Either the art world is facing a crisis, or it has been in crisis for a fairly long time and we have just started talking about it. Every year from art colleges throughout Scotland, graduates are spilling out degree shows to exhibit some of their best works. All these graduates passionately hope for their works to be spotted, until the reality of accumulated student debts and succeeding as an artist sinks in. The competition to exhibit becomes increasingly tough while fewer galleries are committed to showing new work.
But an old Georgian warehouse in Cowgate once housed exactly the kind of space that today’s art graduates need. The 369 Gallery has dedicated itself to promoting and exhibiting graduates. 369 Remembered at the Sciennes Gallery in Summerhall is a celebration of their bohemian legacy. Spread across three rooms, the exhibition displays iconic works by the Edinburgh Girls – a group of Scottish female artists including Pat Douthwaite, Fionna Carlisle, June Redfern, Carol Gibbons and Joyce Cairns – along with memorabilia from the Gallery’s wilder days.
The paintings by these artists are in a variety of styles – Douthwaite’s bold exploration of colour and tonal value using a simple palette, Cubist and Colourist experimentations, and Margaret Hunter’s allegorical expression of the fall of the Berlin Wall – each accompanied by a text wherein artists share the importance of 369 to them. ‘Nowhere was exhibiting new graduates and the gallery gave young artists the perfect opportunity to keep painting and, more importantly, to expose their work to a wide audience,’ said Fionna Carlisle. 369 was not only an exhibition space: it was an institute, an exclusively large creative hub, and more importantly, as founder Andrew Brown himself expressed, it was an idea.
Brown’s idea of 369 took the works of Scottish artists beyond the borders of its land and won appreciation in New York and Russia. Even after the fire that consumed the building that housed the gallery, Brown continues to promote the works of unheard voices of the art world. As this world expands over various physical, digital and corporate spaces, an exhibition like this, and a gallery like the 369 provide a thoughtful insight to two very important things: how female artists of these times were exploring techniques that were contemporary to their times and yet remained unrecognised, or rather remained under-represented, and how there is still a lack in promotion and celebration of art that is native to Scotland, in the country itself.
The art world finds its identity shifting into that of a corporate body, and every year the graduates that come into this world find themselves under-represented and intimidated. While the 369 Gallery was an important icon of the 1980s in Edinburgh, it was still not enough for its time. Today as the definition of art broadens itself and becomes multidisciplinary in practice, more individuals find themselves able to express artistically, and within the expanding artistic dialogues, we increasingly find a need for spaces like these.
Image: Edward Mcmaihin via Geograph