Monthly Archives: May 2015

Which arts centre took its name from Buddhist philosophy?


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the setting up of the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow.

A multi-purpose centre of art gallery, performance space and bookshop within Alexander “Greek” Thomson’s imposing Grecian Chambers, it was a formative location in my artistic education during the 1980s. Its shop-front space without an overbearing staff presence meant that you felt you could call in on a whim and stroll around for ten minutes at a time without self-consciousness.

Its front bookshop was especially enticing, crammed with newspapers and magazines covering all aspects of the arts, culture and politics as well as a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. This old photo ignites nostalgia.

I must confess that my clearest recollections of visual art shows there are of a couple of crowd-pleasers, one of Peter Fluck and Roger Law’s puppets from Spitting Image, the other an exhibition of the new fashionable young Scottish painters like Steven Campbell and Adrian Wisniewski. But the online archive prompts recall of others from its eclectic history like Alexander “Greek” Thomson,  multi-media artist George Wylie, photographer Oscar Marzaroli and Glasgow pigeon lofts (yes!)

The music concert at the forefront of my memory is Richard and Linda Thompson, but Max Reinhardt on Late Junction has just prompted my recall of the wonderful acappella of the Mint Juleps one Mayfest.  I also remember the reading by Seamus Heaney which was preceded by traditional singer Ted Hickey, and a performance of another kind in the stand-up comedy of Simon Fanshawe and Jenny Eclair.

This was a golden age of touring theatre and the Third Eye was, alongside the Tron and the Mitchell theatres, an important Glasgow platform for small productions. While there were many I read about with interest and missed with regret, the only one I actually saw was a double bill of short Beckett plays by a tiny local company called the Great Western Theatre Company.

The Third Eye was a major partner in at least two Glasgow festivals of art and culture from Russia and eastern Europe as the continent redrew boundaries at the end of the 1980s. These events were successful artistically but not always financially, and this latter fact led to the closure of the venue around 1990 or 1991 – at the very time of the European City of Culture success towards which it had been such an important contributor.

When the building reopened a year or two later, its new name, the Centre of Contemporary Arts, sounded so plain, so half-hearted, that its future seemed unpromising. Yet, as it has turned out , the life of the CCA has been longer than that of the Third Eye Centre. Refurbishment included expansion into adjoining premises, arts events of varying kinds were presented and thrived. The spirit of the Third Eye Centre has lived on…plus it has an excellent cafe/restaurant  of the classic arts centre type with an arty name!

It was great to find further archive material from the web-site of the short-lived Glasgow Miracle Project.  More forthcoming from other sources one day, perhaps.


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Ayrshire’s other 18th century writer


The contrast is often drawn between the world-wide fame of Robert Burns, and the lesser renown  of his Ayrshire contemporary James Boswell.



A banner advertising the Boswell Book Festival in 2014.


The imbalance was redressed a little five years ago when the Boswell Book Festival  was set up to celebrate the life and work of the writer at his former family home in Ayrshire, Auchinleck House.  It was launched as a festival dedicated to the genres of biography, memoir and diary, the three forms practised by Boswell, the 18th century Ayrshire boy who travelled to London to make his fortune among the literary elite.

From the first, the Boswell Book Festival has been well sponsored and packed with well-known names who might not normally be seen in Ayrshire. The familiar talks and readings have been imaginatively supplemented by occasional theatre and music performances. The diary element was quietly dropped after the first year, but it has continued to be publicised as a festival of biography and memoir.



Visitors to the rain-washed 2014 Boswell Book Festival outside Auchinleck House. As Boswell wrote about his home when Johnson and he visited Boswell’s father there, “It rained all day, and gave Dr Johnson an impression of that incommodiousness of climate in the west…”


You can understand that a book festival needs to have a varied programme to attract the widest possible audience, but for me a significant weakness of the event is how little it deals with Boswell himself and his times.

Its first two years did include David McKail’s one-man show “Bozzy”, David Ashton’s play “Doctor Johnson’s Dictionary of Crime” with Timothy West as Johnson, and an appearance by John Byrne, who had written and directed a TV film about Boswell and Johnson’s trip to the Western Isles.  In addition, Dr Gordon Turnbull, General Editor of the Yale University Boswell editions, has been an annual speaker. However, there have been no events about  other aspects of 18th century history and culture, such as might be provided by Jenny UglowAmanda Vickery,  Linda Colley or Maxine Berg.

Instead, many of the guests are the familiar names who appear at other book festivals –  for example, Kate Adie, James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark, Sally Magnusson, Ian Rankin –  and their topics often seem distant from  Boswell and the 18th century.

This year, in fact, the festival actually moved away from Auchinleck House to another period property in Ayrshire, Dumfries House near Cumnock.  The new location has certainly been able to provide improved space for events and catering within the house and outbuildings, thus reducing the dependence on vulnerable marquees. In addition, the estate already had more extensive parking space (on level, dry surfaces!) and established woodland walks and children’s playground.



Dumfries House, built in the mid 18th century, venue of the 2015 Boswell Book Festival .



The rear of Dumfries House with two marquees erected for Book Festival events.


It still seems unfortunate, though, that the festival’s physical link with Boswell’s own family home should be severed.  The stated purpose of the Boswell Trust, alongside the Festival,  is to restore the Boswell Mausoleum in Auchinleck Church. Some Auchinleck estate buildings which have just recently been converted to a cafe and gallery have lost a potentially lucrative weekend.

Still, the organisers of the Boswell Book Festival have done a great job for the local area and the event will surely continue to enhance Boswell’s reputation as, to quote from Andrew Marr in the BBC programme  Great Scots: The Writers who Shaped a Nation “the father of modern journalism (and) the inventor of literary biography” as well as a colourful early example of the ambitious young Scot who makes his name in London’s literary and social circles.



Another view of the exterior of Auchinleck House, home of James Boswell. Samuel Johnson described it as “a house of hewn stone, very stately and durable” when he visited it with Boswell.


Reference :

Johnson, Samuel and Boswell, James (1984)   A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal                                                                          of a Tour  to the Hebrides  ed. Peter Levi     London : Penguin


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Spanish modernism’s second stage


Barcelona is a city of such global celebrity that it is striking to discover that Mallorca, a less famous part of Spain, shares some of the same visual features.

Many of the buildings on the island which date from the turn of the 20th century were designed in the modernista style similar to that practised by Antoni Gaudi.



The former Gran Hotel in Palma de Mallorca, now an art gallery. It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a Barcelona architect who designed many buildings in that city.



The adjoining buildings of Can Rei and L’Aguila in Palma. The latter was designed by Gaspar Bennassar.



The two adjoining Modernist buildings in Placa Mercat were commissioned by the owner of a bakery business.



The entrance to the Ca’n Prunera building in Soller. It was designed by Josep Rubio i Bellver who worked with Gaudi on many of his famous Barcelona projects. The former residence is now open to the public as a museum of modernism and art gallery.



Another interior view of Ca’n Prunera in Soller.



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