Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

The City Without an Identity: Representing Post-Industrial Glasgow

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Vee Pollock


Full text for this publication is not currently held within this repository. Alternative links are provided below where available.


From the beginning of the twentieth century, Glasgow had defined itself through a series of epithets. Priding itself on its industrial prowess it was dually the ‘Second City of Empire’ and ‘Workshop of the World’. Despite facing the common social and housing problems brought in the wake of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the municipal authorities actively promoted the city through its municipal policies and industrial achievements. In the aftermath of the First and Second World Wars, however, when armaments contracts no longer fuelled industrial activity and the beat of heavy machinery had faded along Clydeside, the city fell into deep decline. Artists had tended to present images of the city that adhered to the aggrandising epithets, but as industry, the foundation upon which Glasgow’s renown had been built, began to decline, this had consequences for the construction of its identity in art, and in many ways it became a city without an identity. It was at this time that signs of intransigence emerged toward the official rhetoric and there was a move toward individual and more idiosyncratic conceptualisations of the city. This article explores the relationship between the city’s quest to forge a new identity for itself and the artistic interpretation of Glasgow’s more indeterminate sense of self. Immediately after the Second World War, Glasgow became a cultural centre for ‘avant-garde’ Scottish painters, as well as Polish émigré artists. It was these independent artists who began to move from the centre of the city to the peripheries, from the monumental façades and historic landmarks to the backstreets, tenements and factories. The significance of this is examined in correspondence with the increasing tendency to articulate the nature of the city through its inhabitants; specifically those from the working class. This focus on the working class impelled artists and photographers to embrace a new range of social issues and prompted a fresh consideration of the nature of the city. Rather than a tangible sense of the city, in bricks and mortar, they began to interpret ‘Glasgow’ more notionally, as an inherited history and an innate sense of belonging. This article argues that these artists brought a distinct and persuasive consciousness to understanding how the city was conceptualised – a consciousness to be adopted by the authorities as Glasgow became European City of Culture.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pollock VL

Editor(s): Martyn P

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: The City in Art

Year of Conference: 2004

Publisher: Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk