Friday, 26 June 2015

Garry Fabian Miller: Dwelling Dovecot Gallery Edinburgh

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland

Garry Fabian Miller: Dwelling
Dovecot Gallery
Until 4 July

STAR Rating : **** (FOUR)

A number of themes permeate this show of photography, woven textiles and painting : the importance of home, light, colour and, above all, the idea that art has a significance beyond its initial appearance.

Garry Fabian Miller, born in 1957, practised conventional photography until around 1984, when began making images using light sensitive paper and objects, instead of a camera.

Miller placed leaves, flowers and grasses directly on the enlarger (in place of film negatives) and projected their shadows onto photographic paper. In 1991, he removed the object from the enlarger, using this only a light source, and began to make photograms, using the objects themselves.

Miller says "All the other work made since this time and in the exhibition was made by casting the light horizontally across the darkroom to reach the paper suspended on the wall. Its surface is screened and masked by various structures and templates which allow light to touch certain points and not others. Many of the pictures are made over long periods of time varying between minutes, to an hour, to 20 hours."

The Winged Hawthorn is a grid of assembled leaves that range in colour from a fresh green to golden red. Each of the 144 images has been created by directing light through the leaves onto paper.

Miller reveals not only some of his working methods but also his influences. His relationship  with the work of painter Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) is key. A number of Nicholson’s paintings have been brought together for the occasion and show not only an intense interest in nature found on the ‘doorstep’ (Nicholson painted numerous still lives and landscape centred on the view from her living room) but also in colour. Both artists shared an intense love of the countryside (Nicholson lived for much of her life in Northumberland) while Miller lives on Dartmoor.

Here, a couple of rugs specially made for Nicholson are also on display; although less complex in execution and content, they do form a link to what is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the show ¾ two hearth ‘rugs’ (the word somehow does not do them justice) commissioned from the Dovecot Tapestry Company, which is housed in the same splendidly-restored building, a former Victorian bath house.

The gun-tufted rugs, The Golden Light and The Ruby Embers,  made by Dennis Reinm├╝ller, are based on two of Miller’s prints. The original abstracted images have been created by placing a circular object in the path of a light source. A ‘halo’ is created by the emergent, escaping light.
Through a complicated process of colour marching and sampling the correct quantity and tonality of wool was then incorporated into the rug design. A template of the main graphical elements of the image were transposed onto the warp on the loom and from there the images grew, using the unique and finely honed skills of the rug-maker. The result is neither copy nor imitation but an interpretation of Miller’s original work.

Miller is, undoubtedly, one of the more interesting figures in contemporary photography, combining a continually evolving practice with a deep-seated philosophical enquiry into the nature of light itself.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Maud Sulter - Passion - Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow

In The Times today
(With thanks to Rose Strang for help with research on this article)
Note: Venues are Street Level 103 Trongate, Glasgow G1 5HD, (0141 552 2151) Until 21 June *AND* Hillhead Library, 348 Byres Road, Glasgow G12 8AP (0141 276 1617) Until 28 June
Maud Sulter: Passion
Street Level Photoworks
Until 21 June
Maud Sulter, the photographer, artist, activist and poet, died in 2008 at the age of 47. She was of Ghanaian and Scottish descent and her life’s work was dedicated to challenging the myths and histories surrounding the African relationship with Europe. Sulter’s range of references was substantial and provocative. The viewer and reader are frequently confronted, so that they have to reassess their beliefs.
In the prose poem Blood Money (remix) Sulter writes about the lives of two fictional characters of African descent, Monique and Kwesi, living in Germany during the war.
When the war came Kwesi was made to wear
a red star for being a Communist and an inverted
black triangle — signifier of a race biology
categorisation. Monique could have escaped to France
and back to Cameroon but she would have had to leave
her husband and child. Would you?
This show revisits some of Sulter’s major projects and exhibitions including Syrcas. Sulter has used collage and photo-montage to combine disparate imagery in stark juxtaposition. The basis included a set of postcards of picturesque European mountain scenery, publications on African art and images from modern culture. These have been combined in the form of artefacts, including masks and dolls. The resulting small artworks have been photographically enlarged and are shown here as poster-sized prints.
Two black and white prints from the 1990 series Paris Noir show west African Ashanti Akua Mma dolls. They represent beauty and were carried by women in the belief that they aided conception. On one Sulter has written “Gwendolyn Bennett in Paris was homesick for New York” and on the other, “Langston Hughes Knew Paris Well”. Hughes was a poet and Bennett an artist.
Projects such as Hysteria, Zabat and Les Bijoux are more polished, professional and contemporary. Hysteria consists of photographic prints that re-imagine the life of the African American sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1845-1907) who travelled from the US to Europe.
Sulter’s best known work, Zabat, presents contemporary black women artists, writers and musicians as a gallery of ancient muses, posed in conventional historical European costume, in sumptuous gold frames. The frames act as an ironic reference to a canon of western art in which black people are marginalised.
Numerous vitrines and display cases document aspects of Sulter’s life as a child with her Scottish grandfather, as a poet, and details of her work as an activist, editor and curator. Her talent deserves more exploration and a bigger venue.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Natalie Taylor: Alchemy of Soil

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
Natalie Taylor: Alchemy of Soil
Dunbar Town House
Until 21 June


The first thing you notice about Natalie Taylor, as she explains her passion for soil, seeds, and the amazing fecundity of our planet - Earth - is her hands. They are strong, with broad stubby fingers and short finger-nails. The skin is healthy and pink with traces of soil in its folds and patterns.

Taylor has just completed a short stint as first artist-in-residence under the aegis of Northlight Arts, a local arts charity. Dunbar was the birthplace, in 1838, of John Muir one of the world’s best known conservationists; the ultimate importance of soil was among his concerns. 2015 is also UN designated International Year of Soils.

These two facts are connected, for our planet is ailing under increasing pressure from industrialisation and population increase, leading to a depletion in soil health because of erosion, fertilisers and insecticides. Soil, like air and water,  is a fundamental of life; without it, there would be no plants, animals or, indeed, any human life. 

To illustrate the chemical and biological complexity of soil, Taylor has drawn a Buddhist style ‘mandala’ depicting its multiple interrelationships and hierarchies.  At the centre are the basic constituents such as potassium, nitrogen and single celled organisms; while its outer ring represents human beings and their major food source, in the form of large supermarkets.

The delicate, intricate form has been painted using soil pigments from a variety of locations around East Lothian. In general, the darker the pigment, the healthier the soil.  However, one third of the circle has been ‘washed away’, the complex lines and relationships breaking off in forlorn trails and runs. The message is clear: the intricate weave of life is breaking down, rapidly.

Taylor’s work takes a number of forms ? small, detailed watercolours; cast bronze sculpture; lead and silver ornament and digitally woven tapestry. The last grouping includes a reworking of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues ‘A Young Daughter of the Picts’ (c.1585), showing a naked and tattooed woman. But, like most of Taylor’s work, there’s a twist ? the face has been replaced by a skull, indicating that at the heart of de Morgues utopian vision of Nature and the ‘Noble Savage’ there is now a dystopian reality.

Elsewhere there small sculptures representing severed digits as chitted potatoes, and images of chitted potatoes like bizarrely deformed embryos.

For Taylor’s work is quietly angry. And so it should be. Each of a series of five apparently placid  watercolours depicting the germinating stages of some of the world’s staple crops - soya, wheat, rice, maize and peas -  contains a small detail, like an ironically placed brand name. One reads ‘Order 81’ below a clearly recognisable ‘Do Not Plant’ symbol.  Taylor explains that it relates to a US imposed ban on saving and trading local seed in post-war Iraq, where local farmers were forced to buy US approved equivalents.

Despite the obvious force of the message, these works never feel hectoring or propagandising, remaining effective despite, not because of, their moral weight.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Degree Show, Dundee

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Degree Show, Dundee

This annual showcase of some of the nation’s emerging artistic talents has become increasingly polished. As well as the actual artwork, it is now possible to find professionally produced books, cards, postcards and prints — all for sale, at real prices. The title of the 300-page catalogue says it all: Ones to Watch 2015.
The show has been divided into 11 categories following the college’s various disciplines and while there’s a certain fluidity between them, by and large they remain intact.
There are a number of eye-catching pieces here. Alexzandra Frances Moncrieff, for example, has made a psychedelic environment populated by beguiling but vaguely menacing mannequins. There’s also a fair deal of heavy, engineered, muscular pieces, created from wood. One — an ironic take on contemporary masculinity — is a geodesic dome, which contains an oversize pair of testicles. David Evan Mackay’s Standing Reserve is a sculptural environment, with the sound of a collapsed power pylon.
Anna Olafsson is a fiddle player and artist. The shapes of her bow-strokes are given visual form resulting in tonally delicate, arcing, semi-abstracted internal landscapes.
Janie Stewart has embraced the tradition of Scottish urban realism espoused by the likes of Peter Howson and Ken Currie. Her studies of figures and faces, based on the harbour and boatbuilding yard in her home town of Arbroath, are powerful and remarkably accomplished.
One of the great successes of the annual show are the graduates of Interior and Environmental Design. There is a clear focus here on social awareness and how designers can greatly influence our quality of life. Marc Johnston has created a complex structure powered by an electric tricycle that encourages the user to engage critically in the way in which energy is used, and can be conserved.
Tracy Smith’s work addresses the power, and empowerment, of women. She has designed a six chambered “temple” inspired by ancient and modern buildings that engage with the Earth’s tidal and solar rhythms.
A scrap of paper taped to a studio door entitled 10 Rules for Students and Teachers From John Cage reads, under Rule 6: “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.” It is a fitting credo, which seems to encapsulate the optimistic and youthful energy of the exhibition. Until May 31