A Country For An Art Lover

photo 3 (1)

A House For An Art Lover was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald (the pair were only recently married) for a competition by the German Magazine “Zeitschrift Für Innendekoration.” They were disqualified on a technicality (bit late/incomplete) but they were awarded a special prize and perhaps significantly a first prize was never awarded. The house was designed as a place of quality where a lover of art and culture could rest, reflect and entertain. Designing it gave Mackintosh and MacDonald a fantastic opportunity to showcase their skills, to test their limits and to really embrace imagination and the spiritual in their work. It was a great building that never was.

Until it was.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Graham Roxburgh had an idea that this work should be led from its architectural drawings into the fresh air of Bellahouston Park. The great building that never was, that never was completed in every detail, never was eligible, never was expected to feel the sun on its face was suddenly to be. There are shades of the Sagrada Familia here.

It’s a striking building of exquisite design that is well worth a visit. I would recommend if you do opting for the charming and informative audio tour (at no additional charge, although you do have to carry a cross between a 1980s TV remote and a police truncheon around with you). One line particularly struck me, I am not sure who it was but I think it was Professor Andy MacMillan who was said to have uttered, upon hearing the suggestion, the following to Roxburgh,

“It’s a daft idea. But a nice idea.”

How exquisite. How fundamentally human. Another line from one of the contributors that struck me was,

“He gave us a buildable dream.”

If there wasn’t already a metaphor on the horizon about politics and the creative act of building a nation it suddenly clattered into close up with that statement. What is a country if not a buildable dream? Something wholly imaginative and abstract and wholly actual and tangiable.

A House for an Art Lover is inviting. It let’s light in. It is comfortable, provides lots of places for people to meet and gather (such as multiple landings and corners). The art, part of the fabric of the builing, tells stories. There is even a narrative from the dark entrance hall and dining hall to the bright glade of the music room. There are places to socialise, dine, hear music. It is the product of many hands. As one of the contributors said, they were practitioners, not historians, people who work in a compelling tradition but are not slavishly bound to it. They carry on in the spirit.

It is open and accessible to the public but it is not finished. It needs maintained and is continually updated and revised.

A great house for an art lover.

A great model for a would be citizen of a country for an art lover.

Our country should let more light in, be more distinctive and more welcoming. It should be able to be celebratory and somber, measured and whimsical, fascinating and simple. With plenty of space and freedom within that space. Spiritual, moving, and impressive without being stifling and oppressive. Playful, surprising and delightful without being chaotic, unbalanced or pretentious. A country that is both fresh, accessible and innovative and part of a long, lively tradition.

A House for an Art Lover took a long time to be built. But it was built. Its design was constrained by the specifications of the competition – but this framework inspired the ingenuity of Mackintosh and MacDonald. There are key reference points in its past but there is also space to affirm and promote the craft and imagination of the diverse contemporary artists making it a reality.

Perhaps in the midst of the ongoing constitutional stushie we have a chance to build something more humane, liveable and enjoyable with stories literally in the walls. We can use the limitations of the established processes to our advantage, forcing ourselves to become more creative and inspiring us to develop real and lasting change.

Let’s build A Country for an Art Lover. Let’s do so in the bittersweet knowledge we may not see it realised but that we are nonetheless an indelible part of its realisation.

And who knows? Perhaps a Graham Roxburgh will come forward with a daft idea.

And it could be sooner than we think.

James Cathcart


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