Picture perfect: Richard Demarco archive goes online

Ten thousand images from art impresario Richard Demarco’s collection spanning 50 years go online today

IAN Hamilton Finlay planning his garden; Joseph Beuys playing with his children; Sean Connery distinctly shaken, if not stirred, by a play by legendary Polish director Tadeusz Kantor – these are just a few of the famous faces and unseen moments in a unique photographic record of arts activities in Scotland which goes online today.

A team of five from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, part of Dundee University, has spent three years creating an online archive of 10,000 images from the collection of Richard Demarco, artist, educator, gallerist and theatre promoter. Spanning 50 years, the images show Demarco’s key role in bringing the avant-garde to Scotland, including figures such as Beuys and Kantor who came to Edinburgh at his invitation. Both also became teachers at Demarco’s inspirational Edinburgh Arts summer schools in the 1970s, which also featured lectures by George Melly, Hugh MacDiarmid and Helen Mirren.

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Euan McArthur, project director and a senior lecturer in Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, believes that the archive can be a resource of international significance for researchers, art historians and curators. “Richard was a true pioneer, he was trying to reconnect Western and Eastern Europe even in the period of the Cold War. What’s unique about it is its personal dimension. Richard was both participant and catalyst in many of these projects.”

Richard Demarco, now 78, is still rarely without his camera. “This is a living archive. Since the Dundee project began, I’ve taken another 180,000 images. The online project is one part of the whole. Now it’s online, my concern is how we open up the rest of the archive – the photographs, books and the art collection for people to experience it for real.” He added: “All art originates in the meetings of friends. I asked people to create completely new work, and by photographing it I was doing more than documenting it, I was collaborating with them.”

The digitisation of the archive, which is jointly owned by the Demarco European Art Foundation and the National Galleries of Scotland, was made possible by a 312,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

• The Demarco Digital Archive goes online today at www.demarco-archive.ac.uk

Joseph Beuys playing with his children, Jessyka and Wenzel, at Edinburgh College of Art, during the preparations for Strategy: Get Arts (1970)

Demarco met Josef Beuys in Dusseldorf in 1970, and he came to Edinburgh later that year to install his major installation, The Pack, at Edinburgh College of Art. Demarco says: “This is a view of Beuys you never normally see, Beuys as a family man playing with his children, keeping his children amused while he was installing The Pack in another part of the college.

“I was also putting on the work of Harrison Birtwhistle, a new work of music, and that hoop was part of the set. Beuys visited Edinburgh eight times. It was a very long and intense friendship.”

Sean Connery at a performance of Tadeusz Kantor’s Lovelies and Dowdies in Edinburgh, in 1973

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He was already well known as 007, but Sean Connery’s tastes also included avant-garde Polish theatre, such as this performance of Lovelies and Dowdies by Tadeusz Kantor’s Cricot 2 company.

Kantor was in Edinburgh at the request of Demarco: “I mortgaged my house to bring Kantor to Edinburgh because the Polish government wouldn’t fund him to come here. Nobody wanted him in London in the 1970s, but we brought him here for the Festival several times. This is the audience – they were made to wear this banner to show they were being herded together under the control of the equivalent to the Gestapo.”

Connery is in good company – on his left is Tina Brown, who went on to be editor of the New Yorker in the 1990s, and on her left is Auberon Waugh. Demarco laughs: “That sums up my world!”

Ian Hamilton Finlay (left) with his children Alec and Alie Finlay and art critic Nigel Gosling in 1972

In the early 1970s, Stonypath was little more than a lochan and a cottage in a huddle of bushes. Now Finlay’s garden, Little Sparta, is recognised as one of Scotland’s unique works of art. Ian’s wife Sue had been Demarco’s assistant at the Traverse, where he ran his first art gallery. “I remember going to Little Sparta when Ian was in his early forties, living there with Sue and their young family. I took a lot of people there. I know I couldn’t offer famous visitors all the sophistication of the international art world, but I could show them Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden.”

Jimmy Boyle outside the Richard Demarco Gallery, Melville Crescent, in August 1974

The Demarco Gallery was the first gallery to show the works of Jimmy Boyle, who became a sculptor while in Barlinnie prison serving time for violent crimes. He was one of a number of prisoners whose work was exhibited in Demarco’s Festival show in 1974, and is pictured here at the gallery on day-release from jail.

In 1980, the artist Joseph Beuys went on hunger strike when he learned that the special unit, which enabled Boyle to work as an artist, was to close. Beuys decided to bring a charge against the secretary of state for Scotland, at which the Scottish Arts Council abruptly cut off funding to the Demarco Gallery.

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George Mackay Brown at the wheel of the Marques, the sailing ship on which Demarco and his Edinburgh Arts students circumnavigated Britain (1980)

In 1979, the already ambitious Edinburgh Arts summer school took to the waves on the Marques, a replica of Darwin’s Beagle, sailing from Devon to St Ives, the Scilly Isles, St Davids and Cork. In 1980, more ambitious still, they circumnavigated Britain, stopping to visit George Mackay Brown in Orkney.

Demarco says: “It was the most adventurous thing, I couldn’t believe we did it. We were stormbound at Fraserburgh, we could hardly get into the harbour.” Many of those who took part have gone on to be world-recognised artists, curators and museum directors. “Art is no use to anybody unless it engenders friendship and strengthens friendship.”

Michael Pye, Joseph Beuys, Lesley Benyon (Demarco Gallery staff), Richard Demarco, with The Pack, at Edinburgh College of Art, prior to Strategy: Get Arts (1970)

The Pack, an installation featuring a van and a troop of sledges, each with a roll of felt, is a key Beuys work. Here, author Michael Pye, then a leader writer for The Scotsman, is interviewing Beuys beside the installation. Demarco was also responsible for introducing Beuys to Tadeusz Kantor, in his home in Edinburgh in 1973.

“Kantor was in a bad mood about something and Sandy Nairne [now director of the National Portrait Gallery] brought him to see me. He walked in, still arguing with Sandy, and then he saw Beuys. They were totally entranced by each other. And you know what? I had no film in my camera!”