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James Spence was an artist and teacher who became an established figure on the Scottish art scene when he co-founded the Glasgow Group (alongside James Morrison), an artists’ cooperative which promotes the work of artists who were born, live or trained in the city. It was founded in the 1950s as a response to the conservative outlook of local exhibitions and the lack of commercial galleries. He was the son of Highland fisherfolk from Findhorn who travelled south to Glasgow. Much of James Spence’s subject matter could be traced to his childhood experiences – an evening at an open air boxing match in Glasgow, for example, the fighter silhouetted in brilliant light, a mass of crimson blood covering the face of one man. He was also inspired by the landscape of the north-west Highlands and by his travels abroad.
Spence attended Glasgow School of Art in the 1950s and was taught by Donaldson, Squires, William and Mary Armour and Benno Schotz, before spending the summers of 1956 and 57 studying at Hospitalfield House School of Art in Arbroath. He then started to teach in the east end of Glasgow, which was excellent preparation for becoming president of the Glasgow Group – a position he held for 33 years. On becoming principal of art at Dumbarton Academy, his great pleasure and ambition was to teach etching, lithography, sculpture, woodcut and life drawing.