There can be few late 20th century childhoods that didn’t intermittently cower to the terror of a Ray Harryhausen monster. The Sinbad films, Jason and the Argonauts, The Clash of the Titans and all their ilk were rare and fabled fare of Saturday afternoon TV, keenly anticipated (at times from behind the sofa), and utterly terrifying in their stop motion horrors, whether the hero (for it was always a hero) was fighting the green-tinged Medusa or the bronze armoured Talos. Or perhaps simply trying very much not to be eaten by a skilfully animated figment of Harryhausen’s imagination.

Now these terrors come to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in their Covid-delayed blockbuster, albeit the models are much, much smaller – thankfully – than they appear in the films that portrayed them. Ray Harryhausen, idol of many modern film directors from John Landis to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, was a film fanatic, his fascination with animation first sparked by the 1933 film King Kong, with its eponymous “monster” – a super-giant gorilla – who looms, here, at the gallery windows.

Animated by Willis O’Brien, the film was the thing which inspired Harryhausen, then aged 13, to start experimenting with model-making and stop motion in his parent’s garage.

Harryhausen’s journals show it, too, the frequent cinema-going habits, with a note against one viewing of King Kong that he had seen it a somewhat staggering 37 times. In that film are the seeds of Harryhausen’s early work, which largely involved monsters running amock – be aware that the odd bit of film with dinosaurs or mythical creatures devouring the humans who are trying to beat them off may be too much for young or sensitive children – and occasionally misused “monsters”, such as Mighty Joe Young (1949), made by the same team as 1933’s King Kong, with Harryhausen working on the animation under the supervision of O’Brien.

And there is work from that well-used garage, including a papier-mache skeleton, a precursor of the famous armed skeletons that Jason faces in the film Jason and the Argonauts, and a marionette of King Kong, made in the mid 1930s from his grandmother’s old fur coat on a papier-mache base. Harryhausen, encouraged by his parents, developed his modelling and animation skills, particularly in a film called The Cave Bear, which he worked on when he was around 15, and whose now headless model bear is on show here. It was a process, his daughter says, of trial and error, of working out how the effects in King Kong had been created, of working with his father on sets in the garage, of filming each other running away from the “monsters” and layering these elements in with the animations.

That teenage obsession with marauding monsters may have defined his career, but Harryhausen was not just a man of monsters. He worked, too, in the 1950s, after art classes and night school, after early success with Mighty Joe Young, on his own popular Fairy Tales animation series, which played in primary schools across America for years and are still well worth hunting out now.

There are the multiple heads for King Midas, a different head for a different mood, the film itself showcasing the naturalistic actions, denoting character, towards which Harryhausen was always working, and in the service of which he himself had acting lessons in his late teens.

Throughout the exhibition are Harryhausen’s hand-drawn storyboards, each tellingly detailed, capturing the thrust of the action to entice the directors of the films he was working on. Wonderfully, too, a little tableaux of his toolbox with a selection of miniature eyeballs, screws and tiny armature components, of paints and brushes.

For those here for the monsters – and there were certainly more than a (socially-distanced) few when I visited – they do not disappoint, from Pegasus with his moth-eaten (in fact, film action damaged) wings to the Kraken from The Clash of the Titans (1981) and numerous beasts, mythological, borrowed and made up from the various Sinbad films of the late 1970s.

What stands out is the attention to detail, the dedication to progressing his art, of a man who went from creating a (nonetheless impressive) stegosaurus model, when aged roughly 17, which his idol Willis O’Brien pointed out had legs “like a sausage” to the finely articulated skeletons, centaurs and great bronze statues of Jason and the Argonauts.

And it turns out, in these times, that it is in the end rather nice to see one’s monsters reduced to a more manageable size.

Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, 73 Belford Road, Edinburgh, Until 5 Sep 2021, Daily 10am - 5pm Tickets £14/12 Concessions available. Book tickets and timeslot on website.


With the rather sobering news that Dundee Contemporary Arts has had to close its doors this last week as a temporary measure to stave off the worst of the economic impact of the Covid-19 downturn in visitors, its perhaps a good moment to highlight those galleries and arts centres still having to remain closed to the public until better times, but managing to keep things going online.

Edinburgh Printmakers is one such, this week launching a selling exhibition of rare and unseen prints by some of Scotland’s leading artists and printmakers, just in time for the festive season.

There are works here by Kate Downie and John Byrne (pictured), Callum Innes, John Bellany and Rachel Maclean, amongst many others, with a wide price range. Some are collaborations by artists with printmakers, helping them expand their practice and bring it to new audiences.

Others are dedicated printmakers.

With the gallery closed until 2021, this first archive exhibition since the Printmakers moved to Castle Mills provides a real opportunity to get a look into the holdings of some 2000 prints by the gallery, and is the first in a series of online exhibitions. Cataloguing of the archive has been going on in earnest during this year of lockdown and restricted access, and has been a valuable exercise in itself.

Shan Edwards, the CEO of the Printmakers, called it “an opportunity to see how printmaking has been a key part of the practice of some of Scotland’s most well-known artists...and to purchase original artworks.”

From the Archive, Edinburgh Printmakers, online only, Until 31 Jan 2021


EDINBURGH Art Festival 2020’s delayed Platform programme, now in its final weeks at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, is tasked with giving emerging artists time, money and an exhibition to give them a much-needed outlet for their work. The four artists were chosen in March by Principal Curator of the Cooper Gallery, Sophia Hao and artist Ruth Ewan, a week before lockdown, and are finally getting to exhibit their work. Ranging over diverse artistic media, yet all in some way interested in querying the sociological or political status quo, the artists are Rabindranath A Bhose, Mark Bleakley, Rhona Jack and Susannah Stark.

Platform, City Art Centre, 2 Market Street, Edinburgh, 0131 529 3993 Until 29 Nov, Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm, book free tickets via website