Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Decorating the Central Belt 3: Eastwood High School (Newton Mearns), Robert Stewart and James Gorman

When Robert Stewart produced his ceramic mural for the entrance foyer of the new Eastwood High School at Newton Mearns, Renfrewshire, in 1965 he was head of Glasgow School of Art's Printed Textile Department and owner of Robert Stewart Ceramics Ltd. In many ways the mural reflects his dual interests, showing similarities in colour and form to his earlier work for the Edinburgh Tapestry Company and Liberty. This frequently featured abstracted sun-heads, patterned fish and birds, as well as a sense of flattened and vital organic growth.

The Eastwood mural seems to represent night and day, the elements, light overcoming (or at least interacting with) darkness, a sense of pagan calendar, and a rich interplay of cultural traditions or worldviews. It pulsates with hearts and sequins along and around a centralised horizon line.

The effect is of energy and a somewhat 'sixties' feel of psychedelic transcendentalism. Hugely appropriate for (and a relief from) the glazed concrete utilitarian palace of the new school (due for demolition in 2013).

Stewart was to produce three more murals for Scottish schools, and in somewhat similar vein, between 1965 and 1975 - Adelphi Street School, Glasgow (1965), Douglas Academy, Milngavie,(1966) and Glendaruel and Kilmodan Primary School (1975). My thanks to Catherine Davis for drawing my attention to these, and to Liz Arthur's Robert Stewart Design 1946-95 (2003), in which they feature.

Eastwood had a second mural created in 1965. It was placed at the back of Stewart's and on the wall of the hall behind it. This featured a battle from classical mythology, possibly the Trojan War (?), and was by James Gorman (1931-2005), a mural painting graduate from the Glasgow School of Art. After subsequently moving to Arran Gorman concentrated on easel painting, though he did apparently produce one more school mural - for the Moorcroft (?) Primary School in his native Gourock. It would be interesting to compare that, for younger children, with his treatment of history and conflict at Eastwood. The six fighting skeletal figures at the Renfrewshire school are made of coloured plaster and set against a glowing red-orange ground. The mural is currently kept, in three pieces, in a store below the school.

We are indebted to headteacher Stuart Maxwell and the janitors for bringing the Gorman out (for the first time in decades) for our visit, and indeed for making possible our viewing of both murals.

With the fate of the school sealed and no place for the murals in the new Eastwood set to open in 2013, a home for these historic works is urgently needed.

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