'It was more than a building. It represented Glasgow's creative soul': my memories of the School of Art
Like most Glaswegians and the world, I woke yesterday morning to discover another horrific fire had ravaged, but more devastatingly, in our beloved Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art.
Glasgow School of Art
I have read much yesterday about what the building means and the shared heartbreak of her destruction. I felt the need to share what Friday into Saturday’s events on Renfrew Street have meant to me as a proud Glaswegian and what she represented. It is now early on Sunday morning, I am writing this piece in a past tense and in disbelief, as professional reports are suggesting that it is doubtful anything of the building can be saved resulting from the fire. But to be truly thankful that there were no lives lost.
My Mack. For a period in my early teenage years, I lived on Rose Street which is a block away from the Glasgow School of Art. As a child, the Mackintosh Building was exotic. A curious and intricate building that was on my doorstep. I had never been inside it, I was 12. Why would I want to go in? What would I do? I would get chased by the Jannie! But she was my neighbour and I was proud of that, and I didn’t know why. I just knew that I found it interesting and different and that it was important. I loved her majesty on a backstreet in Garnethill.
Then, I didn’t know much about her significance architecturally, her history or her civic importance. This was the period of Glasgow’s Miles Better, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh merch was only really becoming a thing that we lapped up. In reflection, not because we overly wanted the tea-towel or the cuff links, but for me because we wanted to own a little bit of it. We coveted the beauty and what it represented. But that is what merchandise is; the t-shirt from your favourite rock-star. From an architectural rock-star.
My secondary school took me and some classmates on a trip to the Glasgow School of Art to see the Degree Show in 1987. I was inside the Glasgow School of Art. Finally, I’m in. But it wasn’t a stuffy museum. It was a working artist studio with all sorts of curiosities on display and hanging from its beams. It had paint stained sinks and smelt of warm turpentine. It had a brass plate on the front door that looked like a gold bar.
I saw work by artists who would become my heroes, Alison Watt and Stephen Conroy – names and memories of their work which still live with me today. And while I could never then, or now, afford their work – I saw their degree shows and follow their careers and enjoy their work when I see it in galleries. It was real, it was honest, and it was authentic. As an adult I was a frequent visitor to the student union across the street when I was at university and to visit friends and attend their Degree Shows in the Mackintosh Building.
In a city full of architectural splendour, Glasgow is spoiled. But the Glasgow School of Art for me was more than a beautiful building and Charles Rennie Macintosh’s masterpiece. For me it represented Glasgow’s creative soul. Glasgow’s beautiful heart, which nurtured and created more beauty because of the very environment that it created for the students and lecturers who worked in its dark corridors and angelic studios.
Glasgow, her citizens, cultural and artist communities and world architecture is mourning the loss of a dear friend. She was magnificent, iconic and unique. Whether you appreciated art or not, I believe the Mackintosh Building was a source of civic pride, it belonged to Glasgow and it was in our DNA. My personal regret is that my daughter and future generations will be unable to have seen her and enjoyed her beauty.
To Scottish Fire and Rescue who have worked so tirelessly. There are not enough words. But to share the notice that illustrated Glasgow School of Arts gratitude after the 2014 fire. So subtly and intelligently put.
Sean Murray is head of marketing at Scottish Event Campus.