Wednesday, 21 January 2015

William Crosbie – Centenary Exhibition, Lisa Hammond – Fire, Fourteen Glasgow Artists

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland

William Crosbie – Centenary Exhibition
Lisa Hammond – Fire
Fourteen Glasgow Artists

The Scottish Gallery
7 - 31 January


The painter, Bill Crosbie, who died in 1999 was an artist of prolific and diverse talent. In 1937, with a scholarship from Glasgow School of Art and the enlightened support of its principal, William Hutchison, Crosbie worked in the studio Fernand Léger, in Paris. This experience exerted a profound influence on Crosbie. His work began to adopt elements of Cubism and Surrealism ¾ influences which persisted throughout his life. Guitarist, from 1990, could well have been painted fifty years before, as could Anger, from 1991.

Crosbie was an artist of multiple talents with a bewildering range, which included landscape, still-life, illustration, wood carving and portraiture This lack of consistency has left him open to the criticism that he lacked a true identity. However, versatility and the ability to adapt to markets and tastes can also been seen as the strengths of a survivor who did not have the safety-net of an art school teaching post.

Crosbie also worked on a number of important public commissions, including a painted mural at the entrance to the Britain Can Make It exhibition at the V & A, London in 1946. Crosbie shared the talents of the muralist with Alasdair Gray whose work is shown here alongside that of thirteen other artists who studied at GSA, including Geoff Uglow, Pat Douthwaite, Joan Eardley and J. D. Fergusson.  (It was Léger who had introduced Fergusson and his wife Margaret Morris to Crosbie in Paris).

Since graduating in 2000, Uglow has gone on to make a spectacular success as a painter of vigorous, thick, textured oil paintings which retain as their core essence, the observation of light, sea and landscape. Lapis XV, from 2013, is rich and alive. A form, embedded in the paint, swirls and shimmers in quick, blue pigment.

Douthwaite’s imagery is almost always haunted, tortured and singular. Her angular, jerky lines appear to have been drawn with a trembling hand. Her pastel portraits of mysterious cat women, with luminous green eyes become seared into memory. Here, she manages to attribute such aspects to a drawing of an old Bentley, so that is appears not as a car but a menacing, living animal.

The gallery has a proud tradition of exhibiting applied art in the form of ceramics, jewellery and glass. Here the work of English potter Lisa Hammond makes a welcome return. Priced to sell, these sumptuous functional vessels ¾ mugs, bowls, plates, vases, jugs and other table-ware ¾ bear the unmistakable influence of the Japanese ceramic tradition. Hammond uses shino glazes to colour and texture many of her pots.  Shino (the name is applied both to the glaze and the genre of the pottery) originated in Japan in the 16th century where it was made in conjunction with anagama (wood-fired) kilns. The defining characteristic of shino is the red or white glaze and the marking caused by fragments of burning wood.

A valuable, long-standing institution in Scottish art world, the gallery has, once again, brought together a collection of diverse, colourful and beautiful work.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Karen Trotter - Beachwork

A selection of images from Karen Trotter's exhibition BEACHWORK at The Village, Fort Street, Leith from 7 September to 12 October, 2014

A short text and titles to follow.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Royal Scottish Academy Annual Open Exhibition 2014

Royal Scottish Academy Annual Open Exhibition 2014
29 Nov – 20 Jan 2015

The RSA’s annual open exhibition is a mixed bag in terms of format, medium and theme. It is first and foremost a selling show, designed to appeal to all budgets, in the run up to Christmas. The Academy receives no public funding and its existence is due entirely to the efforts of its members, most of whom give their time gratis, so commercial imperatives are necessarily to the fore.

Part of the attraction is that it gives other artists the chance to show their work alongside academicians, such as Richard Demarco, David Mach, Ian McCulloch and Arthur Watson, the RSA President. 400 paintings, prints, graphics, sculpture and small installations, chosen from 1400 entries, adorn the walls and plinths in the lower galleries.

By necessity, the work is hung in various clusters, groupings and ‘clouds’. Often the determining factor is size or frame style. Quality or content are sometimes less important in this context and this can make for challenging viewing. The eye can’t settle and is drawn hither and thither.

Eventually, though, it may settle on a work like Helen Glassford’s small abstract oil The Sea and Me --  a vital stroke of vibrant blue against a deep black ground. Maybe it’s an autobiographical fragment which speaks about despair and, ultimately, its transcendence.

‘Where do you go young seal?’ is the question posed in the title of Erlend Tait’s otherworldly portrait of a young women. The artist, who must surely be Orcadian, refers to the folklore of the selkie, the seductive seal people who took human lovers but eventually returned to the sea.

Josefina Ayllón’s untitled painting, by contrast, sets an unidentifiable subject against a lurid green ground. The standing male figure is depicted in thick smeared acrylic but the artist seems less interested in creating the illusion of a likeness than in the physicality of the paint.

Ayllón is one of a small but significant group of artists based overseas but whose work is included because of the RSA’s new online submission procedure.

Amidst a sometimes predictable assortment, some work stands out. Photography, although in a minority, is well represented. Sylwia Kowalczyk’s stark portrait of an older women allows the sitter nowhere to hide.  Behind the heavy eyes and pallor of the sitter, there is a lifetime of struggle.

Christine Wylie’s pair of photographically derived etchings, Herbarium I and II, shows how everyday objects can be transformed into alluring, but delicate, abstraction. 

Jackie Parry’s cast hand-made paper construction Library 2 is subtle, nuanced, and well crafted -- its scroll-like structure clearly referencing the origins of paper and writing.  Although Parry is an academician, her work, which has evolved over decades, deserves to be better known.

By far the strangest work here is a pair of paper cups, minutely decorated by a myriad set of bizarre, inter-connected semi-pornographic images. The artist, Paul Westcombe, well known at the Saatchi and Whitechapel galleries, seems obsessed with his own sexual phantasmagoria and is clearly an acquired taste.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Society of Scottish Artists 117th Annual Exhibition

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
Society of Scottish Artists
117th Annual Exhibition
5-20 December

Historically, the Society of Scottish Artists has been seen as an upstart compared to its venerable, elder cousin, the Royal Scottish Academy (with which it shares exhibiting space). There are good reasons for this. The society was set up to represent the ‘more adventurous spirits in art.’ Its current strapline emphasises an open outlook: ‘international art in Scotland, Scottish art internationally.’

As if to underline this, there’s no shortage here of contributors from other countries. But this has always been the case, ever since the society invited the likes of Edvard Munch and Paul Klee in the 1930s, and, before them, the Futurists and post-Impressionists, to participate in their annual exhibition.

But there’s also plenty of home-grown talent here, such as Graham Fagan, a Scot, like many others, whose work is widely known elsewhere.

At the entrance visitors are greeted by a series of hovering, dark, skull-like images. At first glance, these appear to be X-rays of a badly damaged skeleton. Closer inspection reveals pencil, enamel paint and Indian ink. Fagan has explored ideas of perception and reality -- in this case, sensing his own teeth with his tongue, and sketching the results, in what might be called ‘synaesthetic drawing’.

This feeling of the quirkily macabre extends to Marina Burt’s installation comprising living (and dead) silk moths, amid tiny ceramic jars and containers, which fill the drawers of an antique dresser. The moths’ entire life cycle is contained here in this intensely paradoxical, morbid -- yet delicate -- microcosm. The work finds a strange and compelling echo in Jo McDonald’s The Story Kist, which consists of a textured serpentine form, apparently emerging from an antique coffer.

Burt is one of a number of recent graduates from Scotland’s art colleges whose work, in a long-standing and visionary policy, is included here. All of the work by these up-and-coming artists has something of value to offer, including Morgan Cahn’s Nail Soup, a celebration of the Dundee arts community.

By design or happenstance the catalogue uses the term ‘cocooned’ in relation to Nicole Heidtke’s and Stefan Baumberger’s exhilarating work, ‘ink,’ which celebrates five-hundred years of printing in Scotland. Inscriptions from texts spanning these centuries have been etched inside five glass spheres, which rotate on approach, causing an intense blue ink to move inside the bulbs. This becomes a pale lilac stain as they slow to a stop. The faded inscriptions include excerpts from the Bible and the Arabian Nights. Another, from Holland’s 1603 translation of Plutarch’s Moralia, reads: “With one sole pen I writ this book, / Made of a grey goose quill ; / A pen it was when it I took, / And a pen I leave it still.‎”

‘ink’ is part of a section of the show, assembled by guest curators Sarah Cook and Mark Daniels, under the auspices of the ‘Alt-w Fund,’ which promotes artistic and technological collaboration. Other elements include the fantastical and transparent ‘Palace’ by Gina Czarnecki. In a curious echo of Fagan’s piece, Czarnecki has used human milk teeth as a ‘decorative’ addition. The work evolves through time as visitors ‘donate’ teeth at successive venues.

The exhibits in Gallery IV give the room a dark, dystopian feel. Ross Andrew Spencer’s installation is a topography of war contained in a model landscape. This is augmented by a pair of relief paper prints, Bleeding Brain, by Ingrid Bell and Ade Adesina’s dark narratives, Contradiction and Adaptation.

Thoughtfully assembled and democratically chosen, this lean, uncluttered show brims with fresh energy, ingenuity and intellect.

[With thanks to Rose Strang and SSA staff for help with research]

Saturday, 22 November 2014

ABSENT VOICES: SUGAR ARCHIVE McLean Museum & Art Gallery, 15 Kelly St, Greenock PA16 8JX 01475 715624 22nd November – 20th December, 2014 Monday – Saturday, 10am-5pm

Absent Voices

A west of Scotland community is set to receive an unusual gift from a group of artists, musicians and filmmakers.

Greenock is to be given a ‘living archive’ of songs, visual art, music, poetry and glasswork from the artists’ group Absent Voices. The project was set up by glass artist Alec Galloway to explore the town’s  300-year-old sugar industry, which closed in the late 1990s. Galloway’s family has deep connections with the town’s sugar industry, long associated with brand Tate & Lyle.

Absent Voices brings together a number of creative workers including the film-maker Alastair Cook, singer-songwriter Yvonne Lyon and painter Anne McKay.

The archive will be donated to the town’s McLean Museum and Art Gallery, following an exhibition there next month.

Sugar and shipbuilding dominated the industrial landscape of Inverclyde for centuries but in recent decades these traditional industries have been in decline. Absent Voices has attracted funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and signals a major shift toward creative and cultural investment in the area.

Inverclyde Council are backing the initiative Inverclyde Place Partnership which is tasked with attracting inward investment through creative industries. The George Wyllie Foundation, set up in 2012 after the death of the popular artist, who lived in Gourock, aims to set up a permanent museum in the area. Creative Scotland, the publicly–funded body that supports the arts in Scotland, has also invested in the area.

Absent Voices has focussed on the Sugar Sheds at Greenock’s James Watt dock. The vast complex of A-listed Victorian refineries and warehouses, sited near the Titan crane, has not been used for sugar manufacturing since the 1960s.

The artists, many of whom live in the area, have worked in different ways but with a focus on community engagement and the creation of long-term social benefits.

Yvonne Lyon and Anne McKay worked with pupils at Whinhill Primary where they led classes in song-writing and painting. Both artists used the physical presence of the sheds as a starting point for exploring history and heritage through creativity.

“The pupils, who initially viewed the sheds as an eyesore, had little recognition of their own human creative potential,” says Lyon. “ We worked with the children over a period of weeks creating a series of fictional characters. The characters then appeared in song and paint. This was truly inspiring for the children and for us.”

Lyon also led adult song writing classes in the town, with similarly inspiring results. “The project has in a very real sense helped to give the children and adults of Greenock a voice that has been unheard until now,” she adds.

Alastair Cook combines photographic imagery, spoken verse and music in an experimental medium he calls Filmpoem. Cook invited the poets  John Glenday, Jane McKie, Brian Johnstone, Sheree Mack, Gérard Rudolf and Vicki Feaver to compose work relating to the sugar sheds. Cook provided them with archival photographs and documents and encouraged them to visit the area.

McKie’s poem, Revenant, has been combined with blurred, semi-abstract photography and evocative clarsach music. The poem has resonances from the past and present

Here come the guisers / looking for sweeties/ None to be found/ Save the eye of sugar/ Oozing dark rum/ The fingers of sugar/ Dusting ankle and legs/ The spent heart of sugar/ Syrupy in warehouse drains…”

Sheree Mack’s ‘Every Memory’ links sugar to its  Caribbean origins and the slave trade. “Here I stand on cobbles running into dark sheds/ sheds once alive with raw energy/ I wonder what it looked like to the white man/ leaning over the ship’s rail with a silence in his eyes /and a canker upon his tongue/ after the taste of black skin.”

Alec Galloway’s glass and collage explores his familial connections to the industry as well as wider historical perspectives.

He says, “Absent Voices has been an incredibly emotional experience as well as a hugely rewarding one creatively and the group are already planning phase two into next year.”


McLean Museum & Art Gallery, 15 Kelly St, Greenock PA16 8JX
01475 715624
22nd November – 20th December, 2014
Monday – Saturday, 10am-5pm