Razor’s Edge Barbershop

The barber in action.

Throughout this blog you'll see comments offered up by our clients after they had had their hair cut at our free, pop-up barbershop, which appeared on the Ambulatory of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

This DIY barbers’ saloon, accompanying the exhibition Looking Good: The Male Gaze from Van Dyck to Lucian Freud, 400 years of male style icons, explored what young men feel about their style and appearance. It sought to attract new visitors in an imaginative way, and aimed to have them leave the gallery looking as good as the ‘faces’ captured in the portraits.

A Satisfied Customer at the Barbershop (with barber Cameron)

We wanted to explore how men feel about how they look in a natural, conversational way. The barbershop provided the perfect setting for this chat. We didn’t exclude girls, as several young women had their hair cut on the day, but we wanted to put men in the mirror. Filmmaker Daniel Warren had canny arranged for a two-way mirror, so the participants could be filmed without an intrusive camera making them self-conscious. 

Also present was the actress Bea Howitt dressed as an eighteenth century gentleman (and later as Mick Jagger) who engaged the clients in polite, but gently probing, conversation about style ‘then and now’, subtly playing on her ‘principal boy’ persona. Her final flurry was a rocking reprise of the Rolling Stones frontman’s best moves.

Above all, Daniel Warren’s film documenting the barbershop proves that it stimulated a humorous, reflective and multicultural conversation about being a man today. It was a powerful experience for all those involved, at once both personal and public. For the barbers and their clients, by the end of the day it made perfect sense to get your hair cut in an art gallery; the home of looking and being looked at.


By Robin Baillie, Senior Outreach Officer, 28 August 2017