Part 10 - Glasgow University Memorial Chapel, Glasgow
AddressMemorial Chapel, Gilmorehill Campus, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
Comments byDouglas Hogg
This entry is part 10 of a 10 part essay by Douglas Hogg with the title “The Lion in the North – a 20th century lineage – A personally immersive account of the development and influence of a progression in the use of glass painting in Scotland as an expressive form, with particular reference to this as a unique and identifiable east coast phenomenon.” The full essay can be read in the themes section, where there are also links to each of the locations that are discussed.
HighlightScience & Philosophy windows, south side of the nave
Artist, maker and dateKeith New, 1966
Reason for highlighting
The essential link which gladdened me as I moved on from being a student at ECA and taking steps into an unknown future in the early 1970’s was in hearing that Keith New had recently made a window for Glasgow University Chapel. A new book had also just been published “The Technique of Stained Glass” by Patrick Reyntiens. Apart from “doing what it says on the tin” the book contained colour images of contemporary works created by students from the stained glass department of the RCA. Some of these were painters adapting and extending their vision to, for them, the new material of glass – young contemporary artists under the tutelage of Lawrence Lee. Their work, ﬂuid and passionately emotive excited me linking perfectly with my already focused vision and developing philosophy. Knowing that Keith New had new work in Glasgow was encouraging although for my part, my hope of a national revival was not to be, at that point at any rate and I found myself very much out on a limb. Letting the light sing with less interruption through the colours, giving it an added voice in the way that Keith New, Tom Fairs, Geoﬀrey Clarke and Sax Shaw had done makes this period a real step-change in the use of glass, colour and light. My conﬁrmation of liberty. Keith New subsequently went on to produce many new pieces of work in his bright colourful and inventive style, later becoming head of Fine Art at Kingston College of Art. I met him only once at a Fellows’ (BSMGP) Society meeting in London where I doubtless managed to embarrass him with a degree of hero worship and the unknown part he had played in my own story. A book on his work has recently been published.
Simultaneously, and in the midst of all of this, interest in the church was waning and there was much less of a call for new commissioned work within this context. The term Stained Glass grew the perception of being dull and old-fashioned and the stage was therefore not favourably inclined towards innovation. Unfortunately the promise of extended possibilities using glass was about to slow right down. Even in the representative societies which promoted stained glass as an art form, technical compliance was seen as being of more importance than a creative, experimental vision. In many European countries the contemporary and the traditional are valued equally side by side, both acknowledged and accepted as civilising principles. In the UK however a cultural conservatism moved in and took root. To borrow a universal truth from another genre: “The dead hand of tradition can stiﬂe inspiration, ruling out quirkiness and individuality and preventing great gardens from developing.” This is Christopher Lloyd, the eminent garden designer. The “dead hand” of commercially trained technicians, glass-painters and lead-workers was allowed to prosper and rule. Professional artists and especially students were increasingly being told that “you can’t do that…” or “you have to do it this way…” and : “you don’t learn anything at an art college”. This was discouraging and dispiriting for those who knew that they had fresh ideas to bring to the table. And life’s diﬃcult enough in any case. The commissioning of good glass artworks became a rarity, the “icing on the cake”: a special feature. It then comes as no surprise that the large commercial glass studios of Germany in particular began to accommodate British artists. The highly trained and accomplished staﬀ supported them unreservedly in achieving their goals with professionalism and respect.
Stained glass conservation is a technical service industry. Conservators are not artists as their work has nothing culturally new to propose. The one person that can straddle both areas with consummate skill whilst still retaining a personally acquired visual language is Derek Hunt. With democratisation and populism rife in the arts world of the moment (control of, dilution of, ideas) on the one side, and the analytics of a burgeoning high-end academe on the other, the student of art should quietly slip out from between these and get back to the actual world with the stark realisation that you are only as strong as your last piece of work. They need this; it’s what artists do. Art can be taught in a shed.
The ability to identify by style and accent the music, art and literary works emanating from the very marrow of national experience within the UK can still identify in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and indeed in areas north of the Humber, ringing with a particular resonant and nuanced cadence. But as to the possibility of continuing to identify, for example, an east / west cultural value and tendency in Scotland, this is, I fear, becoming less clear…
And it was only very recently, as part of a corporate work for Swansea University Library, that I ﬁnally faced up to putting into words the sense of what I myself have been searching for, chasing, throughout the years, how I myself approach the expectation of giving voice to the entrancingly fugitive qualities of glass, life and light :-
the liquid awakening / of a fractured ground
This is the final part of a ten part essay. The full essay, without pictures, can be read as a PDF here, or to go to the beginning of the essay click Part 1 – St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, Edinburgh.
Keith New (1926-2012) was a pioneering British modernist stained glass artist. His career was launched by the 1952 Royal College of Art commission to design the windows for Coventry Cathedral. He is widely recognised as a skilful colourist and innovator in stained glass, particularly in glass appliqué
Keith New, British Modernist in Stained Glass by Diana Coulter and Robert Smith, Sansom & Company, 2018