Chunnacas na Mairbh Beò: The Dead Have Been Seen Alive by Ken Currie

20 May – 1 July 2023

The exhibition title is a line from Sorley MacLean’s great poem ‘Hallaig’: A profound and personal meditation on the Clearances on the Isle of Raasay.

In development for seven years, it was first shown at Glasgow Print Studio in 2022 and comprises a series of monoprint head studies, partly influenced by ancient Egyptian funerary portraits from AD 40-250. In the work, the viewer is invited to draw their own conclusions about who is depicted, bearing in mind the line from Sorley MacLean.

Haunted by the images and driven by the mono-printing techniques he began to master in 2015, Currie was keen to create a similarly distressed and abraded quality where the heads and figures appear ghostly and evanescent.

This involves layers of ink being applied to a copper plate, and a series of impressions being lifted, which take several weeks to dry. An image is then painted on the plate, directly in oil and – using the ground, already created as a base – is printed by hand. Usually, only the second or third prints achieve the desired effect. These are known as cognates or ‘ghosts’. Of the process, Currie says: –

I allow a maximum of three imprints from one plate – an initial imprint, a ghost, or cognate, and a second ghost.  These are usually imprinted on grounds that have been built up over a period of weeks in different layers.  Each imprint can be worked on and manipulated after printing but only up to a point as too much of this will make it cease to be a monotype and more like a painting.  Knowing when to stop can be difficult.  The important thing is that after the three imprints are taken the painted image on the plate is wiped away with turps so it ceases to exist except as a series of unique imprints on paper.  The failure rate is very high but when it all comes together the results can be wonderful.”

For him, making prints is always a learning process, an exploration of possibilities in the medium.

 “Theres a lot of experimenting with a lot of successes and failures. The rate of attrition is enormous. For every ten prints pulled, only one or two make the final cut.

View virtual version of ‘The Dead Have Been Seen Alive’ here.

Ken Currie was born in 1960 and studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1978 – 1983. He rose to attention as one of the New Glasgow Boys along with Peter Howson, Adrian Wizsniewski and the late Steven Campbell who were his contemporaries at the GSA.

He is renowned for his unsettling portrayal of the human figure and the fragility of the human condition, often created as a response to brutality and suffering in contemporary society.

His corpus includes the public murals commissioned for the People’s Palace in Glasgow, his enduring Three Oncologists from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Collection, and his large-scale portrait of pre-eminent forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black which went on view at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in May 2021.

Currie has exhibited widely internationally, including a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; and has been selected for numerous group shows including The Scottish Endarkenment: Art and Unreason, 1945 to Present at Dovecot Gallery, Edinburgh, 2016; Reality, Modern & Contemporary British Painting at The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; and Drawing Breath, a touring exhibition marking ten years of the Jerwood Drawing Prize.

His work is in the collections of Yale Centre for British Art, Connecticut; Tate, London; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; New York Public Library; Imperial War Museum, London; Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery, Australia; British Council, London; Boston Museum of Fine Art; and ARKEN, Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen.