear Richard,
It was a great pleasure to speak with you this morning, and to hear about your forthcoming European award as ‘Citizen of the Year’ in Europe as well as your address in Dundee to printmakers from around the world. I am delighted that you are happy to be featured in my forthcoming book about Scotland- ‘Freedom and Faith’, but even gladder that you would be willing to see an exhibition of your ‘Meikle Seggie’ drawings and hopefully a reprint of your book next year, perhaps connected with our European collaboration ‘Seeing Stories’ (which links landscape narrative in northern Germany, Tuscany, the Lisbon region and southern Scotland). But really as part of a wider European moment for Scotland- if not a Scottish moment for Europe in 2014! It was in this context that I raised Meikle Seggie with Stefania del Bravo at the Italian Cultural Institute.
While I have just as it were ‘rediscovered’ your own ‘Road to Meikle Seggie’ you have continued to travel on it, and as is sometimes the way with longer journeys, the true significance is only coming to light. That sense of an underlying cultural ground, expressed in our environment and how humans have related to them over thousands of years, is now acknowledged as vital to our creative future, if not our survival. On ‘The Road’ you expressed verbally and visually the way artists can be inspired and inspire through such grounding, and the way in which modern divisions between sacred and secular, art and craft, artist and people, are overcome by such connection and catholicity- wholeness. It is a gratuitous bonus for me, as someone whose artistic work has always been grounded in Edinburgh’s Old Town, that the Road begins here while leading to everywhere! The Road also snakes through all our cultural legacies- Roman, Celtic, Medieval, Enlightenment, Victorian and Modern- showing how they cumulatively nourish an outward looking  Europe in the contemporary globalising situation.
I look forward to a wider conversation on these things, but in the meantime here are my thoughts on the Scottish significance of The Road, for present and future, as represented at the culmination of my new book (out in October) ‘Freedom and Faith’:

Richard Demarco has been a transformational thinker and doer in Scottish culture for over fifty years. He was instrumental in connecting Scotland with a burgeoning international arts scene in the nineteen sixties, but in the seventies his innovative impetus took a fresh more reflective turn. He embarked on a series of journeys which were undertaken with groups of artists and activists, and were in themselves a form of creative happenings or explorations. ‘The Road to Meikle Seggie’ began in Edinburgh’s Old Town, moving into its rural environs, into a wider Scotland, and then ranging across Europe. Meikle Seggie was a remote farm steading on the western flank of the Ochil Hills, which was almost impossible to find and easily missed when one arrived. It was in a sense nowhere and everywhere.
Travelling ‘The Road to Meikle Seggie’ was about reconnecting the contemporary arts with the environment and with the culture layered through it which was already the product of generations of human life. But Richard Demarco was also seeking to reshape ‘the arts’ in a wider non-metropolitan crucible. ‘My instinct tells me to make drawings and paintings of the Road to Meikle Seggie,’ he writes, and the drawings made on these journeys are a remarkable legacy in their own right. But walking, seeing and drawing also inspired a significant commentary, as Demarco came to feel that these often ancient routes were simultaneously mythic and ordinary.
I can draw or paint the tangible and observable markers, tracks and trails they leave behind them when they travel in harmony with nature, so my drawings are about what I see in the real world all around me. They are about the magic in all things we recognise as normal. They are not about the paranormal. They are about ordinary roads, and the ordinary things we see on roads-  stone walls, farm gates, hedges, telegraph poles, signposts, wayside shrines, trees, grasses, plants, flowers and weeds and how the road moves forward incorporating all of these ‘normal’ things together with the ‘normal’ movements of animals and birds, and the wind and the weather they encounter and the movements of clouds and rain storms and shafts of sunlight. They are about ordinary houses and farm buildings, and in the villages and towns they are about paving stones and street corners, drainpipes, gutters, chimney pots, windows, doors, washing hanging out to dry, balconies and all forms of useful street furniture. The road does not concentrate on castles, palaces and cathedrals, or grand and historic buildings. It is governed more by small apparently insignificant details and hidden forces, by underground ‘blind’ springs and the ever-changing movements of shorelines, rivers, and of moonrises and sunsets.  
For Richard Demarco the great truth of the myths is that what is exotic and far distant comes to be recognised as what is near at hand, close to home. The marvellous is also the immediate. ‘We have failed to learn the truth,’ he comments, ‘in all the fairy tales we learned on our mother’s laps, that no fairy tale object or event is more exotic or more improbable than the stuff and substance of our everyday lives.’
‘The Road to Meikle Seggie’ reopens our eyes to the enchantment of the world and to ‘the mystery infused in all things’. The Road is Scottish and universal but passionately grounded in love of the particular. Here Demarco articulates a rooted creative response to the growing environmental crisis, which led to his notable partnership with the German artist, Joseph Beuys. A culture disconnected from the sources of life can only be deathly. That insight for Demarco was social and psychological as much as environmental. During this same period he was working inside The Special Unit at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow with long term inmates. This brought the art educator’s vision into direct contact with the urban poverty of industrialised Scotland, and some of its bleakest human outcomes. A prisoner’s perspective on that creative partnership is set out in Jimmy Boyle’s ‘A Sense of Freedom’.
Richard Demarco set out an agenda in the seventies for Scottish culture which is visionary and down to earth. He is also pointing to the remaking of religion as the spiritual dynamic of culture. Together they animate a sense of life in all its dimensions that can be creative, connected and sustainable. The artist in every person is a daily expression of the divine. But that artist is also the teacher, the labourer, the child at play, the traveller, the technologist, the philosopher, and the gardener.
The road leads to a space which reassures the human spirit of its spiritual destiny. It is the space I would like to offer anyone who valued or sought freedom. It is the space I should like to give all those who live and work in prisons where physical journeys are unthinkable.

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