Summerhall, Edinburgh until January 27th 2019
When the 2002 Cowgate fire destroyed the Edinburgh site of Andrew Brown’s 369 Gallery which, following its closure in 1991, became artist’s studios and home to the Gilded Balloon Comedy club, it seemingly wiped out all remnants of one of the then few bastions of artistic autonomy in a city which, then as now, preferred a more respectable institutional facade.
Arriving at a time when artist-led activity in Edinburgh is thriving, this first of two retrospectives reveals Brown and the 369 as pioneers, embracing the misfit sensibility of recent graduate artists with an anything-goes attitude that flirted with the establishment it stepped away from.
This is evident, both in the evocative written reminiscences from many of the artists pinned to the wall beside their work, as well as from the glorious archive of images and newspaper cuttings from the era. Decadent-looking fund-raising balls, the much-arrested Furbelows living sculptures that became forever known as the woolly nudes and last gasp sit-ins are all immortalised in a way that resembles the alternative society pages from the days before everyone had learnt how not to look posh.
The paintings themselves are urgent blares of colour, with the likes of Rose Frain, Joyce Cairns, Fionna Robertson and Caroline McNairn keepers of the 369 flame in radically different ways. There is euphoria, passion, and above all a kind of still to be worked out hope for the unknown beyond the moment being captured right here, right now, right or wrong. Gathered together in this way, a time and a place reeking of wild brushstrokes and a fearlessness uninhibited by art markets, so-called miracles and other corporate follies is conjured back to life..
These days a similarly inclined gang learning how to do it for themselves could, could, if they have the tenacity to navigate their way through Edinburgh’s interminable civic stumbling blocks, hire a shop-front and collectivise at their short-lease leisure, or else stick their wares in their own living room, held together with blue-tack and drawing pins. The means of production have been seized. The 369 generation showed the way, even if only for a short time.
The List, December 2018