Although on show only for a short time, the debut exhibition of Sam Macinnes continues, in part at least, online on Rafiki Gallery‘s website. Based in Edinburgh, the Gallery showcases an exciting selection of emerging artists, in a series of pop-up events and exhibitions in a variety of independent venues across the city – an exciting and innovative project that makes welcome use of depressingly-vacant properties in the city, or in the case of 4042 Edinburgh on Grindlay Street, a club that, for now, has fallen silent due to Covid restrictions. In another good example of the Gallery at work, it launched a joint exhibition at the Stockbridge restaurant bar Hamiltons earlier this year.
Macinnes’ milieu for many years has been the rave-going community, which since the dawn of the ’90s spread around the UK and beyond, with folk getting together for whole weekends to enjoy convivial banter, drink and drugs in enormous venues throbbing to the hypnotic beats of electronic pop. It’s an escape, often from the slavish workaday world in front of a computer screen, brought together with folk with little to do at all.
Having grown up in Glasgow and studied in Edinburgh, and got to know this world of hard-core beats and occasionally licentious behaviour, Macinnes has homed-in on particular characters whose acquaintance he has made; these were often colourful, bad-boy characters who have flourished in the rave environment, which he has painted transformed into animals dressed as human males, with a cartoonish, loose and rough style, mixing spray paint, oil bars and graphite, bright colours and spontaneous mark-making, on large scale, the hung canvases a metre or more wide.
Speaking with Sam, I understood the connected thinking behind the show: the venue for start, is perfect for the job, with its basement-club feel, zig-zagging neon overhead lighting leading you into a large-ish room with tiled walls; the hanging canvases are close to the viewer on his/her entry, with the far end in darkness. It works so much better than the white-walled decorum of a private gallery, or a virtual simulation such as those that have come into their own during lockdown. A display of sketches and preliminary paintings occupies a corner of the room, and one portion of the exhibition is on a raised ‘stage’ floor.
The whole pop-up exhibition idea – here today, gone next week – is in some ways an echo of the rave mechanism: find a venue, tell your mates, they tell theirs, don’t tell the polis, get set up, and watch everyone come together. As we creep through Covid times, the idea is outlandish, and against regulation – Macinnes recalls pre-Covid weekend raves on mainland Europe which would see groups of punters board a cheap flight to say Poland on the Friday night, for a mental weekend; the dedication is admirable, but the possibility currently unthinkable.
Macinnes’ renegade band of good-time casuals, who form the subject matter, are fittingly caricatured, having had these exaggerated animal forms conferred upon them, the effect amplified by the highly-saturated colours in scraped pastel. The freewheeling banter – ‘Wit?’, “Never drinkin’ that”, peppers some canvases, adding to the loose weekender feel. Drinks, sportswear, and their logos – Malibu, Sergio Tachinni, Nike – help to convey the rave aesthetic. You recognise the Buckfast bottle, and, as Macinnes points out, many of the characters depicted will be recognisable to those in his circle. And the theme of enjoyment transfers to the viewer – it’s a show that’s impossible not to enjoy.
And the music of Pet Shop Boys, implied in the title, plays in the background. While they – a pop band – were arguably supplanted in rave by the harder-core techno-throb of Chemical Brothers or Orbital, and the rise of the superstar DJ, nonetheless they were the way that electronic dance music, in all its kitschy splendour, made its way into the lives of many in Macinnes’ generation, evoking a rich underground subculture, colourful and shady, that made its way into suburbia, where the East-end boys meet West-end girls.
And again in an echo of rave’s ephemeral pop-up mindset, Macinnes anticipates setting up the exhibition in other as-yet indefinite UK cities in 2021, adding to the work as time goes on.