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Instant Whip: The Textiles and Papers of Fraser Taylor 1977–87 Revisited

By Neil Cooper, 05.04.2024
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Photograph of Liberty window display, image courtesy of the Glasgow School of Art

“Images provoke memories like music provokes memories,” says Fraser Taylor in the foyer of Glasgow School of Art’s Reid Gallery, where his exhibition opened a few days earlier. Shown across four rooms, Instant Whip: The Textiles and Papers of Fraser Taylor 1977–87 Revisited unveils an archive of printed textiles, garments, sketchbooks, a stage backdrop for Glasgow band The Bluebells and record sleeves for pop contemporaries Friends Again. With much of the work drawn from Taylor’s time as co-founder of influential design collective, The Cloth, the exhibition’s busy array of vividly coloured works look like an inventory of his life transformed into an immersive stage set.

Detail from the cover of The Bluebells 7" single Cath, designed by Fraser Taylor PIC: Courtesy The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

Navigating the spaces with Taylor, his Proustian promenade through his back pages is given extra kick by the fact the archive material on show was missing presumed lost for several decades. Only when three boxes arrived at his studio in 2014 was Taylor reintroduced to a world he thought he’d left behind.

“It was literally like my heart stopped beating for five minutes,” Taylor says, recalling the moment he opened the boxes. “There was somewhere between 600 and 1000 items crammed into those boxes, which I hadn’t seen for almost forty years, so it was intense.”

Working with curator Dr Helene Brett and curatorial organisation, Panel, alongside GSA, what became Instant Whip – named after a glossy magazine produced in Glasgow in 1981 - gradually took shape. The result resurrects the spirit of late 1970s and 1980s Glasgow, a time when the city was being transformed by a rich underground culture that transcended the greyness of the time with a burst of energy that manifested itself through music, fashion and a social scene based around bars and clubs. In a pre-digital age, it was here where ideas were hatched and collaborations formed for what was effectively a revolt into style.


Summer 1986 advert by The Cloth. i-D Magazine, April 1986 Issue No.35. The Cloth full page advert ,Model Mickey at Syncro. Courtesy of The Glasgow School of

As Taylor remembers it, “It was a time of economic and political turmoil. They weren’t stable times, but I think that made people more determined to fight against it, and I think that comes out in the work. The social culture of Glasgow was really important, and there was an attitude of ‘we're gonna' do it’. That energy was really in the air. It was before the internet, so the whole importance of social connection was just so relevant. If you wanted to talk to somebody about collaborating you had to go out and find where that person was.”

Taylor cites bars close to GSA such as Nico's, The Griffin, the State Bar - then known as His Nibs - and the Rock Garden on Queen Street as places where ideas were exchanged and friendships formed.

“We all jumped around those bars,” Taylor remembers, “and everybody seemed to know instinctively where people would be, depending on what night it was. It was really exciting.”

As Taylor’s description of the hectic social and artistic whirl of the time highlights, there is a sense of movement in all his work in Instant Whip that suggests a world that never stood still. It could have been very different for Taylor, who arrived at GSA aged seventeen almost half a century ago, when he originally planned to study drawing and painting. The Reid Building had yet to be built, and the greyness of the studios he witnessed when he arrived from Kirkintilloch in Dumbartonshire only gave way to something more colourful after he transferred to Printed Textiles at the last minute. 

Fraser Taylor, Morag Ross, Robert McCann and Lis Martin on Renfrew Street in their first year at GSA 1977-78. Photograph by Gerry Kelly. Courtesy of GSA A&C, DC 089/1/3/1/3

“It kind of blew my mind what was going on in the Printed Textiles department,” Taylor remembers. “There was a real sense of experimentation and taking risks, from small scale to huge scale. We had teachers who were fine artists, but who were teaching in the design school, which was kind of a weird concept at that time, but we would take that world for granted. 

“The way of thinking was about developing conceptual ideas, through drawing and developing them into projects that could take you to printed textiles, but there was no real expectation. Back in the day, we didn't have all these criteria for passing or failing. You’d just make work, and see what happened. I really thrived in that community. It was really good to be given so much freedom, but there was also a lot of critical conversation if I wanted it.

Taylor and his new contemporaries duly blazed a trail through Glasgow’s assorted art scenes, lighting up both the city and the influential style magazines they appeared in.

As with the material in Instant Whip, Taylor hasn’t stood still either. After The Cloth came to a close, he eventually moved back into painting, living and working in Chicago before making a prodigal’s return to Glasgow in 2017. Since then, Taylor has also returned to textile design, with work including the recently launched V&A Dundee commissioned Haxton by Fraser Taylor collection of garments, in which the influence of the Instant Whip era material remains.

This was brought home even more when, after he moved back to Glasgow, Taylor bought a print table that turned out to be the original one he used back in his days at GSA, when the old Foulis Building and Newbery Tower stood on the site of the Reid Building.


Screen-printed and hand-painted silk scarf Fraser Taylor, 1979-80 GSA Archives & Collections, DC 089/1/2

“I think the most exciting thing about seeing all the work in these boxes was recognising all these recurring themes and ideas,” reflects Taylor. “There’s a drawing in there that I did in my final year of art school, and forty three years later, those figures, that line and that shape are still very present in my work. It's quite astonishing to see that. I’ve moved away, worked in different countries, and done different things, but there's a core of thinking that’s been kind of constant. You can approach that differently, but there's still these recurring notions that are always there.”

Instant Whip – Fraser Taylor Textiles & Papers 1977-1987, Reid Gallery and Window on Heritage, Reid Building, Glasgow School of Art until 20thApril