More old stuff. Scottish Enlightenment portraits from MAP magazine, spring 2007.


Here are some drawings which were originally published in MAP magazine in 2007 in the ‘Enlightenment’ themed issue in the Spring of that year. That issue was guest-edited by Duncan McLaren who commissioned the series of drawings. His introductory text is also included here. I remember meeting up with Duncan McLaren in a pub in Glasgow and showing him printouts of these drawings as they were in progress, in particular I remember his delight at Lord Kames’s “little moron hands”.  To research these ‘cover versions’ of paintings I went to a couple of big galleries in Edinburgh where these portraits actually hang, took notes from the information panels, and bought postcards of some of the paintings. Some of these people I knew practically nothing about until I looked into them for this series of drawings, so it was good in that sense. My favourite drawing is the one of William Creech, although I also like the way David Hume’s face looks. My only regret is that at the time of drawing these, although I knew full well that Walter Scott was a Tory and responsible for the kilt and sporran image of the ‘scottish national dress’ that we know today, I did not know that he was in his time (like Kames and Braxfield) such a vociferous anti-radical. Had I known this fact i would have used it in the drawing. Anyway, fuck him.

Duncan McLaren’s text for Map Commission From MAP issue 9

STUART MURRAY

Stuart Murray makes drawings of the life around him in his home city of Glasgow. Usually he’s being spoken to by a bloke in a pub, or a fellow employee in an office, or maybe someone’s confronting him on the postal round that Murray still walks five days a week to make ends meet. The energy of the working class people; their openness, vulnerability and the drink dependency of the culture, all come crashing through in both the appearance of the subjects and their words which are recorded – one feels accurately – in the background of each drawing. In one picture from the series WORK (32 Post-Office Drawings), a Royal Mail employee sits having a break under a wall-mounted clock. His words – which can seem funny at first but are actually deeply depressing – read : “See these cunts that dae a joab that they actually like…Whit a fuckin psychological lift that must be…

Looking at examples of this kind of work in the Embassy Gallery, Edinburgh, we at MAP wondered how Stuart would respond to the challenge of making drawings of Edinburgh burghers from Enlightenment days. The following pages show the fruits of that commission. Scots dialect was used in speech by all sections of society at the time, from judges downwards. Although the likes of David Hume and Walter Scott wrote wonderfully fluent English – sentences that have travelled to all corners of the globe and down to the present day – they spoke in a Scottish accent, littering their speech with Scots phrases. Indeed, at one stage Murray was considering having the words that appear in the background of each drawing to be sourced from Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Not only would all Raeburn’s subjects have been familiar with the vocabulary of Robert Burns, some would have been in the habit of reciting the poems. However, actual quotes from the individual sitters were available, and it was these words that Murray chose to go with, for authenticity’s sake. Except, that is, in the case of Burns’ publisher, where a single verse of the dozen that comprise the ebullient Epistle to William Creech has been used.

As for drink, well, a lot of alcohol was consumed in Enlightenment Edinburgh. Drinkable water was a scarce resource, it certainly was not available on tap. Beer was commonly consumed even at breakfast, with the average resident, male or female, getting through many pints each day. Spirits and wine were supped as well, especially amongst the intelligentsia and the social elite. Yes, these were convivial times. However, when in an e-mail describing his progress with the commission, Murray suggested that his version of Walter Scott ‘looked as if he took a good drink’, we began to worry what the others might look like. Lord Braxfield: a nutter when he’s pissed? David Hume: as if drawing a sober breath might theoretically be possible, though he for one had never actually tried it? William Creech: “Steamin’, still fuckin’ steamin’ ever since a got back tae Auld Reekie, Rab, man.”?

In the event, the drawings seem to us to be models of restraint. Four of the six are after paintings by Henry Raeburn. Were the four original Raeburn’s borrowed from the National Portrait Gallery and set up in the north-facing, second-floor room in York Place that was Raeburn’s New Town studio from 1798? If so, the extant14-foot-tall portrait-shaped window – designed with shutters so that the amount of light falling on the subject could be closely controlled – would no doubt have helped Murray with the modelling of his figures. This may partly explain how he has achieved a hyper-realistic 3-D effect in his drawings. MAP asks you: do these figures not appear to truly live and breathe the same air as ourselves?

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