Art review: Nick Evans, Use History Autonome

A DISUSED railway arch now houses an exciting new arrival on the Glasgow gallery scene, discovers Moira Jeffrey

Washington Garcia, Glasgow

ARTIST and gallery director Kendall Koppe is showing me around the spanking new gallery, Washington Garcia, that he opened last week. The walls are sparklingly white, the concrete floor has been newly washed and the glass frontage is gleaming. Oh, and the art, by sculptor Nick Evans, is pretty good too.

It all seems impossibly flash and just a teensy little bit Chelsea (Koppe is a New Yorker who transferred to Glasgow School of Art from Parsons School for Design in 1999 and never quite went home) when there is a deep rumble from above. "That's our neighbour," quips Koppe, as a train hurtles overhead. "He pops round every 20 minutes or so."

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Washington Garcia is the new face of Glasgow's artist-led scene but the gallery resides in its fiery underbelly. This is Eastvale Place, a series of railway arches next to the roar of the Clydeside Expressway and surrounded by industrial buildings and warehouses.

A new economy is making its presence felt here. There are a handful of studios and artists' workshops, a set design company and a stone cutter behind the serried ranks of arched doorways. Glasgow Sculpture Studios is just round the corner. Those on the art scene will probably know the area best through the former customs and excise bonding house now known as the Studio Warehouse, which is run as a creative space by a young artist and cultural entrepreneur called Mutley.

For many Glaswegians, though, the area is completely unknown. I once got a taxi to take me to an art opening down there and the driver insisted on arranging a time to come back and pick me up. The gallery, however, makes no concession to the grunginess of its surroundings. It is a pristine little white cube constructed in three weeks flat, by a bunch of committed artists and friends.

Washington Garcia started off three years ago as peripatetic artist-led project dreamed up by Koppe, artist Ruth Barker and painter Douglas Morland. "I was speaking to Ruth one night in the pub, and we drank quite a lot, and a couple of days later I phoned her and said, 'Do you remember that conversation, should we really do it?' Within two months I was running Washington Garcia out of the front room of my flat."

Now they have set up a more permanent home, with some Scottish Arts Council support. "So many people volunteered, it was amazing," says Koppe. "We had really great support from lots of artist who would come down and put in a five or six hour shift. Many of the artists who had already committed to working with us on projects didn't know where they would take place. Poor old Nick Evans had been talking with us for over a year. He didn't know he'd be doing it here, helping us build the walls."

Part of Washington Garcia's mission has been to allow artists whose careers are developing abroad the opportunity to work on a smaller, more informal scale at home. Evans, who is represented by commercial gallery Mary Mary, showed last year in the grand surroundings of Edinburgh's Inverleith House. He's also been awarded residencies at Tate St Ives and at the European Ceramic Work Centre in the Netherlands.

"Artists establish their careers here in all the amazing artist-led spaces," says Koppe. "Then after a certain point, their career only develops abroad and we don't get to see what they're up to. As an artist myself, I know it's a totally different feeling showing in your home town to, say, getting on a plane to Italy, putting up a show and then just flying back again."

Evans is showing five new confident, large sculptures that have taken a couple of years to create. There are two remarkable ceramic works using techniques he developed to create large hollow freestanding totems from a single piece of clay. The result is as if an exquisite piece of studio pottery by someone like Lucy Rie had accidentally mated with a dalek. There is a bronze cast branch suspended from the ceiling that bears an echo of the human form and a low, pink fibreglass abstract that has been carefully worked and pigmented to resemble the smooth surface and unexpected depth of marble. All in all it's like a potted history of post-war sculpture, part ironic part deeply admiring.

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The gallery has always aimed high. Last year it worked on a solo project with sculptor Claire Barclay, who was working in major museums overseas and commercial galleries, but who hadn't shown new work in her native Glasgow for more than six years. Imaginatively it was set in The Old Barn, a converted farm building at Dumbreck Riding School on the edge of Pollok Park.

At the Glasgow International Festival last April, Washington Garcia staged sly, hilarious work by Kalup Linzy, a New Yorker whose films and performance saw him frequently in drag and scantily clad. The work liberally quoted from world of reality TV and YouTube stars, "pop culture, art world politics and wigs".

From the camp to the earnestly committed, the work Koppe has supported shares a kind of in-your-face quality. "Looking back," he says, "we're quite interested in work that really packs a punch. They're going to be shows that people really love or really hate and we don't mind stirring it up a little."

But if there is much about the gallery that is open and provocative, then there are a few things that are bit more mysterious. Where exactly does the name come from? "Actually, it's a bit of a secret," Koppe admits. And then, before I can probe further, we are distracted by the deep bass rumble, as another train passes over head. v

• Washington Garcia, Arch 24, Eastvale Place, Glasgow, G3 8QG. Thurs-Sun 11am-6pm, until April 5

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