‘Drouth Five-Oh’, on exhibition in The Reid Building between 17th January and 15th February, marks the fiftieth issue of the quarterly magazine The Drouth. Published in Glasgow since 2001 by editors Mitch Miller and Johnny Rodger, each themed issue has a guest editor and cover artist. Among the list of prominent contributor artists – the most recent of which is Turner-Prize nominated Ciara Phillips – the name of John Kay may be less ‘weel kent’.
Kay, a 19th-century caricaturist and sometime coiffeur, produced sketches of the people he observed in Old Town Edinburgh and posted them in the window of his barber shop in Parliament Close (or Square, as it is now known). Kay’s 1786 etching of James Donaldson, a journeyman baker with the inscription ‘O Drouth’ above his portrait, adorns the cover of the magazine’s Pure issue from Spring 2008. The image derives from a plate in volume one of A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings (1877), collected and published by Hugh Paton. An 1877 edition of the book, on loan from the Glasgow School of Art Library, can be viewed as part of a display-cabinet of random Drouth ephemera.
GSA Library holds both volumes of John Kay’s etchings which include biographical information about the portraits and anecdotes of Edinburgh’s socio-political past. Taken together, they form a compendium of a man whose cutting take on Edinburgh’s establishment lives on through a journal encouraging artists to critically engage with present-day concerns. Come ‘slocken yer drouth’ by making similar creative use of the library.