Above, my painting response for Richard Demarco’s 90th birthday.
Richard Demarco and Rose Strang, National Galleries, Edinburgh. Photo Roddy Martine 2016
Back in 1999 after I’d graduated art college, I started working at the Demarco European Art Foundation. I have many memories of that time, but one that stays with me is Richard Demarco giving me a fierce hug and saying ‘you must stay strong in this terrifying world!’
It wasn’t a platitude; it came from his knowledge of maintaining a vision, staying consistently strong in hard circumstances. I took it to heart and it helped me at a time when I’d been struggling with long-term, sometimes crippling anxiety.
Since then I’ve come to treasure and enjoy my life – that level of anxiety is thankfully a thing of the past. But now, more than ever, artists must respond to their world with truth and sensitivity. Not an easy task when the art world revolves around sales, rather than ideas, truth, or art as a healing force. The Demarco galleries and archives are a rare and unique testament to that struggle.
My painting is one of many creative responses for a digital 90th birthday card celebrating Richard’s unique life in art plus many creative friendships. You can view the card here …
The painting above is called Santa Maria Della Salute. Its references are multi-layered, but many are probably only obvious to Richard Demarco or anyone familiar with the Demarco archives and creative work over the decades.
So for that reason, I’ve added (below) my letter to Richard, which accompanies the painting and goes some way towards explaining its content …
Santa Maria Della Salute. Oil on A4 board (salvaged from a discarded kitchen cabinet made in 1975 by a Polish immigrant who arrived in Leith, Edinburgh in 1971). Rose Strang 2020.
Wishing you a happy 90th birthday! This artwork reflects my experiences of getting to know yourself and Terry Anne Newman over the years – it refers to a variety of ideas, including our trip to Northern Ireland and Ireland in 2000 and Venice in 2001.
The painting is a rough sketch of Santa Maria Della Salute in Venice, emerging in mysterious moonlight (as I saw it for the first time when we arrived at night by boat). Scratched into the surface is a depiction of hands connected in friendship, and lines from two poems; ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’ by Irish poet Derek Mahon, 1975 and ‘Santa Maria Della Salute’, by Serbian poet Laza Kostic, 1909.
Your annotation style is echoed with text around the painting. Terry’s creative influence is echoed in my choice to etch my picture into black paint on white ground!
I also chose the Santa Maria Della Salute because it was an architectural response to the plague in 17th century Venice, or more accurately a votive offering. In your words ‘art aspires to a condition of prayer’.
In all my efforts as an artist, the more meaningful works I’ve created have been in response to your work and what the Demarco Gallery and Archives represent. We need that inspiration, or place for imagination to grow, separate from the commercial art world.
Which is why, when contemplating an artwork in response to the Demarco archives, lines from Derek Mahon’s ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’ came to mind – also as a reminder of the journey to Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2000:
Even now there are places where a thought might grow …
I remember when, during the trip to Venice, we’d stopped to contemplate the water and were startled from our daydreams when you suddenly barked at us: ‘COME ON, we’re in danger of becoming tourists!’ I found that quite amusing back then, but twenty years later, I feel that urgency too.
You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary,
Let not our naive labours have been in vain!
Wishing you the best of health and a happy birthday Richard, thank you for all your inspiration and friendship. I look forward to seeing you in person soon!
For anyone interested in the cosmos there’s another reference to Richard’s birthdate, July 9th, in the painting above!
The poems can be read in full here: A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford and here; Santa Maria Della Salute
More on Richard Demarco, the gallery and archives Here
And lastly, you can view a recent short film ‘Demarco at 90’ below.
National Galleries of Scotland Director-General Sir John Leighton interviews Richard Demarco CBE as we celebrate the career of one of Scotland’s most significant cultural figures in art. Directed by Dr. Marco J Federici