'Let there be light'
Edinburgh, 2019, Painting
In the last few years Edinburgh Council has been selling off the city’s collective heritage for short-term economic gain. I fear that while our home is being made more attractive to tourists, we are losing the places that enable our lives.
My painting focuses on the publicly owned land and NHS clinic that sit behind Edinburgh Central Library. They have been sold off to build a Virgin hotel. The library was gifted to the people of Edinburgh by the industrialist-cum-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who called on the rich to use their wealth to improve society.
The decision by those in power to sell the land and buildings will have lasting consequences (a ‘luxury’ hotel, rather than a library extension as promised, a library starved of daylight and the loss of the NHS clinic are just three...) yet it seems to have been made behind closed doors, favouring the interests of shareholders over residents' well-being.
A group of Edinburgh residents have been relentlessly trying to reverse this tragedy. The image of one activist camping up in the tree on the site before he was evicted, and the tree was cut down stuck with me for almost two years before I worked up the courage to paint this.
I have used the language of religious symbolism to tell the story without words. Carnegie presides over the phrase inscribed on the library doorway, the tree of knowledge, beset by the three-headed serpent caricaturing the business owners, drops leaves and knowledge-seekers as the councillors look on in glee.
There is a sense of the decline in quality since Carnegie built his fine stone library: leaves turn to money; the impermanence of the cranes against the castle; the security pigeons making the public private, and the latest ‘iconic’ building referenced at the bottom – the ‘golden turd’.