Saturday 19 December 2015

Partick Thistle, Putting Art Into Football. (Updated 25.5.16)

Partick Thistle's reputation as the most artistic football team in Scotland got a boost this year with the arrival of our new mascot Kingsley, designed by artist David Shrigley. Although it is a lazy cliché to deride Partick Thistle as the team for BBC luvvies and students to follow, I think that they are the perfect team to combine art and football. From Kris Doolan's cultured left foot to artist-created free giveaways, Partick Thistle are bringing artistry to our corner of Maryhill.
"All the marvels of science and the gains of culture belong to the nation as a whole (and in particular to Partick Thistle fans)" - Vladimir Lenin 1918

Glasgow and Art

It is often noted that one way in which Glasgow has adapted to the loss of much of its previously monumental manufacturing industry is with a flourishing arts scene. It is now 25 years since Glasgow became the 1990 European City of Culture, following Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris to the title. At the time there were some voices, such as James Kelman and others organised as "Workers City", opposing the re-branding of Glasgow as a "merchants' city". Many felt local, and particularly workers' voices weren't being heard in this jamboree.

Glasgow's motto of 25 years ago and Partick Thistle's
Kingsley mascot of today, created by artist David Shrigley
Since then Glasgow has built a genuine reputation as a creative place to live and work for writers, comedians, artists, musicians, actors, comic book writers and other creative types. Visual art is an area where Glasgow has produced many of the most prominent artists working in Britain today, and for many years has made the annual Turner Prize, which was presented this year in the city, a virtual who's who of Glaswegian artists. Since 2006 Glasgow School of Art has produced five Turner Prize winners and 30% of the nominees. However much of this seems to have been achieved through the efforts of individuals rather than by any major outside support or funding.

Glasgow artist Jim Lambie, creator of Barrowland Park.
 Apparently no relation to John Lambie of Partick Thistle

Common Weal and Art

Many people involved in the creative arts in Scotland were very prominent during the recent independence referendum debate, such as through the National Collective, often offering a less party-political, less partisan voice. They were generally trying to make people think about what type of Scotland they imagined they wanted to live in. The Common Weal organisation also emerged during the referendum campaign, and they continue to campaign. Their stated goals include achieving social and economic equality in our country and promoting a vibrant community and cultural life. They hope to encourage debate in the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections to be about positive ideas and concrete plans, rather than the often playground "he-said-she-said" debate we are at risk of getting. To this end they have recently published a short "Book of Ideas". This contains 101 ideas that they believe could shape Scotland's future in a positive way. As well as ideas in areas such as taxation, deconsumerisation and land ownership, they include ideas such as allowing fan ownership of football clubs (also a policy of the Scottish Green Party).

As the arts and culture enrich our lives they suggest ways to support the production of art and to support artists. Too often art is viewed as elitist, or something purely to make profits, to be drive by the market. As well as creating more art, they also want to generate more audiences, by introducing people to galleries, getting schoolchildren go to theatres and concert halls often, so that we all know our way around these places. I think we all gain from this, whether it is by finding out that you enjoy speedway racing at Ashfield, paintings by Whistler in the Hunterian Gallery, an open mic spot in the basement of a local pub or free tickets to a concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Unless you know how to join in, and can afford it, you won't get the chance. It is really the main reason that I started writing a blog (such as this one recently on local galleries), because there is loads of good stuff out there that people would love but they don't always know how to access it.

Adrian Wisniewski designed poster for Common Weal

Partick Thistle, Art and Me

Inevitably Partick Thistle Football Club are sometimes described as Glasgow's "other club", as they are regularly overshadowed by the ugly sisters that they share the city with. However, I am not a fan of that term as it does a disservice to Queen's Park FC and Clyde FC. When I started going to watch football regularly these two teams, along with Partick Thistle, were the opposition for Rangers and Celtic in, among other things, the annual Glasgow Cup.

Programme from 1991 Glasgow Cup final

Being different in a city where many fans have very partisan loyalties to their team, Partick Thistle have often been portrayed as the "Glasgow alternative". With the proximity of Firhill Stadium to Glasgow University and the old BBC premises, a perennial joke of satirists (such as the Paisley Panda) has been to mock Thistle for having a big following of luvvies and students. With a nod to the absence of religious sectarianism at Firhill it has also been said by someone that Thistle "were the atheist's team. You couldn't believe in God and support Partick Thistle".

In the late 1970s when I lived in Maryhill and was at primary school, my brother and me got taken along to Firhill by my parents and we have continued going ever since, through all the ups and downs that has entailed. We also got taken to Kelvingrove Art Galleries regularly and to other galleries, and again I have kept on going back ever since. In the 1970s my mum was working in the cafe at the Third Eye Centre (now the CCA). Due to their laid back attitude as employers, summer holiday child care problems were solved by my brother and me getting to run about in the Third Eye Centre all day (we helped out refilling the coffee filter machine occasionally and got a wage packet of 50p per week). This made it a normal place we just played in, my brother kicking rows of sawdust about one day which had been laid out in one of the galleries, not realising that it was a carefully crafted work of art (we sorted it out, nobody noticed). If you know that it is alright when you are aged seven to not like a rotting bunch of bananas in a long wooden box (another exhibit that sticks in my mind), then you realise that when you are forty it is still alright to turn your nose up at stuff that you don't like. I just think more people need to get the chance to see more art, to see what they do and don't like.

One of my children has become a big fan of street art, often found giggling over a book of Banksy's work that we have. Another favourite book of his is one by David Shrigley, whose cranky humour appeals to him. On holiday in Paris a few years ago after we spotted some street art by local boy "Invader" on a wall there, we spent most of the rest of our trip trying to spot more of his stuff. It became quite competitive after a while. Basically it is all around you, if you get to notice it.

What about art and football? I was too young to bear witness to the artistry of Alan Hansen's nascent career in Maryhill, the 1971 League Cup winners or Alan Rough's perms. The first person that to me linked the words "artist" and "football" was probably Bobby Law. There are many great examples of football and art merging. You could maybe think of Roy of The Rovers, films such as Gregory's GirlIan MacMillan becoming "poet in residence" at Barnsley FC. What about Willie Rodger's great footballing linocuts?

Penalty by Willie Rodger

A memorable coming together of football and art is found in the film by Glasgow-born Turner Prize winning artist Douglas GordonZidane. Filmed in real time with all the cameras focused on the French superstar and with a soundtrack by the superb Mogwai, the film shows that 90 minutes of football can have all the drama of a Shakespearean play. On a memorable evening two years ago the band performed the score live at an outdoor showing of the film in Glasgow. Football and art, clearly natural bedfellows.

Zinedine Zidane, Douglas Gordon and Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite

Partick Thistle and Art

At the start of this season Partick Thistle Football Club caught most people by surprise when they announced that Partick Thistle fan and artist David Shrigley had introduced US investment firm Kingsford Capital Management to his local team. Kingsford Capital's manager, Mike Wilkins is a supporter of modern art and a fan of David Shrigley's work. This led to him commissioning Shrigley to design a new company logo for Kingsford Capital which, with his sponsorship of the team, became Thistle's new mascot. One important thing this deal brought to the club was money. But alongside that, when the mascot which David Shrigley designed was unveiled, Partick Thistle became a twitter sensation overnight. We had more media attention that week than in the previous 12 months, such as this article in the Guardian newspaper and news features around the globe.

Kingsley and Partick Thistle fans in the Guardian newspaper
Partick Thistle's finances have always been shaky to say the least, but the imaginative way that they have worked with a local artist (of international renown) has shown the positive results that can come from art and culture working alongside other sectors of society. A big part of the successful cultural atmosphere of the city has been artists in different fields collaborating with each other, and Kingsley is the kind of thing that you can end up with. The Kingsley mascot is only one of several artistic connections made by Partick Thistle this year.

  • Rogue One

In the close season the brick wall behind the city end of the ground was given a fresh lick of paint by Glasgow graffiti artist Rogue One. I have written about some of his work in the city before, and since painting this at Firhill he has been busy completing the murals outside the re-opened Clutha Bar, among other things. I like "street art", as it tends to be called, and it has gained a higher prominence with the popularity of Banksy and his ilk. It is public art, and it takes art away from the buying and selling end of things (unless you are Banksy, as people rip bits of wall apart which he has daubed on, to sell on for thousands of pounds). A person gets paid for doing their work, we end up with a bit of, transient, public art. Everybody wins.

Mural by Rogue One at Firhill

Commissioning an artist to paint a gable-end is not a new idea. Here is a short clip of John Byrne talking to STV in 1974 about the mural he painted on a wall in Crawford Street in Partick (on a now demolished building). You don't see interviewers and interviewees smoking together on TV very often these days, do you?

Whether you like a particular mural or not, it is up there for everyone to see and everyone can have an opinion.

  • David Shrigley

David Shrigley came to Glasgow to study at Glasgow School of Art in 1988. Whilst in the city, like the sensible chap he is, he started following Partick Thistle which is the reason that I get to write this piece today. He has in his time painted, drawn, produced designs for festival T-shirts, pop videos, newspaper cartoons, sculpture, photography and made much music. His 2014 album with Falkirk's Malcolm Middleton, Words and Music, is one of the most entertainingly foul-mouthed pieces of music that you will hear. (Middleton's 2007 album Brighter Beat has a photograph by David Shrigley on the cover).

David Shrigley and a Really Good thumbs up

In 2013 he was a Turner Prize finalist and his sculpture, Really Good, a giant thumbs up, will soon grace the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. With the design for Kingsley he is clearly at the top of his game.

David Shrigley's comment on twitter on the evening
that the UK parliament voted to bomb Syria
(Updated 6.4.2016 - The fifth artist created free giveaway of the season at Firhill was given away last night to the first 2000 home fans attending the Partick Thistle vs Dundee United match last night. This time it was the turn of Kingsley creater David Shrigley with a variation on the sports big foam hand with the "number one" pointing finger. Based on his forthcoming 10 foot tall Really Good extended thumbs up he gave us a big yellow foam thumbs up, to wave in appreciation of Kris Doolan's fantastic match winning goal. As it turned out they also doubled up as quite handy for doing the big thumbs down at some of the Dundee United play.
David Shrigley's foam thumbs up for Thistle, modeled
by players Tomás Cerny and Ryan Edwards
With the letters PTFC tattooed across the knuckles of the fist, it is another welcome addition to my kids' burgeoning Partick Thistle art collection.)

My daughter enjoying her professional footballer look,
with tattoo sleeve and David Shrigley foam hand

  • Barry McGee

When Kingsford Capital arrived as sponsors at Partick Thistle they promised a series of limited edition, artist created giveaways. The first of these came at our home game in October against Dundee United. Mike Wilkins of Kingsford Capital had commissioned American graffiti artist and painter Barry McGee to create a design for 2000 footballs, which were handed out to fans as they came into the ground. 

Free Barry McGee balls at Firhill
Barry McGee artwork meets Glasgow pies
These were immediately used exactly as the creator must have imagined, either worn as a hat or as a handy dish for a Saturday afternoon pie. Barry McGee started off in San Francisco as a graffiti artist but his work can now be found in many galleries, and did once adorn a design for Adidas trainers. He has also exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale, which led to his street art gaining in value and being largely scavenged from walls. A quick search on the internet reveals that he has previously filled galleries with abstract murals of patterned tiled designs and returns often to painting a series of downtrodden looking, cartoonish characters.

Barry McGee exhibition
These features are what made it onto the footballs that were handed out at Firhill, largely in our red, yellow and black colours. After putting a photo of the ball that I collected that day on Twitter I was twice asked online if I would sell it, but as my children have enjoyed kicking it about in the park, I think I will hang onto it.

One of Barry McGee's balls

  • Jon Rubin

In a further link up with Kingsford Capital, Pittsburgh-based artist Jon Rubin has designed a scarf, which was to be given away to fans at our December game against Motherwell. When the rain led to the postponement of that game, the 2000 scarves will now be handed out before the home game against Ross County.

Partick Thistle players Freddie Frans and
David Amoo show off the Jon Rubin designed scarves

Jon Rubin's works have largely been public pieces, but he is also a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He was one of the creators of "Conflict Kitchen" in Pittsburgh, a take-away which only serves food from countries in conflict with America, focusing on one country at a time. Their website says that they are selling the food of Iran at present, but it looks like they will be moving on to Syria soon. A concept which unfortunately offers plenty of options for culinary variety. He has previously set up a radio station in an abandoned neighbourhood, playing only the sound of an extinct bird (which to be fair sounds right up my street). He is quoted on the Thistle website as saying
"I’m a huge sports fan myself, so I was excited to be asked to participate. After doing a lot of research, Partick Thistle is the exact type of team that I tend to root for—the scrappy underdog punching above their weight."
On one side it proclaims "We Are Thistle", the reverse of his scarf has the bemusing "You don't know who you are" in bold red and yellow. Rubin apparently came across an online audio archive of Thistle fans chanting this. The existential confusion of it appealed to him.

Ironically, as our coverage in results websites, newspapers and television this year has consisted of an endless succession of wrongly identified players or Thistle being called "Partick", it is clear that many covering football are just not making any effort to actually find out who WE are. Very bloody frustrating.

  • Jonathon Monk
Update 3.2.16. At the re-arranged Partick Thistle vs Motherwell game last night the next in the Kingsford Capital Management sponsored art giveaways was handed out. I feel we are labouring the football theme here now as Jonathon Monk produced 2000 yellow cards to give out, housed in a red sleeve to give it that Thistle jersey look. The message on the back was clear 
"It should be used in situations both on and off the pitch where you wish to advise others: A line has been crossed and caution is advised."
Those in the Jackie Husband Stand at Firhill for the match that followed got plenty of opportunity to wield our yellow cards at the ref. He dispensed them liberally to four Thistle players in the first half before being a wee bit reluctant to keep going with the cards with a couple of Motherwell's persistent offenders. Reminders were forthcoming from the stands. 

Jonathon Monk designed Yellow Card

Jonathon Monk studied at Glasgow School of Art for a while and (prudently) in interviews states that he attended Firhill on occasion whilst here. Now based in Germany  he works as a conceptual artist, which in essence can mean that the idea behind a piece of art is more important than the finished object. Jonathon Monk, consider yourself officially cautioned.

  • Kota Ezawa
Intended to be issued at the game against Aberdeen on February 19th, the next giveaway was distributed at the St Johnstone match on Tuesday night, 23rd February. The artist's work being presented to the Firhill faithful took the shape of a cushion. Kota Ezawa was born in Cologne in 1969, a German/Japanese artist who now lives and works in San Francisco. He uses images from popular culture, film, photographs and art history in his digital animations, collages, drawings and light boxes. Here, for example, is one of his video works, with the Beatles performing California Uber Alles

For Partick Thistle he has produced a cushion with an image based on Hokusai's 1830 woodblock print "Great Wave Off Kanagawa" on one side, a Thistle fan pictured holding it aloft on the reverse, in mid-Mexican wave pose. 

Kota Ezawa designed cushions

As well as being a comfy addition to your seat, he states that he took inspiration from Glasgow's seafaring past, and the "Mexican wave" of sports fans around the globe. 
"a German/Japanese artist living in America takes on a Japanese artist's print which can be used to energise a Scottish team made up of players from the United Kingdom, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Belgium, Ghana and the Czech Republic using a cheer called the Mexican Wave."
A statement of footballing internationalism, and a nice cushion to take home for your garden chair or caravan. Kota Ezawa seemed to have created a popular one here and the crowd gave the cushions all a wave for the photographer just before kick off, which will be an image I think will be worth seeing. With Thistle turning in a storming performance to beat St Johnstone 2-0 on the night, this is quickly going to be known as the "two-goal cushion".

An art collector at Firhill picks up his cushion, pie and Bovril

  • Martin Parr
Last home game of the season and last artist created giveaway from Partick Thistle. Until this point the five matches where free artworks were handed out netted Partick Thistle five clean sheets, five victories and fifteen points. With nothing to play for except pride on the last day of the season, that winning art run came to an end with a 2-2 draw against Hamilton Academicals on Saturday 14th May. 

Partick Thistle team photo, by Martin Parr
Photographer and photojournalist Martin Parr is known for photographs that show the reality of many common situations, seeing people in their true environment. His photographs can document familiar corners of the modern world sometimes not noticed. He recently published a book with 30 years worth of photographs of himself taken at street photographers and photo booths from around the world, the kind of thing that you might see on holiday. The results are funny and slightly grotesque at the same time. 

Instead of the traditional, clean cut team photo he has them set out in formation, standing in front of the shabbier old turnstiles. Nice to see the "Home Support" behind them though. Most impressive of all he seems to have got the players and coaches ready to do...the time warp....again....

I do like a bit of photography. I enjoy updating this blog as a way to foist some of my snaps off on the world. So it is nice to see the different perspective a non-sports photographer saw on his trip to Maryhill, and also to get a print by Martin Parr.
Team photo, 1991-92 edition

Art for art's sake

To me it seems that Partick Thistle and art are a good fit, but then again I would say that art is a good fit with all aspects of life. Unfortunately the Scottish Government do not see art budgets as a priority and arts organisations will face significant cuts as a result of last year's Scottish Budget. These cuts run the risk of making art in Scotland more elitist and less of a career opportunity for those who cannot fund themselves. On top of this, with the cuts to council budgets, it is a sure thing that more cuts to local organisations are going to come on top of those already announced. Regardless of this, art of one form or another either on or off of the field, will continue to flourish at Firhill. 

Now that they have given out artist produced scarves and footballs I am scratching my head to think what free giveaways could be offered next season (if there are to be any more). Maybe we need a Thistle bonnet, with some sort of message on it?