Glasgow School of Art‘s famous Mackintosh library was destroyed in a fire on the night of 23 May 2014. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece was considered one of the most beautiful examples of art nouveau in the world and hosted some of the rarest books and materials that were sadly reduced to ashes.

Restoration of the architectural gem started two years after the fire. Among the architects appointed to oversee the remaking are J. Walter Thompson‘s creatives who decided to join the cause. The agency’s goal was to lift the walls of the affected structure using an unlikely material.

Mackintosh library | Click to enlarge

This week’s #ThrowBrandThursday sees the London-based agency’s pro-bono initiative, which spanned over a period of two and a half years, to restore the emblematic building using an unusual form of art.

Twenty-five leading international artists, carefully selected by JWT, were asked to craft art pieces from the structure’s actual remains. The world-famous artists, including seven Turner Prize winners, let their endless imagination flow within the “Ash to Art” project and embellished its pages with one-of-a-kind artworks made entirely of the building’s remains.

The experts did not use bricks to pile up the fallen walls, they used ashes. Their building space was limited to a few inches of canvas, paper or charred wood. Through their hands, the tragedy caught colors of hope, with the participants using charcoal and all of their creativeness to literally raise the iconic structure right from its own ashes.

Ash to Art | Click to enlarge

Each artist was sent a wood fragment. The remains were accompanied by a note that explained the origin and what exactly the received debris stood for. Then, artists were given a free hand in terms of imagination. Based on their vast experience, their results shed a light into the chaos that took over the artistic community.

Together with The Glasgow School of Art Development Trust, the agency displayed the artwork at a special exhibition in London and then auctioned at Christie’s, the world’s most famous auction house. The initiative raised more than £700,000, with all proceeds donated towards The Mackintosh Campus Appeal.

The artists come from a variety of disciplines, each of them with a particular artistic vision. And with such a diverse background, it’s no wonder that they created a varied body of work. Check it out for yourselves:

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Douglas GordonA Given – “My piece has a kind of religious, or at least a devotional gesture, to it. […] I wanted to use extreme heat in order to make something that would not burn – therefore, the bronze.”

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Grayson PerryArt is dead Long live Art – “It’s the most famous art school building in Britain. It’s also the masterpiece of Mackintosh. It’s a double tragedy. I was very excited when I received the box of charcoal. I had an idea almost immediately of making an urn. ”

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Sir Peter Blake – “Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the Library at Glasgow School of Art, both before and after the fire (his cravat is drawn in charcoal from the burnt Library).”

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Joseph KosuthO.M.C. – “I was struck with sadness about the fire. I agreed to take part in the project although charcoal drawings are quite alien to me. It’s my first since art school. The title ‘O.M.C’ signifies ‘One Mackintosh Chair’, which is a semi-ironic reference to that well-known early work of mine. So, potentially, the charcoal used in the drawing is the remains of the chair being depicted.”

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Cornelia ParkerA Slippery Slope (between Chalk and Charcoal) – “The piece of charcoal I received looked like a mountain peak. I decided it was such a beautiful object that I didn’t really want to destroy it. I thought of grounding it up and making pigment, which I’ve done many times with various things.”

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Nathan ColeyShaker Boy Meets Mackintosh Girl – “I was in Paris when I had heard the news about the fire. I sat in shock, with tears in my eyes, at the sight of the flames ripping through the roof, and thick black smoke engulfing that so familiar building. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the image was its inevitability.”

“We received many offers of help, but this seemed by far the most original,” proclaimed Mackintosh Campus Appeal’s Director Alan Horn.

  • Chantal Joffe – ‘Self portrait with Ishbel at Glasgow School of Art’
  • Jenny Saville – ‘Ashes’
  • Julie Mehretu
  • Paula Rego – ‘Out of the Ashes, an Eagle’
  • Tacita Dean – ‘Made on January 20th 2017’

These are not the only pieces of art made in the memory of the building. If you want to see the rest of the exhibition, you can access the project’s official page and find out more details about each item there.

The agency has visually documented the entire project within a one-and-a-half-minute-long video. The short film was shot with images contoured by the artists using charcoal saved from the fire. And in case you are curious, it was Bill Hartley and Giles Hepworth of JWT London who lie behind the whole concept.


Project: Ash to Art

Client: Glasgow School of Art

Agency: J. Walter Thompson