‘1975 -1983’ : Five films by Scottish filmmaker John Samson

‘1975 -1983’ : Five films by Scottish filmmaker John Samson

‘1975 -1983’, the first full exhibition retrospective of film works by the extraordinary Scottish filmmaker John Samson opens to the public at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art on 18th September 2016. John Samson (1946 – 2004) only made five films during his life and, until now, these works have never been shown together in Scotland. Not to be missed!

All of Samson’s films emerge from personal concerns with issues of class, subculture, radical politics and bohemia, and explore a diverse range of subjects, including the art of tattooing, fetishism in clothing, restoration of a locomotive and Eric Bristow and the world of competitive darts. His most acclaimed work, The Skin Horse (1983), is a ground-breaking film about sex and disability.

Despite courting controversy with his subject matter, Samson was an extremely compassionate filmmaker who never sought to exploit. He would immerse himself in his subject’s respective worlds, teasing out motivations and telling their fascinating stories with a dry yet gentle good humour.

Born in Ayrshire, as a teenager Samson moved to Paisley where he remained for the formative years of his life. At 16, Samson left school and took on an apprenticeship in the Clyde shipyards learning precision tool making in an engineering firm. Samson quickly became involved as a spokesperson in the first Glasgow apprentices’ strike, helping organise visits by Glasgow apprentices to other shipyards in England in order to demonstrate solidarity across the British Isles.

“Despite courting controversy with his subject matter, Samson was an extremely compassionate filmmaker who never sought to exploit.”

Around this time Samson began to engage with the Anarchist movement, joining the Committee of 100 and participating in a number of Nuclear Disarmament protests including Holy Loch in 1961 where he was arrested with 350 others for demonstrating against the presence of a US nuclear submarine. In 1963, upon meeting his wife Linda who was studying painting at Glasgow School of Art at the time, Samson gave up his apprenticeship and fell in with a bohemian circle that included artists, writers and musicians. He taught himself guitar, took up stills photography and by the early 70s began to make films.<

Paul Pieroni, Senior Curator (contemporary art) at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), said : “1975 – 1983’ introduces the brilliant work of a largely-forgotten Scottish artist. A true ‘outsider’, Samson’s working class roots and political activism, combined with his interest in art, subculture and bohemia, fuelled what would turn out to be a life-long fascination with individuals and groups operating at the margins of society.”

“This exhibition inaugurates a new, key strand in GoMA’s forthcoming programme: a focus on the work of historical Scottish artists who sit outside the recognised canon. ‘1975 – 1983’ reflects GoMA’s willingness to discover and propose new art histories, not merely reflect those that already exist.”

John Samson’s Films

Tattoo (1975) :

A documentary film based on the art of tattooing, tattoo artists and their clients, with interviews exploring the fascination for, and the reasons behind choosing to be tattooed. The film builds up to long climatic scene, often since replicated in other films on the subject, featuring tattooed bodies displayed as art objects. Typically, Samson had himself tattooed during the making of the film.

Dressing for Pleasure (1977) :

The film explores the subject of fetishism in clothing. The film, which despite its subject matter, remains playful and light, features cameos from Malcolm McLaren and Punk icon Jordan, as well as a host of other curious characters.

Britannia (1978) :

A group of volunteers work on the restoration of an old locomotive. This unashamedly poetic piece draws strongly on the theme of resurrection as Britannia rises like a phoenix from the ashes of its desolate resting place. Inspired by the work of another poetic British filmmaker Humphrey Jennings.

Arrows (1979) :

This is a film about Eric Bristow and the world of competitive darts. In Bristow, already successful and totally self-assured in his early 20s, Samson finds a compelling figure through which he explores a sport as well as a specific period of British social life and culture.

The Skin Horse (1983) :

A ground-breaking film about sex and disability that won Samson much acclaim. Though courting controversy with his subject matter, Samson was an extremely compassionate filmmaker who never sought to exploit his subjects. Instead he would immerse himself in their respective worlds, his keen eye teasing out motivations while never lacking a dry yet gentle good humour.

The exhibition will present all five of Samson’s films in a specially designed exhibition environment. A programme of screenings and talks will take place during the exhibitions run. John Samson’s ‘1975 -1983’ will to be presented in GoMA Gallery 1 and opens 18th September 2016 running until April 17th 2017.

Please be aware that this exhibition contains adult content and features graphic language, nudity and sexual conduct. Visitor discretion is therefore advised.

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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