Tag Archives: Jospeh Beuys

Eigg Series No. 45

Eigg Series No. 45. Acrylic and ink on 5x5" wood

Eigg Series No. 45. Acrylic and ink on 5×5″ wood

P1110557Today’s painting; a view of the mountains of Rum from Laig Bay in acrylic and ink



In yesterday’s blog I described the way I became more familiar with Beuy’s work through the Demarco archives, but my perspective was also coloured by articles I’d read about Beuys..

There was an amount of controversy around the story of Beuys having been healed by tartar tribes with felt and fat after being shot down in his plane, but to me, the story serves its purpose; to transmit a visceral sense of what Beuys understood as the important elements of our existence – for example protection, nurture and survival. Also compassion for our fellow human beings, regardless of ideologies or comparative status.


Joseph Beuys on Rannoch Moor (Demarco archives)

Going through the archives , I dscovered a short video made around 1970 when Beuys visited Scotland at Demarco’s invitation. I was immediately fascinated by the grainy black and white footage of a windscreen wiper, filmed from inside one of those tiny 70s style cars, rain lashing against the screen and views of the Scottish Highlands flashing past. Eventually the car stops and Beuys walks out onto Rannoch Moor.


There’s something in his hand which appears to be pulsing and I wonder if it’s a live animal. In close-up I can see it’s a lump of gelatin formed into the shape of a heart, Beuys then makes a hole in the ground and buries the gelatin heart in the earth of Rannoch Moor, suggesting a healing gesture. This possibly refers to the painful history of Highlanders over the centuries – the massacre of 1692 in nearby Glencoe following the beginning of the Jacobite uprising, and later the Clearances .

Today Rannoch Moor is appreciated by tourists and mountaineers as an area of stark beauty, but its tree-less emptiness is due to ecological change as well as the effects of tree clearing for sheep during the Highland Clearances

Beuys died in 1984 of a heart condition. I once interviewed Richard Demarco as part of my

Beuys (left) and Demarco (right)

Beuys (left) and Demarco (right)

post graduate studies in Museum and Gallery curating and asked about the ways Beuys had influenced him as a gallery director and arts curator, to which he replied; ‘I miss him, he made me feel not alone. When he first visited the Demarco Gallery he questioned it and found it wanting, and though it was painful, having to change, I knew he was right and it was inevitable’.

Jospeh Beuys and Jimmy Boyle

Jospeh Beuys and Jimmy Boyle (Demarco archives)

The subsequent changes, which included supporting an art exhibition of Jimmy Boyle who had been imprisoned for murder and was on parole, resulted in The Demarco Gallery’s Arts Council funding being cut. For Demarco and Beuys, the exhibition had been a natural development of the idea of art as a healing or redemptive influence.



I Like America and America Likes Me. Coyote. Beuys, 1965

I Like America and America Likes Me. Coyote. Beuys, 1965

On first meeting Beuys, while on parole, Boyle remarked ‘I am the coyote’. He’d seen Beuys’s work from 1968; ‘I like America and America Likes Me’. In which Beuys spent three days in a small space with a coyote. The coyote, similar to a fox in the UK, is seen as vermin in America.




For Beuys it represented aspects of native American culture that he was interested in, and the notion that society should include outsiders or those who can’t align themselves with mainstream approaches or ideologies. This concept related to Beuy’s concept of ‘social sculpture’ – the idea that art communicates across the spectrum of society – the opposite of exclusive or elitist presentations of art. One of Beuy’s most well-known statements is ‘everyone is an artist’, by which he meant we can all be creative, we can step beyond our modus operandi, however un-comfortable that may feel, to communicate with others and create new ways of thinking or collaborating

A legacy of this idea might be multi-disciplinary art projects – acknowledgement of the diverse influences and interests involved in creativity. Also the idea that artworks are not just a product in themselves, but that art has a deeper, more profound human value, going beyond materialism.

Lastly on a personal note, I remember attending an art exhibition organised by the Demarco Foundation in 2000,  swanning around in a nice dress chatting to people, as you do at exhibitions. Richard Demarco said to me ‘I hope you know why you’re here’. I’m not 100% sure I did at that time!

But I also remember, a few years later (while driving to Stoke on Trent where I began work as an arts curator for the NHS) listening to the interview I’d taped with Richard Demarco where he discussed Beuys and the context of art; ‘You know where you are in a gallery, there’s the art on the walls, in gold frames or whatever, but though it’s difficult, as an artist you have to take the road that’s harder, it can be more painful’.

Working for the NHS was more painful, Demarco was right about that. But it was valuable. Nowadays the influence of Beuys and Demarco on my work as an artist, is my wish to embrace a wider context of art. Although I  exhibit in galleries, I avoid government funding and try to position the work I do, modest as it is, in a setting that has an everyday context which I hope interweaves with other areas and ways of life.

In the next few days towards the end of 50 paintings of Eigg, I hope to include an interview with Norah Barnes, manager of Eigg’s Eco Centre

Links relating to this blog –









50 Paintings of Eigg No. 44

Eigg Series Day 44. Acrylic, ink and sand on 5x5" wood

Eigg Series Day 44. Acrylic, ink and sand on 5×5″ wood

P1110549Today’s painting; mountains of Rum from Laig Bay. A deep blue/green base of acrylic was overlayed with gesso and white paint, into which mountain shapes were scraped with a palette knife. The foreground includes sand (from Laig Bay!) and subtle blue/green ink stain

Yesterday I mentioned that I’d explore Joseph Beuys and his work in today’s blog. In the process of writing this I’ve realised how influential Beuy’s work has been on my life as an artist and curator, so I’ll make this a two-part blog, to be continued tomorrow.

While at art college, we didn’t focus on Beuys particularly, though he was there in the background – described as an important artist who’d influenced or pioneered creative approaches such as installations, interventions and ‘happenings’ (such a 60s sounding term now!)

Jeff Koons, Pink Panther. 1988

Jeff Koons, Pink Panther. 1988

My time at art college was post-80s; Jeff Koons, Saatchi and Young British artists dominated our artistic horizons.  The artistic mood was sensationalist, at times flippant and somewhat cynical. One tutor, advising on ways of getting noticed in the art world, stated ‘if all else fails, get your kit off’ (and I’m afraid to say most of us did at some point in our three year degree course, as part of cringe-worthy video installations!).

We’d discuss how life might be post-art college, and for some of the art students I spoke to, the pinnacle of artistic endeavour would be to have your work included in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s art collection, or similar.

It would have been utterly uncool to align oneself with anything resembling an arts manifesto, or statement of intent, and needless to say this was an atmosphere entirely unrelated to Beuy’s involvement in, for example, ecology (he was a founder member of the Green Party) his post-war concern with art as a means of communication and healing, or his role as a pedagogue and (self appointed) shaman.

What seemed to remain from his artistic legacy was the art installation; an interesting creative approach in itself which allowed work to be seen in context, relating to its environment and removing art from a conventional gallery setting. But in some ways it had perhaps become a marker of ‘contemporary’, therefore cool, indicating awareness of the current art milieu.

My proper introduction to Beuys was through mysterious anecdotes, and in a sense it was exactly that – a proper introduction – since Beuy’s work was never meant to be experienced in a dry intellectual context.

I’d graduated from art college, and felt instinctively unmoved by the usual arts career ladder. Pre-art college I’d attended various arts and theatre events at the Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh which had been an inspiration, so I decided to work with the Demarco European Art Foundation. (The D.E.A.F.’s purpose was to promote artistic dialogue between European countries. Its director, Richard Demarco, had fostered numerous fruitful connections with European artists over the decades, and creative connections with war-torn countries.)

Joseph Beuys and Richard Demarco

Joseph Beuys and Richard Demarco


Beuys had been central to the development of Richard Demarco’s approach as gallery director and arts impressario. Sifting through the arts archives one day in 1999, I came across the anecdote of how the two met, which went something like this:


Richard Demarco, an Italo/Scot gallery director decidedly at odds with the parochial Edinburgh arts scene, traveled to Kassel, Germany in 1968 where he met, among others, Joseph Beuys (an artist whose reputation was already becoming fairly stellar though pretty much unheard of in Edinburgh). Observing that Beuys was surrounded by a small throng of acolytes in the gallery, Demarco approached him and simply handed him several postcards. They showed Scottish highland scenery; a stag, mountains, desolate moorland…

Beuys examined the postcards then said to Demarco; ‘You show me the land of Macbeth, when shall we two meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain? When the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s fought and won’.

Demarco knew that Beuy’s work centered around the concept of healing in the post WW2 climate. Beuys was also interested in Celtic mythology as a means of a shared European identity. This echoed the role that Demarco had played (and still does at the age of 83) in developing the Edinburgh Festival, which had been set up post WW2 as a means of promoting peaceful cultural dialogue across Europe. (Demarco was a co-founder of the original Traverse Theatre).

Demarco invited Beuys to Edinburgh and the resulting exhibition ‘Strategy Get Arts’ – a celebration of art from Dusseldorf – took place at Edinburgh Art College. Demarco said at the time;

Richard Demarco outside his Melville Street Gallery in 1967

Richard Demarco outside his Melville Street Gallery in 1967

‘I’d always wanted an exhibition which would restore my faith in the activity of the visual artist in 20th century society, and which would help redefine the role of the gallery director. I had looked for an exhibition which would emphasise the artist’s role as a powerful defender of the truth inherent in fairy tales and as a magician able to revive our sense of wonder. I wanted an exhibition which would free the artist if he wished from the responsibility of making master works, revealing more clearly his act of creating and his acceptance of his role as a performer involving every new means of communication with the so-called layman. I wanted an exhibition which would weaken the spirit of materialism, from which more than ever the artist must rescue us’.


Strong, inspiring words (aside perhaps from the repetition of ‘he’!) But this was the 70s after all and  Demarco’s fostering of the arts included collaborations with talented influential female artists such as Marina Abramovic and Barbara Hepworth.

There was much literature in the archives pertaining to Beuys, lots of flyers, related letters and other miscellaneous items, but one rainy afternoon I came across a print by Beuys. It depicted a perfectly drawn clover leaf in the middle of a large piece of paper against a simple brush-sweep of clay coloured paint (it might have actually been watered down clay). I was moved by the simplicity of the image; the sense of the importance of this tiny weed as well as the humility of the artist’s approach.

Beuys’s drawings were wonderful – precise, expressive and minimal, with the sense of total presence or immersion in the work.  His first interests while growing up in Krefeld, Germany were botany and science, and he had deep respect for the natural world, so this reflected in many of his earlier drawings. Beuys went on to become a founder member of the Green Party and one of his later projects (in 1982) included the 7000 Oaks Project, for which he planted 7000 oaks in the city of Kassel, Germany, each oak accompanied by a basalt stone.

wa_img_flyingdown_pe_21 joseph1









‘I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but in that it will raise ecological consciousness – raise it increasingly, in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop planting.

So now we have six- and seven-year-old oaks, and the stone dominates them. In a few years’ time, stone and tree will be in balance, and in twenty to thirty years’ time we may see that gradually, the stone has become an adjunct at the foot of the oak or whatever tree it may be’. Joseph Beuys

The above statement is characteristic of Beuys; slightly obscure, not spelling out the precise meaning of the basalt stones. In a way it’s a pity he explained it at all; because it’s the presence of the stones; at first dominant then gradually becoming a footnote to the trees, that would allow passers-by to feel the message of the work in a visceral sense.

This visceral quality was an important element to Beuy’s artworks. The story, or myth, goes that Beuys, as a fighter pilot in the Lufwaffe, was shot down, landing in the Crimea where he was taken in by a Tartar tribe who rescued him by wrapping him in felt and fat – two natural elements which appeared again and again in his work.

Tomorrow I’ll explore the ways that Beuys incorporated these ideas into his work, including a healing ‘intervention’ on Scotland’s Rannoch Moor, and his unique views on the way that our society values art


From the Demarco archives ‘Art = Kapital’