Focus on demarco

THE aliens have landed . . . or so it appears in Paul Neagu’s 1969 photo montage depicting what, at first glance, resembles a huge multi-panelled pineapple that has come to rest upon the mini-roundabout at the junction of Melville Crescent and Walker Street.

The bizarre sepia-tinted image is just one of a number of pieces acquired from the Demarco Archive in 1995 by the National Galleries of Scotland and features in the first of three displays planned by the Galleries to examine the contribution made to the international arts scene by Edinburgh impresario, Richard Demarco.

Demarco Focus 1: Richard Demarco in the 1960s is on at the Dean Gallery in Belford Road and documents Demarco’s wide-ranging activities throughout the swinging Sixties, from the founding of the Traverse in 1963 through to the exhibitions of the Richard Demarco Gallery in the latter part of the decade.

Assisting with the instillation of the exhibition on the eve of his 73rd birthday, the man himself surveys a poster for the Traverse Theatre Club that boasts the venue’s Spring Programme 1966, and recalls: "The Sixties were a time of revolution. They were a time when things were changing and a time for the fulfilment of dreams."

"In the Fifties I had always wanted something like the Traverse to exist because I always used to feel so unhappy when the annual Edinburgh Festival left town - all the excitement went with it."

Demarco’s various attempts to capture that spirit of internationalism all year round have made him one of the most influential figures in the Scottish arts world. And it is from the meticulously collected and preserved artifacts that make up the Demarco archive that all the exhibits in the new exhibition have been drawn.

"What they (National Galleries of Scotland) have is part of the archive that existed from 1963 to 1995," explains Demarco. "From the very beginning, when the Traverse opened and even before, I was taking photographs of what I call historic moments. Important meetings between human beings who were involved in creative activities, because I knew that if I didn’t, that meeting would go unrecorded."

However, it is not just photographs that feature in the exhibition. Logan Sisley, curator of the Dean Gallery explains: "Items on view include early Traverse Theatre exhibition catalogues, documentation of the ambitious Open 100 and Canada 101 exhibitions and fascinating drawings for Paul Neagu’s proposed construction for Melville Crescent, which was never realised."

Many of these have never before been on public display and Sisley believes they promise an unrivalled insight into some of the pivotal people, events and institutions that moved Scottish artists into the international arena.

"The extent of Richard Demarco’s influence stems from his international outlook, working with both young and established Scottish artists alongside artists from around the world - Italy, Romania, Canada, Poland and more. His work in the 1960s paved the way for bringing major international artists such as Joseph Beuys to Scotland."

That paving of the way began in earnest with Demarco’s involvement in the setting up of the Traverse - a theatre and art gallery in one.

"Every year the Festival brought with it a whiff of excitement and internationalism, bit it only lasted for three weeks. And, by God, the day after the Festival ended you knew that something had gone. I didn’t want to live for even one week in an Edinburgh that didn’t have this international spirit," says Demarco.

"I had a deep and profound longing for a place where you could touch that spirit and when you walked through the doors of the Traverse that was what you found." Posters, programmes and tickets from the Richard Demarco Gallery which opened in Melville Crescent in 1966 also feature in the exhibition, although Demarco himself insists that the gallery, which was set up by John Martin, Andrew Elliot and Jimmy Walker (fellow founding members of the Traverse who resigned from the theatre’s board over artistic differences) was never meant to carry his name.

Demarco explains: "The reason they founded the new gallery was because they wanted to improve upon the size of the gallery at the original Traverse, which just wasn’t big enough. However, it was never intended to be called the Richard Demarco Gallery. It should have been called the Traverse Gallery but they were told that they couldn’t use the Traverse name and, after much deliberation, it was decided to call it after the gallery’s director, who was myself."

The Gallery furthered Demarco’s interest in international art and brought work and artists to the Capital from as far afield as Brazil, Canada and Romania.

"It was the most exciting time imaginable," he says. At one point during the Sixties he was not only running the Demarco and sitting on the board of the Traverse, but also the art master at the prestigious Duns Scotus College in Corstorphine, now a nursing home.

"At heart I am still a school teacher," says Demarco. "All I did in the Sixties was change my classroom from Corstorphine Hill to a little place called the Traverse Theatre where I discovered that the greatest form of education is the experience of the arts.

"The arts allow you to educate whole generations of people, from children to students and adults, in a way that allows them understand the thrill and excitement of being alive."

Despite losing the Traverse name, the Richard Demarco Gallery continued that ethos first nurtured in the ground-breaking venue and Demarco, who is celebrating his 40th anniversary as a gallery director this year says: "It was a most creative period.

"The Sixties offered a future. By the time the Seventies had ended that future had started to dim. In the Sixties anything was possible. You could run free with the ball at your feet and score a goal because the rules were not so rigid and the art world wasn’t completely run by market forces."

Despite passing on much of his early collection to the National Galleries of Scotland, Demarco reveals that the archive itself continues to grow. It is a living thing that is now estimated to consist of more than one million photographs, many thousands of programmes, files of correspondence and in excess of 10,000 books, all expressing the programmes and aspirations of international arts institutions.

Describing it as a treasure-house, Demarco admits: "I do have an anxiety about the Demarco archive because it has now outgrown its current location and I have yet to find a new home for it where it will be accessible and so allow people to learn, not just about the impact the international art world has had on Edinburgh, but also Edinburgh’s impact on the international art world."

• Demarco Focus 1: Richard Demarco in the 1960s, Keiller Library, Dean Gallery, Belford Road, until September 28

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