Sunday, 16 February 2014
Monday, 10 February 2014
Naiza Khan: Disrupting the Alignment
Until 15 Feb
STAR RATING: ***** (FIVE)
NAIZA Khan, who was born in 1968, lives in the Pakistani port of Karachi where she works as an artist in various media including drawing, watercolour, sculpture and film. In 2013 she received a Prince Klaus Award, from the Netherlands, when she joined a small group of international laureates recognised for outstanding contributions to culture.
Khan is one of her country’s few contemporary artists whose work challenges existing structures in relation to gender, religion and ethnicity. As a child she lived in Lebanon and England and, as well as speaking Urdu and English, she is also fluent in Spanish and French. This international perspective has allowed her to view her own culture through the prism of nuanced experience.
In an intensely patriarchal culture, which tends towards the subjugation of women, she is able, paradoxically, to create work which slips under the radar of a censorious establishment.
In 2003 Khan created Henna Hands, composite images of women made using a repeated stencilled image based on a female hand. These quietly subversive works were made on the walls near one of Karachi’s railway stations.
In her 2008 exhibition ‘The Skin She Wears’ Khan made a series of disconcerting drawings and metal sculptures which combined the apparently opposing ideas of femininity and aggression. These armoured skirts and under-garments suggested a critique on the control of female sexuality.
Here Khan explores the culture and history of Manora island, which stands at the strategically important entrance to Karachi’s harbour, in a series of beautiful ink-and-watercolour drawings, as well as film. Manora has been at the crossroads of history since the time of Alexander the Great. Here are a Hindu temple, a 19th century lighthouse built by the British, a meteorological observatory and the more recent debris of demolished government school. In the cleared rubble Khan came across a pile of broken classroom furniture. Her film, Homage, documents how she created an impromptu memorial to children who were buried and killed here by a collapsing wall.
The island is a microcosm of a city and society; Khan has followed the well-worn credo that artists are often well advised to work with material which is familiar. Working closely with such material allows Khan to create an intimate portrait, which never descends into bathos or sentimentality. Her film of the derelict meteorological station is overlaid with readings from a weather log, which includes numbers of deaths caused by natural disasters. This allows her to offer an oblique commentary on the daily litany of death, fuelled by ethnic and political conflict.
Khan’s drawings are precise and architectural; her structures are combined with pools and patterns of delicate, multi-hued watercolour. Her films are projected into large screens on the gallery floor and walls. Together, these become sculptural and monumental, which, when seen together, offer new perspectives, both literal and conceptual.
Khan’s voice is intelligent, brave and consistently challenging. Her achievements seem all the more impressive given the obvious constraints within which she operates.
Wednesday, 29 January 2014
The Scottish Gallery
Until 1st February
STAR RATING **** (FOUR)
It would be easy to label Philip Braham as ‘landscape painter’ - but this is only a partial description.
A cursory glance reveals landscape elements such as forests, fields, rivers, mountains and skies. The titles, too, often match these initial impressions. 'Rapefield with Crows', 'Corstorphine Hill' and 'The Black Woods of Rannoch' are among a number of works which seem to be direct representations of place. But dig a little deeper and you find a world full of metaphor, philosophical enquiry and literary allusion.
Braham studied under Alberto Morrocco at Dundee in the ‘80s. Morrocco, in turn, was a student of James Cowie in Aberdeen a generation earlier. Both senior painters were assured masters of composition, of colour and had a deft handling of paint. Although their works might be described as lyrical, they were also literal. Braham acknowledges another set of important influences in 'The Wanderer', a tribute to the German Romantic painter Casper David Friedrich and in particular his famous 1817 work, 'The Wanderer Above the Sea of Clouds'.
The title of the show, Keeping Time, is another indication of the depth of Braham’s concern. This a common enough expression in relation to the accuracy of a clock, or in music, but the phrase also refers to the image as a moment in time, preserved.
Metaphors for Braham are deeply personal and each painting holds layered meaning as in Between Worlds which shows sky and branches reflected on the surface of water, while below are plants and leaves. A photograph floats on the surface; in it, through the shadows and reflections, it’s possible to discern a couple standing. Braham reveals that this was painted shortly after the death of his father and thus holds a particular elegiac significance.
Another theme relates to Ophelia, whose puzzling death in Hamlet is reported but never shown. The image of the beautiful, doomed maid floating down the stream decked in flowers was rendered unforgettably by Sir John Everett Millais around 1851. Following this lead Braham has created a series of images which are by turns innocent, beautiful and discomfiting. 'Ophelia Waiting', for example, shows a young women in white Edwardian underwear standing at the convergence of two tracks in a forest. Her inquisitive, inviting gaze looks back directly at the viewer.
It is impossible to see this as a wholly innocent image because it can only be seen through a prism of experience which includes current media preoccupations with paedophilia, prostitution and other forms of exploitation. The innocent girl becomes the coquettish Lolita and the foul-mouthed Ophelia. Braham offers a critique of the Victorian falsifiers such as Millais on the one hand and the exploiters of innocence on the other. The truth is always somewhere between and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.
It’s rewarding to see the work of this gifted painter mature. He transforms everyday experience into layered, beautiful metaphysical poetry.
Monday, 20 January 2014
Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
Until June 15, 2014
STAR RATING: **** (FOUR)
John Duncan Fergusson, who was born in Leith in 1874, remains one of Scotland’s best known and most accomplished painters. Fergusson, or ‘Fergus’ as he was affectionately known, eschewed a formal academic training at the Trustees Academy (later Edinburgh College of Art) and pursued his career as a self-taught, ‘independent’ artist. Such a stance was characteristic of Fergusson’s anti-establishment tendency, as was his decision to leave Edinburgh and live variously in London, Paris and other parts of France.
This show (the first major survey of Fergusson’s work for several decades) gives a rounded picture of his oeuvre, as well as revealingly some tantalising glimpses of the man and his relationship with various women, including Jean Maconochie, the American painter Anne Estelle Rice and the dancer Margaret Morris whom he met in 1913 and who remained his partner until his death in 1961.
Fergusson painted all of these women, in various guises, from the splendid portraits of Rice and Maconochie in fashionable Edwardian attire to late works such as Bathers: Noon, from 1937, based on Morris and himself. Women and the female form remained consistent subjects for Fergusson throughout his long career. Morris, a pioneer and teacher of modern dance techniques, brought Fergusson into contact with intelligent and beautiful women, many of whom he painted.
Fergusson’s interest in the nude reached its apotheosis in works such as Rhythm (1911) and Les Eus (1913). These works are celebratory, colourful and uplifting. Fergusson had absorbed much of the tenor and spirit of early Modernism in Paris and this is demonstrated by the formal Cubist approach, underpinned by the technique of Cézanne, whom Fergusson greatly admired. These are not academic studies based on anatomical detail and formal perspective; they are, rather, stylised compositions of colour and form. Because there is no perspectival depth, the eye is compelled to actively move over the surface of the paintings, creating a feeling of energy and dynamism.
Fergusson began his career around the beginning of the 20th century sketching in the streets of Edinburgh. He converted a cigar box into a portable ‘studio’ which contained brushes, oil paints and small boards, measuring just 5 inches by 4. Some of these oil sketches, of Princes Street Gardens and the Mound, show how Fergusson’s brushwork ¾ vivid, alive and bright ¾ was central to his style.
Fergusson believed that his energy and creativity as an artist derived in part from his Celtic heritage (both his parents spoke Gaelic and came form Highland Perthshire). Later in life, after he and Morris settled in Glasgow in 1939, Fergusson devoted considerable time to writing, editing and to supporting other artists. In an article from 1946 Fergusson wrote : “The Scotland I’d like to see from the Art point of view, would be a Scotland liberated from the stranglehold of Academic Art, and where there was, if not a square deal, at least a fair fighting chance for the Independent Artist.’
His views on the relationship between national institutions and art seem as relevant now (if not more so) as they did then.
Saturday, 4 January 2014
Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
Various exhibitions including The Dark Would and Jerry’s Map
Until 24 Jan, 2014
STAR RATING *** (THREE)
Summerhall has an ambitious visual arts programme, which sees groups of up to ten shows changing every seven weeks throughout the year. You’d need to be a dedicated art professional with a lot of time and energy to keep up. The quality of these shows varies enormously from the excellent to the disappointing. Among the current batch, An Inexact Science by Sally Webber is in the latter category while Ryoko Tamura’s cartoon narrative involving a bear and his ‘ninja’ wife are fun, if slight.
Jerry Gretzinger’s deserves praise for sheer inventiveness and a persistent, bold vision. Gretzinger’s has created a painted map of imagined space. He uses individual magazine pages which are over-painted, often only partly obscuring the original text and images, creating a kind of palimpsest. Each page is numbered and coded, forming part of an integrated whole consisting of thousands of such pages.
The entire installation occupies a large room and the audience looks at the work by removing their shoes and walking over the map, which has been protected by perspex. Like Tamura’s work, it’s fun, bright and engaging and, at this level, it works well. But it’s mainly spectacle and you may look in vain for a deeper meaning such as social or political commentary, or even a narrative on cartographic history or process.
The Dark Would, curated by Philip Davenport, has more substance. It’s title comes from Dante’s Inferno ‘
Davenport has based the show on his extensive anthology of the same title. It includes work by Fiona Banner, Susan Hiller, Richard Long and Tom Phillips.
Each work takes written text as its starting point and uses this wide field as the basis for philosophical inquiry, observation, commentary and eulogy.
Ian Hamilton Finlay, who died in 2006, is implicitly remembered by his son, Alec, who uses his father’s artistic idiom but makes it his own. A phrase from The Dream Songs by US poet John Berryman, ‘Sing wild kind wood,’ has been used as the basis of four individual prints, each containing one of the words. These have been divided into their component letters and set into a simple cross grid. This sylvan vision evokes the title of the literary tribute to Finlay, ‘Wood Notes Wild’ as well as a large part of his oeuvre.
Elsewhere there is an elegy to Finlay by Davenport, a postmodern assemblage of found text, with reggae and hip-hop rhythms:
“u will be ok Ian Hamilton Finlay it’s just a down down day/ it doesn’t mean you will continue to feel this/ im wishin on that star….”
Mounted as a text installation, the words need spoken performance to come alive. However, it’s hard to imagine what Finlay himself would have made of it.