Art On The Hill

Art On The Hill

So my last post was a bit depressing, indeed I think it was a bubble of accumulated ‘grrrrr’ feelings with social medias and general life stuff.
So aye sorry about that. The long drag out of winter takes its toll and I was mentally gearing up for something ambitious while batteling with the limitations of my own situation.
Anyway today we are talking. Talking about a revolution……

To aid today’s story here is some musical accompany.
And for the first time its a song I made up, I do play a little guitar for fun and when I was way younger I had bought a pile of recording stuff, which has been reinstated and dusted off.
Also I got a harmonica from my girlfriend at Christmas so this is my first bash at that…

Anyways I actually do have totally positive news that I realize I have not mentioned here.
Don’t know why, being its the biggest thing I have done like ever.
Art On The Hill… but to start this story I need to go back to I think summer 2012 when I was in the early days of The Hidden Lane studio.
I was looking for some craft fairs to get involved with in Glasgow, as it had formed a major part of my income in the previous years and I was fairly experienced in that realm it made sense to get involved in a Glasgow scene.
Trouble was I couldn’t really find what I wanted, there was at that time the birth of what I would term ‘hipster fairs’ that are doing really well now (in that there are lots of them) but I feel they are really not helping the craft market economically, in-fact they are effectively destroying it.

It is pitching/presenting hobby work and low value work, when you are dealing low end prices what you are dealing in is low value objects.
Nothing of real value is made in 2 minutes lets face that right.
And a person should not waste their precious time sitting making repetitive items just to turn a crappy couple bucks.
You should spend the equivalent hours making one awesome product, something of worth and that will take materials. Be that free recycled things or things you had to buy like card, glues varnish resin, solder, strip metal, gold… whatever.
And it will take you all day, or two days or even a week or a month of labour skill and consideration.
And that item will be priced based on the value of your time and the materials and the worth of the resulting object.
So its not gonna be 2 for a pound or £10….

Funnily enough, or indeed not funny at all I got a txt later today that fully illustrates my point. So the next time someone is walking down the street and see’s a sign for a Craft Fair they will bypass it on the presumption of what they will see there, not worthwhile hand made works by a showcase of talented local makers & artists.

I really don’t mean to be directly nasty but when people walk into a Craft Fair situation they make an immediate judgement, and if the higher % is clearly low end cheap goods thats all that is going to sell, the tone is set. The purse is open or closed instantly.

There has to be a level of assured quality in place. Sadly there is no shortage of hobby makers who will clamor to take a table at such events.  So when this trader has a rubbish day, because no one came into the show because they suspected it would be rubbish, they will not do that show again but you bet yourself there is a stack of emails in that organizers inbox of takers for next weeks… and so it goes on.


What I am trying to get at is what we need is a society that artists/craftsmen can make a full time living in.
And they will have that when work sells.
And work will only sell when the public values it.
The UK public of today does not value work on the whole. And this devalue-ment is further enhanced by these ten million pop up markets that are everywhere, every weekend, charging 40/70 bucks a table persenting low end cheap goods under the banner of ‘craft’.

For the artists to find a fruitful profitable life as working artists they need to have a public that values arts to present to, we currently do not.
Which leaves the only other option as a career crutch of funding applications. That’s not sustainable and only caters for a tiny fraction of practitioners who are lucky to get a slice of the pie.

If perceived ‘value’, and i’m talking about cultural worth here, is established then that will equate to financial value. People will embrace the worth of art and spend on it. Thus the artists can more easily survive.
To make that cultural shift in this country we will need to see a government and city councils taking a new approach to the arts. They have to sow the seeds not out of motivation for profit or immediate gain but for a future crop that will be self sustaining and bring in greater reward than they can perceive today.
But I think its fair to say Glasgow’s, and indeed the UK’s, decision makers are not known for their future vision are they. But the ‘grassroots’ artists will always be working on trying to turn that cog the other way.

I pulled this off my web page blog after my trip to The Basque Country in December to represent Scottish Craft where I found a revolutionary crafts set up and in a 4 day show saw just over 14000 people.

“This I find frustrating and as I explain why look at it from both the position of the artisan who aims to make this his full time job & living, and from the position of the public who enters a ‘craft fair’. We have essentially two options as a maker. You do a large show in venues such as the SECC or whatever the equivalent is in the big city. This cost the makers anything from £1/2000 upwards and your artisan will quite possibly find themselves next to an umbrella company or drink firm, anyone that pays for a stand and that by no means acts a assurance of quality. I appreciate in some settings the need for diversity but when it comes to artisan crafts the public do need a wee helping hand as we have become so far removed from valuing true craft.
So I believe there should be in place artisan associations to present shows and help the public have access to actual quality, and provide a sustainable culture for the artisan.
So in the setting of these fairs the artisan will find them useless. Handmade cant compete with corporate made, maybe further down the line when your nation has embraced and values the crafts, but that is most certainly not where we are and thats simply a lack of neglect and no organised effort to protect and nurture the scene.

Your second option is the banner outside a church hall / library / hotel lobby etc etc proclaiming ‘CRAFT FAIR TODAY’. This fills even me with dread and I do these things.
This show can be organised by anyone with the skills to punt 30 tables to makers.
At this level we find the hobbyist.
Now an old man who has plenty of skill on a wood lathe may make a fine product but he may be doing it just for fun. I see this as a barrier for people who go to that fair and its their living. They may need to pay bills, its not a hobby. The presence of hobby crafters also stains the image the public receive, as thats how the work will be viewed. As a hobby. Not with value.
The other problem is something I have noticed in the very immediate last few years is the explosion of various Craft Fairs. Its all too much, there are too many, the quality suffers and it just rips apart any value the good fairs had created in the minds of the public.
Remember I am looking at this from the view that we have to completely shift the accepted public perception of artisan crafts. And at the end of the day with 4 different fairs in one neighborhood alone how many people are there actually to attend, how much money is actually getting spent and how can that possibly work for all the makers. It does not. But who ever has put that show together has a guaranteed profit regardless of how the day goes down, in some cases these shows are run by profiteers and in some cases not… I know how much it takes to organize a show so I am not hitting out at those that have made this a job but when its just a job with little regard or appreciation for the craft well thats where we have a problem.
And I well appreciate there are good days and bad days its just the way it goes but we have now crossed over into a completely destructive zone. Unfortunately makers are not really in a position to just band up and say no to these shows as well we have to do them, and even though its likely to be a financial wreck its the only option and its our job…” essentially we are headless chickens running around in a unworkable system.

So the situation is messed up from the point of view of the professional trying to make a living, and the public.

Anyways…. I am drifting from the story, point is I saw a photo from a craft show & the room looked interesting and that plants a wee seed.
Bust on to January 2013 and I put together a facebook group called ‘Glasgow Independent Artists’ to try collate a list of Glasgow artists with the plan to at some stage put on a big show. In the interm this group starts to function as a way for artists to ask questions and organize events and discuss ideas. We have files with artist information related to our city and FAQ, events lists, skill trade programs, all sorts.

Forward to the end of 2013 and at the closing night of an group exhibition I got chatting to a chap who was in the middle of setting up a Southside Glasgow magazine, I mentioned the venue I had seen the other year and he says come up I can get you in & meet the owners and see the space properly, with the view to doing this show during the summer Southside Fringe Festival.
All of a sudden the option is there to actually put this plan into action.

Move on to Feb 2014 I finally have a proper sit down with the owner and pitch my idea, we are all good to go and I floated it with the art group which now has nearly 800 members, and by April I have application forms flooding in and its all going ahead.

100 artists showing in the most exciting venue I have ever seen, as far as I am concerned from an arts perspective.

Now what makes this show special?

Well first off you probably already guess I have pretty strong opinions about markets/fairs/galleries. I have got real problems with the bottom end of the scale as much as the top. But its the top we are dealing with next.
The Glasgow Art Fair…
Now in its 2nd year of non existence.
Now I never went, well there you go for a start you would think an artist in a city would have a damn good interest in the big annual art show? Now maybe I’m completely wrong but it always seemed to me rather pretentious and elite. High end galleries with a select bunch of international art and validated Uk art. Its not really a public art show.
So given that its not something I know about I have been trying to do some digging to get to the bottom of this. Why would Glasgow, a city of Art & Culture, not have a big art show? Really. Why?

1996 / 2010 – Location George Square run by a company called UZ Arts and funded by Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow and I think Glasgow Life has something to do with it.

2010 – is the last one at George Sq and in 2011 we get this (source) –
IT IS Britain’s biggest art fair outside London, selling the work of famous artists including Peter Howson, John Bellany and JD Fergusson. Yet despite a 20 per cent rise in visitor numbers last year, the Glasgow Art Fair has been cancelled.
Glasgow Life has confirmed there will be no event this year in George Square – where the fair is traditionally held over four days in March in a selection of white marquees – despite last year’s event attracting 20,000 visitors.
The fair will be replaced by a smaller event at the Briggait in Glasgow in July.
A Glasgow Life spokesman said: “After last year’s event, it was felt that the art fair was no longer attracting quality galleries and was not representative of Glasgow’s position at the cutting edge of contemporary art.”

Gallery owners who have exhibited at the fair in the past criticised the decision.
“There was a big mixture of galleries there last year and there was a big turnover of people,” said one gallery owner who exhibited at last year’s fair.
“It’s a real pity. There were a lot of people who enjoyed it. We did very well; people liked what we had and bought it. Is that not what art fairs are supposed to be about?”

The director of the Glasgow Art Fair, Peter Irvine, who is author of Scotland The Best! and known as “Mr Hogmanay” for his role in Edinburgh’s New Year celebrations, announced last April that he would be standing down from the event after a perceived decline in quality. His events company, UZ Arts, will be running the new fair”.

2012 – Its reinvented as “The Glasgow Art Show which was held from March 23 – 25, 2012, is expected to become one of the best shows in Europe. For the show’s first year, it was held at the Thistle Glasgow Hotel. The show was born after the Glasgow Art Fair stopped in 2011. The three day event had artists with their works displayed in over 50 galleries“.
This run by It has been organised by Art in Europa, which runs the Edinburgh Art Fair, but also seems to be run by the UZ Arts that did it in the first place. I’m confused.

2013 – From the Glasgow Art Show FB page “Unfortunately, due to venue problems , we have had to postpone the Glasgow Art Show for 2013. We are hopeful that we can arrange something for 2014 and will post here as soon as we have something in place. In the meantime we are working hard towards the Edinburgh Art Fair which will return to the Edinburgh Corn Exchange in November. Further info can be found at

2014 – Nothing

And I’m thinking can it be that outwith the realms of possibility for the artists to organize a show. Its just group exhibition but a couple times bigger.
As I quoted “it was felt that the art fair was no longer attracting quality galleries and was not representative of Glasgow’s position at the cutting edge of contemporary art” emmm like hang on I have a group of 800 contemporary artists. If you cant find work & present a worthy show you actually are not really trying very hard.
And that was the thinking with the Glasgow Independent Artists group.
And that is what we have done.

Now we might not have the budget of the big guns, and to be honest I didn’t want to run this under the constraints of funding, we do it our way with our own money. Obviously that entails cutting back in certain departments but what you get is access to the massive contingent of Glasgow’s art community that essentially does not exist to the mainstream upper class galleries. You could term this the ‘underground’ movement. But there is nothing ‘underground’ about it.
Its rampantly everywhere. Constant group shows in cafes and bars, and local venues, group efforts, solo efforts. Finding unused spots. Renting spaces. Getting free spaces. Artists teaming up.
Its only underground in the sense that certain fractions are not going to pay this movement a second glance, which is a shame but not for us…, they seem to of been so set on playing the same card over the last 15/20yrs hell probably 50yrs and the game has changed, and that card is not really cutting it. Not any more.
They effectively said it themselves, they are bored of what they were dealing “no longer attracting quality galleries and was not representative of Glasgow’s position at the cutting edge of contemporary art”.
Really? Well it took me about 3 days to fill a 100 artist show with some pretty cutting edge contemporary art.

The upper level is operating on small number of suppliers (galleries) dealing to a dwindling number of clients punting a bland mix of the same old names and work that all looks the same….
Its all just flavor of the month work, all jumping on the bandwagon, and the new trend is excessively over framed work. Trust me go have a look. 4 layered mounts where the over all mount and frame surface area is twice that of the picture.
The grossly expensive frame is now more important than the art it was meant to enhance. Ha ha good one.

Right now we have the explosion of social media and the public’s access to artists has never been easier, the traditional suppliers (galleries) are going to have to up their game to survive.
That game is not being upped from what I can see, where as the grass roots level artists are connecting to grass roots art buyers like never before.

Now moving on slightly the involvement with the Southside Fringe Festival which is a program of events aimed at involving a wide range of Southside businesses and community members..
Again something I had no real knowledge of.
Not to be confused with the Southside Festival

“Southside Festival 2014 Cancelled
It is with regret that the Southside Festival Steering Group have had to cancel the Festival for 2014. Despite our best efforts current financial considerations and the impact of poor weather from last year has meant the operating surplus required to deliver the Southside Festival is insufficient for the current year. We would like to thank you for your support in helping make the Southside Festival the single largest community organised event in Glasgow. As supporters of the Southside Festival you are one of our greatest assets and we hope we can rely on your continued support in 2015”.

Now I dont know the full in’s and outs. I think they were generally funded through community fund raising and some level of external, possibly council funding. Either way there is not enough in the pot this time and no-one is stumping it up. Especially this year when the only thing the council seems to care about is The Commonwealth Games.
I can also tie this in with any council related project I have ever been near. You could almost say they make every effort to try make the event not possible or as difficult as possible.

So if community based events get what little funding bumped, the big shows pull out, what are you left with?

You are left with small groups sorting it out, bypassing all the red tape and just sorting things out for themselves without the problematic pandering to the support crutch. Thats called the fringe, the edge, the underground, the outsiders. Thats us.

And thats what makes this show special.

Now I may of put this together but I certainly don’t speak for all involved. My motivations and actions are, lets be honest here, more than a little militant if you have not picked up on that yet 😉
But someone has to be. Because the current model simply can not continue & is not functioning anyway.
Its dire, and there is good work out there that is being stifled.
The tag line I used for the GIA (glasgow independent artists) sums up my feelings –
since change is inevitable, we should learn to direct the change, rather than simply continue to go through the change…” – Gil Scott-Heron
In a way I feel that if your driving a car and you hit ice you can take no action and perhaps you will pass over the ice…. and perhaps you will end up in the ditch.
If you take some kind of controlled action/reaction either of those results could equally happen also… so what I’m saying is its worth making some kind of effort to steer the car.

So the show was born.

Peter Gillies : Art On The Hill from arts-news on Vimeo.

In one way this is a big artist run art show as a possible replacement to The Glasgow Art Fair, as a first step with a minimal budget it presented 100 artists and we had nearly 400 works in the room. Thats not bad for a first go organized by 1 person.
At least a show that would encompass my desire to present art in a more accessible fashion without the usual barriers that both the artists and public face…
By utilizing the skills and collectve power of the artists we simply bypassed a stagnated system where by now the artists are in control, fund it themselves and deal direct to the people.
Ooops we aren’t allowed to do that are we?

Well it happened and it rocked.
And now I have set up Independent Artist groups for Edinburgh, Dundee, Ayrshire, Dumfires & Galloway, Highlands & Islands, Aberdeen. Look them up on Facebook and join.
And we shall build up those groups using the same template as the Glasgow faction and all those artists can start communicating with each other and start helping each other for the greater good of all the artists.
And we can link up the cities and connect across Scotland.
We stop all dancing to one tired tune competing against each other and dance to our tune together.

I think thats called a revolution…

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The extra good news is after the show closed I spoke with the owners who seemed duly impressed with my efforts and the response publicly so I have agreed to rent the space from them to turn it into a constant rolling exhibit with art studio spaces.
I’d like to be able to show several people a month, have artists conducting classes and demos. Maybe invite artists on a resident basis, create a general arts hub where people can see artists at work and find a diverse changing display of “cutting edge of contemporary art” that the Glasgow Art Fair seemed to be unable to locate.

If you are interested in finding out more about that you can keep up to date on the Art On The Hill web page, and for studio enquirers contact

stained glass poetry


In my own work I really have not had the time in the last few months to create anything new. I did get one request after the show for one of my poetry hangers. The idea was someone could supply me with their own verse or words and I would make a hanger. So this was a birthday present from a mum to her 13yr old daughter and was a pleasure to make. Hopefully it will stay with her as she grows up and it will look as lovely today as it will in 50yrs.

Right now I’m going to crack on with filling these studios with artists and program the first set of exhibits.


One thought on “Art On The Hill

  1. ” If you cant find work & present a worthy show you actually are not really trying very hard.”

    Love your straight talking, Pete. The “art world” (whatever that means) needs more of it. Let’s keep this energy tapped!

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