The historic home in Edinburgh of the “wellington boot” was today reborn as a new £11 million cultural centre - boasting a vast work of art depicting Theresa May dancing and a Sir Sean Connery as a nude model.
A German artist commissioned to help mark the rebirth of the 19th century canalside plant has carved images of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage with rats on their shoulders - alongside cultural icons like Johnny Rotten and Andy Warhol - out of rubber.
Singer Annie Lennox, artist Alasdair Gray, broadcaster Muriel Gray, the current chair of Glasgow School of Art, and arts impresario Richard Demarco are among the other cultural figures depicted in the work by installation artist Thomas Kilpper for the new Fountainbridge home of Edinburgh Printmakers, along with dozens of workers at the former factory, the last surviving industrial building in the area.
The arts organisation has spent nearly two years transforming the last remnants of the North British Rubber Company’s historic Castle Mills home - which is yards away from the birthplace of Sir Sean.
The old factory building, which is surrounded by gap sites earmarked for new housing and a hotel, has been transformed into a complex flooded with natural daylight boasting a print studio, archive, studios, art galleries, shop and cafe.
The Berlin-based artist was commissioned to produce work reflecting both the history of the building and “portraying a view of politics relevant today to mark this moment in history.”
Kilpper said the installation for Edinburgh Printmakers reflected the rise of right-wing parties “sowing prejudices and hatred against minorities” and the re-emergence of “the dark side of nationalism” around the world. It was created in the space of a month on site against the backdrop of Prime Minister Theresa May’s prolonged efforts to get her Brexit deal approved by House of Commons.
Kilpper said: “Right now across the world decisions are being made by politicians that I think need to be challenged - decisions on the environment, on coexistence and our way of living together.
“Societies are getting more polarised, right-wing parties are reappearing and sowing prejudices and hatred against minorities, and politicians are unwilling to protect the powerless in our society and are promoting the interests of the banks and giant corporations.
“It was great working in Edinburgh for four weeks. I knew it would be extremely hard work again and that in a relatively short time I’d have a lot of decisions to make. I wanted to depict and reflect the current situation with a concert of Scottish music, with different players and numerous listeners, shrill tones, serious tones and above all dissonant, absurd and contradictory tones.
“As if by a miracle they were all looped into and out of the printing machines and the artistic workshops of Edinburgh Printmakers. They became a meaningful melting pot.”
The new headquarters of Edinburgh Printmakers was originally home to a silk factory in the 19th century before it was brought by American businessmen Henry Lee Norris and Spencer Thomas Parmlee in the 1950s as the new base for the North British Rubber Company.
The arts centre is all that remains of Castle Mills, the rubber company’s new base which was created in 1870. It became the biggest industrial plant in Edinburgh, employing around 3000 people and producing around 1.85 million “welly boots” for the First World War.
Castle Mills was used latterly as an office and store for brewers Scottish & Newcastle before its Fountainbridge based closed down nearly 15 years ago.
The building will be opened to the public for the first time in its history on Saturday, when the £11 million overhaul is revealed. It will allow the Edinburgh Printmakers, which started operating as Britain’s first open access printmakers, in 1967, to double in size and become one of the biggest facilities of its kind in Europe.
The complex features spaces for educational workshops and events, as well as a shop and cafe.