The Linda McCartney Retrospective at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum is simply breathtaking – capturing a life, a talent and a vision. Featuring iconic music images from the 1960s, intimate family life and shots of the McCartneys in Scotland. Curated by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney this is its UK Premier. It runs until January. Review by Gerry Hassan
Review by Jan Patience of The Herald
When I was growing up in the 1970s, Linda McCartney appeared to my young unvarnished Ayrshire eyes to be the coolest mother in Christendom. She was vegetarian, beautiful without make-up, a mum of four feral-looking children and wife to a former Beatle. As well as being a photographer, she sang and played in a band with said Beatle. Looking at her on stage with their band, Wings, or in the Mull of Kintyre video on Top of the Pops, she never seemed comfortable in the limelight, but at the same time, Linda McCartney was one cool mama.
The major retrospective of photography by Linda McCartney (1941-1998) at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum may be based on her photographs, but it sheds light on the life of this unassuming artist in a most telling and tender fashion.
The exhibition has been put together by her husband Paul, together with their daughters Mary and Stella. The McCartneys worked closely with a Scottish curator, Sarah Brown, to mount the exhibition, which is having its first UK showing in Glasgow.
The photographs speak of Linda’s life before and after she met Paul in 1967 through over 200 photographs, as well as various items shown in public for the first time. This includes one of her diaries from the 1960s, her cameras and photographic equipment. She died in 1998 at the age of just 56 and as this exhibition shows, she was working up until the end of her life.
It’s a big, expansive show with lots to take in; from images of some of the biggest names in pop and show business to intimate family photographs. The devil is in the detail in a host of small Polaroid shots (she created thousands) and contact sheets which highlight a boundary-pushing working method which was loose but at the same time tightly shot and framed.
This exhibition is a fascinating insight into the ever-enquiring mind of an artist and trained observer. Linda McCartney, neé Eastman, rarely went anywhere without her cameras and in the pre-digital age she had the luxury of being able to snap constantly. As one shot of BB King with his beloved guitar, Lucille, highlights, she was not afraid to go blurry if it conveyed the effect she was searching for in a portrait.
One picture shows a 23-year-old Jim Morrison on stage with The Doors photographed at a tiny New York Club called The Ondine Club in 1967. The caption says Morrison “wasn’t sure about being photographed as he said Linda’s work revealed so much about her subject.” This much is true.
The photographer is put in the picture herself time and time again by Paul, but Morrison also turned the lens on Linda. There’s two portraits of Linda in the show taken by him; one shows a ridiculously sexy Linda lying on a bed in New York in 1967 while another, taken a year later, has Linda, camera in hand, glancing askance at him.
The portraits are fascinating, but the friend I went with to see the show fell in love with her more domestic work, particularly a 1996 silver-bromide print, Through a Glass Teapot, which shows the vessel half-filled with hot water sitting on a table in the great outdoors. Blurry upside down trees are reflected in the teapot.
The family photos will resonate with most people. I overheard one woman looking at the contacts sheet which led to the famous picture of Paul on a gate in Kintyre say: “It’s just a dad mucking around with his kids…”
Linda liked to catch her subjects off guard. If this meant taking pictures of locals in the wing mirror of the car in Kintyre, where the McCartney family had a home, or snapping her husband in the rear-view mirror of their car while driving through London, so be it.
Linda Louise McCartney was born in the affluent suburban town of Scarsdale, New York, on September 24 1941. One of four siblings, her parents were both born into Jewish immigrant families. Her father, Leopold Vail Epstein, changed his name to Lee Eastman when he became a lawyer specialising in entertainment law in New York for famous clients, such as musicians Tommy Dorsey and Jack Lawrence. He also represented fine artists; including Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko; the former being a family friend who ended up being featured in portraits taken by Linda. A couple of these are on show in Kelvingrove.
She became a professional photographer in the mid-1960s and quickly made a name for herself by capturing the cool, laid-back vibe of the New York music scene of the Swinging Sixties.
In 1968, she was the first female photographer to have her work featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a portrait of Eric Clapton. She met Paul in May 1967 at a Georgie Fame concert when she was in London on an assignment to photograph musicians in London and the rest is history…
Following her marriage to Paul in 1969, Linda’s photographs become more intimate, exploring the natural world, family life and social commentary. An exhibition highlight is a series of painterly blue cyanotype prints – or “sun prints” – made in the 1980s while experimenting with the early photographic processes of mid-nineteenth century photography pioneers WH Fox Talbot and Sir John Hershel. Linda’s images, printed using the same method Hershel employed, feature her kids, horses, and simple architectural details.
This is the first UK showing of the exhibition – it has been shown in Vienna, Montpellier and Seoul – but there was a clear feeling in the pre-publicity from her family that Linda would have been delighted it was in Scotland because of the family’s connection to the west coast in particular.
So far, Glasgow has welcomed it with open-arms – and ears. At the opening reception last week, Chris Nickol, the organist whose version of David Bowie’s Life on Mars on the day he died in 2016 went viral on social media, blasted out a series of Beatles and Wings hits on Kelvingrove’s famous organ.
What comes across most strongly in this exhibition is that Linda McCartney was possessed of a lively creative spirit and an innate warmth which led to a harmonious body of work which sings of a life well-lived.
The Linda McCartney Retrospective, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG, 0141 276 9599, https://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/event/1/linda-mccartney-retrospective. Until Jan 12, 2020. Mon-Thur & Sat, 10am-5pm; Fri & Sun,11am-5pm. £7/£5