In 2014, fire ripped through the Glasgow School of Art destroying Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic art nouveau library in which Glasgow artist Nathan Coley (born 1967) no doubt spent many hours when he studied at the Glasgow School of Art between 1985 and 1989:
“We were in Paris, and had just finished lunch when my brother messaged me to ask if I had heard the news, about the fire. I got back to him saying that wasn’t something to joke about. He sent me a link to it on BBC news, and the terrible images were in my hand.
I sat in shock, with tears in my eyes, at the sight of the flames ripping through the roof, and thick black smoke engulfing that so familiar building. How could this be happening? We couldn’t stop looking. It was irresistible, compulsive. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the image was its inevitability —unbearable and unbelievable but also as if foretold.”
The centrepiece of Nathan’s exhibition at Parafin in London is his new work “Tate Gallery on Fire” which follows on from his 2015 depiction of St Paul’s Cathedral, the two buildings facing each other across the river Thames, one representing London of the 21st century, the other representing London of the 17th century. Nathan explores the way that architecture and public space reflects society and the and influences on people’s lives. In 2014 he filled the main hall of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow with a cardboard city of the 286 religious buildings listed in the 2004 Yellow Pages directory for Edinburgh as “places of workshop”.
On moving round to the rear of “Tate Gallery on Fire”, there is a surprise: – the rear is not the south elevation of the Tate, but is like a chaotic and cluttered desk, filled with an unpredictable and personal collection of objects, including a booklet on Ed Rushka’s painting “The Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire (1965-68)” which was not about burning the museum per-se but was a protest against the authority and bureaucracy of institutions. Picasso apparently also threatened to burn down the Louvre for the same reason.
Downstairs, the lower gallery at Paraffin is filled with Coley’s large illuminated aluminium words, like upturned signs removed from a fairground or a cinema, but using more serious and significant words like wealth, life and belief, while upstairs are a new series of works that deconstruct and reassemble Shaker furniture, celebrating the simple forms and traditional materials of the domestic furniture, way of life and religious beliefs of the Shakers.
The exhibition at Parafin shows Nathan Coley’s new work in London and also acts as a taster for his exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh from late March 2017, which will include includes both the the Tate Gallery on Fire and St Pauls together for the first time.