Joan Eardley, who was born in Warnham, Sussex in 1921 to a Scottish mother, Irene Morrison, is clearly an artist of great stature. Eardley trained at Blackheath School of Art and Goldsmith’s College, before moving to Scotland and enrolling at Glasgow School of Art. She completed her studies, after the war, at the highly regarded Hospitalfield House, Arbroath.
Over the years since her premature death, in 1963, debate about the Scottishness, or otherwise, of her work has sometimes been heated. Now, fifty years after Eardley’s death, this modest show ⎯ one of several similarly-sized retrospectives at the same venue over the years ⎯ serves as an reminder, if any were needed, of her remarkable talents.
It coincides with a new publication by the art historian, Christopher Andreae, which adds to existing major studies of Eardley by Cordelia Oliver and Fiona Pearson. Pearson’s second study of the painter was published in 2007, at the same time as the major Eardley retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Recent publicity has hinged on the nature of Eardley’s relationship with Audrey Walker ⎯ a friend and collector of the artist’s work. Andreae’s book includes a series of previously unpublished letters from Eardley to Walker, and a brief tribute by Walker. These documents make clear the strong emotional bond between the two women.
It is this aspect of Andreae’s study which primarily distinguishes it from previous ones and makes it a more compelling read, if not a more comprehensive critical take.
Walker compares the two primary facets of Eardley’s character (as she saw them) to the summer and the winter sea. Discussing the latter, Walker writes:
“…perhaps only three people knew this Joan really well. Two of them could not take it (just as most folk keep away from the sea in really wild weather ⎯ even the fishermen do) but to me she was, quite simply, the winter sea to which and for which I would give my life.”
Writing to Walker in July 1956 (4 years after they has met) Eardley says:
“Dear dear you I love you so much. It is often almost too painful to be away from you so long. ⎯ but it must be ⎯ I know that. And so long as you are better then it can be ⎯ because I am terribly much stronger now in health. But if you are not better then it must not be. Oh love ⎯ My love always, Joan”
Although such communication is innocent by today’s standards, the two women clearly felt that the nature of their relationship should remain a private matter. And while Eardley’s letters and Walker’s tribute are mildly interesting on a human level, they add very little to our knowledge and understanding of Eardley’s art, which is surely the main purpose of Andreae’s study.
Eardley painted the 'wild' children of the now, largely demolished, Townhead in Glasgow, where a vivid street culture and cohesive community thrived. Her work here captures the children (particularly those of the Samson family), some of whom are still alive and continue to take an interest in the painter's work.
In 1954, Eardley moved to the fishing community of Catterline, perched high on the cliff-tops overlooking the North Sea. Here she painted the sea in all its moods, but most often in storm, wind and rain. She painted 'en plein air', often incorporating sand, grass and other found elements into her painting.
Her work progressed form the dark ‘slub’ colours (browns, greys and greens) of the Glasgow school to a more expressive and vibrantly colourful palette. The paint itself was often sculpted in thick smears with a loaded brush or knife.
Although Eardley was a skilled draughtsman her talents ran much deeper than mere representation: she has the skill to capture the moods of nature, as well as the moods of her human sitters. She was able to capture the raw power and energy of the sea, as well as the picturesque and the beautiful.
Joan Eardley, by Christopher Andreae, is published by Lund Humphries, (ISBN 978 1 84822 114 7 ) at £40.00
Exhibition: Joan Eardley 3rd – 27th April 2013
Times: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm
Address: 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
Phone: 0131 558 1200
The Portland Gallery, London, 1st – 17th May, 2013
Monday, 29 April 2013
Friday, 22 March 2013
Until April 3
‘Surface’ is a term which comes to mind constantly when looking at the ceramics, painting and film of the Hardie family.
Ann Hardie was born in 1938 but died suddenly from leukemia at the age of 61. Ann made delicate porcelain pots and small ceramic sculptures with surfaces like ornate sand-patterns or river systems filmed from space. Here, a small vitrine is all that represents the work of a significant talent.
Ann’s vision of a fragile world is revealed in a number of spherical pieces. These are no bigger than an orange, but have ornate, painstaking surface additions. The quality of porcelain allowed fine working, enabling her to develop her vision of a world on a micro and macro scale.
Adjacent to this vitrine is work by Ann’s second daughter Gwen. These pieces consist of delicate, spidery lines defining a series of three circles. It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Gwen Hardie’s graphic works and her mother’s spheres. Clearly, Gwen has inherited Ann’s sensitivity, her need for slow, reflective observational calm and the paradoxical notion that surface is highly revelatory of greater depth. It’s no surprise to find that Buddhism has formed a central part of her life.
Although Gwen’s fine lines are at a further observational remove form her mother’s sense of seeing, tending toward abstraction, they clearly begin with a relationship to the observed world, while leaving room for interpretation.
Circles and their geometric variants clearly intrigue Gwen Hardy. She often uses these forms to define the edges of her canvases. Unframed, these works imply that there is more to be seen, in the offing, just over the horizon. They also comment, implicitly, on the constraints of the conventional framed square or rectangle.
Like Ann, Gwen Hardie focuses intently on what is immediate and available. In Gwen’s case this is often her own body and, sometimes, that of another. In these pieces ¾ painted in a palette of soft yellow, green and creamy hues ¾ it’s possible to discern the veined skin of a wrist and a deep crease where the hand meets the arm. In other works, we might detect the point where the arm joins the torso or a chest, with distinctive mole, which makes an appearance in a number of other works.
The the beginning of her film, The Edge of Dreaming , Gwen’s sister, Amy, says: “Some people love to find meaning in their dreams. I don’t think I do. I make science films. I look at how things function. I like going under the surface of things”.
But here, uncharacteristically, Amy aims to get under the surface of her own psyche. The film shows her family life in the Borders and examines the symbolism of her dreams. One foretold the death of the family’s much-loved horse. A second appeared to suggest her own death in her 48th year, through the words of a former partner.
Gwen and Amy’s father, Jim, has combined a career as a lecturer at Glasgow School of Art with a passion for flying. His painting is a synthesis of both, in which he uses imagery such as goggles, wings and propellers. His painting is often inspired by the surface of the earth, seen from high in the air. As a younger artist Hardie created work on a smaller scale and some of these, such as Brooklyn Bridge Study (1988) combine sensitivity with painterly talent.
Skin Over Bone is a unique opportunity to assess the work of four artists bound by blood and creative passion.
Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Saturday, 2 March 2013
Competent at Peever
Scotland Street Museum
The game of ‘peever’ or ‘peevers’ is also known as ‘pallalls’ and ‘beds’ but perhaps most commonly as hopscotch.
As if to drive home the point a series of numbered squares has been permanently drawn on the floor of Scotland Street School - surely one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most elegant creations. The school, now a museum run by Glasgow City Council, is one of the few buildings of note in Kingston, on the south side of the Clyde.
Once a thriving community, Kingston was almost completely cleared of its ‘unacceptable’ tenement housing to make way for the motorways which sliced up the city into random segments in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Indeed, it seems a minor miracle that Mackintosh’s work of genius was spared the wrecking ball, wielded so zealously elsewhere by the urban ‘improvers’.
Now the grid system of semi-anonymous streets is characterised by the kind of urban blight ¾ in hock to the car and hostile to the pedestrian and cyclist - which characterises so many US cities.
Good luck in finding this wonderful architectural diamond, for it is only sparsely signed in the immediate vicinity. This lack of information is just as rife within the building, which hosts an exhibition of writing, painting and installation (the fruits of a year-long residency) by one of the country’s most prominent cultural figures, Scotland’s Makar, or poet, Liz Lochhead.
Although Lochhead, who was born in 1947 did not attend Scotland Street, one imagines that hers (Newarthill Primary School in Lanarkshire) was similar in atmosphere and culture, if not architecture.
Lochhead, who studied at GSA from 1965 to 1970 has held education, or rather Scotland’s education system as a matter of concern throughout her career as a writer, and now as a visual artist. A project completed in 1972 documents her primary school and cites the rhyme common at the time “oor school’s a good wee school / built o lime and plaister/ the only thing that’s wrang wi it/ is the baldy heidit maister”.
It was not uncommon then (and even now) for the children’s language, the language of the street, the home and the work place, to be described as ‘slang’ - a kind of debased, second-class English. However, as many people are becoming increasingly aware, the language is Scots, currently being recognised, not before time, as an important part of the curriculum in our schools.
As is the case with many minority languages there was a systematic attempt to discourage the use of Scots in schools, as Lochhead’s poem Bairnsong/ Children’s Poem makes clear:
it wis January
and a gey dreich day
the first day Ah went to the school….
and a gey dreich day
the first day Ah went to the school….
….tae the place Ah'd learn to say
it was January
and a really dismal day
the first day I went to school….
it was January
and a really dismal day
the first day I went to school….
This linguistic theme is one of Lohhead’s most persistent tropes, and is even embedded in the title which strikes up an opposition between the language of the report card (competent) and the language of the children (peever).
Despite her training, remarkably, this is Lochhead’s first exhibition of visual since leaving GSA . Various vitrines contain the instruments of pedagogy and punishment which formed the backbone of Scotland’s education system. A tawse sits next to readers and spelling aids; and a report on ‘backward children’ nestles among topic books from Cowboys to Robert the Bruce.
Lochhead has worked the idiom of the primary school art class - big, bold, colourful creations often accompanied by written text in the Makar’s unmistakable hand: "Handwork is for boys sewing is for girls.."; "Still life, Still life, still life"; "the meaning of green..." "Oh but this was such a happy night around our kitchen table..."
Although these are untitled works, the words lend a context to the images which en masse, together with the vitrine objects and schoolroom installation, form a visual mix which in turn is reinforced by the makar’s words “memory is collage’
The collaborative nature of this project is reinforced by the inclusion of writing by Jackie Kay, James McGonigal and others, as well as exhibition designers Pauline McCloy and Sha Nazir.
Lochhead is passionate about her field and engaging in her words and images. Although clearly underpinned by a strong sense of the drawn line, Lochhead’s visual imagery can be as bright and clear as her written word.
If this is a work in progress then it a fine, delicate and forceful one, without sentimentality. There’s a strong sense also that Lochhead’s mind is overflowing with imagery - verbal and pictorial. If the latter can match the former for popularity and quality, the we can expect to see the work of gifted emergent artist - forty years in the making.
Liz Lochhead will read her poems at the museum on 7 April. Call 0141 287 0500 for free tickets
Some images from a new exhibition at Scotland Street School Museum, Glasgow by Scotland's Makar, or poet, Liz Lochhead.