Prof. Ross Sinclair PhD

Job Title:

Professor of Contemporary Art Practice


School of Fine Art



Ross Sinclair
Installation, 2007

Ross Sinclair


Prof. Ross Sinclair

Ross Sinclair is an artist, writer and musician who is Professor of Contemporary Art Practice within the School of Fine Art at The Glasgow School of Art. He is best known for his ‘Real Life’ research project initiated when he had the words REAL LIFE tattooed in black ink across his back, at Terry’s Tattoo parlour in Glasgow, 1994.

Sinclair completed a PhD by Published Work in 2016 where he interrogated and articulated the innovative nature of the Real Life project, unusual in its scale and duration, defining the contribution to contemporary art practice across the fields of sculpture, painting, performance, installation, critical writing and music. Drawing on these multi-disciplinary methodologies Sinclair maps out the forms, materials and processes activated over almost 25 Years of Real Life Projects, that often combine unusual and unorthodox approaches challenging conventional modes of exhibition practice, enabling new means of engagement with the viewer. The multi part thesis submitted claims these routes as an autonomous, artist initiated project, connecting with the public at a dynamic intersection of ideas, context, performance and art-practice.

Sinclair’s Real Life Project is set in a critical framework of contested paradigms of Everyday Life and The Real and acknowledges the influence of key critical thinkers over the quarter century of its development from Barthes, Baudrillard and De Certeau, through Bourriaud, Bishop and Kester and more recently in Harman, Mark Fisher and Paul O’Neill amongst many others. The project has been punctuated by the exploration of individual and collective relationships with Real Life particularly viewed through contemporary paradigms constructing society such as: Democracy, Utopia, Justice, Capitalism, Geography and History, the Church, the Bank, the State, while in parallel addressing the role of the tattooed artist himself. These monolithic pillars of the architecture of contemporary living are examined through the repeated interrogation of context, materials and audience engagement, testing the limits of the utility and agency of the contemporary art exhibition itself.

The ‘Real Life Project’ has been disseminated across a range of exhibition and publication contexts, exhibited extensively in public and private spaces, museums and galleries in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, China, Iceland, South Korea, Japan and Australia in 50 solo and 150 group exhibitions documented by a series of solo monograph publications and more than 50 group publications.

Sinclair is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College, Journal of Visual Art Practice Peer Review, Austrian Science and Art Funds Peak/FWF. He has recently been External Examiner at UCL: Slade School of Art, Graduate Sculpture, London, 2015-18, MFA: Art, Society & Publics, DJCAD, University of Dundee, 2016-18 and in 2019 begins as External Examiner at Royal College of Art; Contemporary Art Practice. He has recently been elected an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy of Artists and Architects.

This research addresses many of the GSA Strategic Themes: Contemporary Art and Curating (CAC) Architecture, Urbanism and the Public Sphere (APS) Education in Art, Design and Architecture (EADA) Material Culture (MC). Sinclair is an active member of the Reading Landscape Research Group.

In 2018 Sinclair curated an exhibition at QPRC in Glasgow: Artists who make Music/Musicians who make Art featuring over 100 artists including 5 Turner Prize winners alongside a host of other influential and significant artists and musicians where he sought to address the question of the locus of creativity in relation to the symbiotic but distinct endeavours of art production and music making. This project was supported by Creative Scotland and generated many reviews and media attention. He is currently developing another version of this project for a larger venue in 2020.

In 2017 Sinclair mounted a major solo exhibition at Shanghai Himalayas museum Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life 1994-2017 curated by Cooper Gallery University of Dundee and additionally undertook a residency working with participants to developing and staging a performance supported by British Council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish and UK Governments. This project brought together many heterogeneous works under the Real Life umbrella in order to raise questions on the construction growth and identity of a discrete art practice developing over 2 decades and how this can be articulated in relation to audience. In late 2017 Sinclair was invited by National Galleries of Scotland /Inverness Museum to make a contemporary response to the Landseer painting, Monarch of the Glen exhibited side by side with this iconic and divisive Scottish Icon testing received paradigms of Scottish identity..

In spring 2016 Sinclair was visiting fellow at St Johns College, Oxford University, where he undertook a 3 month artist in residence as part of his fellowship alongside various exhibition and public events.

In 2014/15 Sinclair was commissioned to re-create his 1996 performance installation ‘Real Life Rocky Mountain’ at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh as part of the nationwide ‘Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland’, project. In 2015/18 he was part of an exhibition of artists from GSA at Simone de Souza Gallery in Detroit and also that year was commissioned by UK Parliament, to contribute to a year-long project in Westminster Hall, Palace of Westminster celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Sinclair has also published many essays and texts in books, journals and magazines and has written extensively on the generation of Glasgow artists emerging from the 1990’s onwards, recently contributing an essay on (2010 Turner Prize winner) Susan Phillipsz: Socialism in Her Heart, to the Artangel/Konig monograph ‘Ten Works (The Work)’, 2014 and Sinclair also had 2 essays featured in the recent ‘Generation Reader’ 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland (National Galleries) published to mark this important exhibition in 2014.

His PhD supervision and examination encompass broad areas of practice led research including the possible roles of contemporary art in the 21st Century, , the curatorial, the exhibition and art object, the political, the geographic, historical, ideas of Scotland, local, national and international.

A Parallel aspect of Sinclair’s art practice is reflected in a significant number of works and texts he has made over the past 20 years that implicitly or explicitly have addressed Scottish cultural identity, discussing the complexity of these influencing factors and how they can be understood and interrogated in contemporaneous, dynamic ways, in public, appealing to a diverse cross-section of audience. An example of this work was seen in 2015/16 at GOMA Glasgow where his large scale neon installation, ‘We Love Real Life Scotland’ was displayed on the 18th Century portico of the Gallery of Modern Art building on Queen St as part of the exhibition, ‘Devils in the Making, GSA and the Collection’.
From a starting point in the 1980’s as a founding member of one of Glasgow’s most popular indie bands, The Soup Dragons, Sinclair has always utilised music throughout his practice and in 2015 released a gatefold vinyl album documenting a 3 year project with Collective (Edinburgh) 20 Years of Real Life: Free Instruments for Teenagers where he worked with young people developing, recording and releasing music made on instruments given away for free during his exhibition. This ‘vinyl publication’ was launched in Dec. 2015 at a live music event at the City Dome on Calton Hill. He has previously released records, ‘Real Life Parledonia’, Edinburgh Art Festival, 2013, and cd’s, ‘I tried to Give Up Drinking With Guitars instead of God’, The Duchy 2013, and ‘The Real Life Rock Opera’, The Travelling Gallery, 2004.

Sinclair makes regular contributions to radio and television programmes on art and music in Scotland and can be seen interviewed here: