Friday, 25 July 2014


National Galleries of Scotland
Until 25 Jan 2015


The aptly named Generation ¾ an ambitious series of exhibitions at sixty venues from Stromness to Kirkcudbright ¾ celebrates the work of over 100 artists in Scotland who have come to prominence in the past 25 years.

Among the artists to be found at this ‘flagship’ group show are host of international names including winners and nominees of the Turner Prize such as Martin Boyce, Christine Borland, David Shrigley, Douglas Gordon and Ross Sinclair.

Here, if you wish, it’s possible to watch Gordon’s ‘24 Hour Psycho’ in its entirety. The work won Gordon the Turner in 1996 and consists of Hitchcock’s 1960 film slowed down to around 2 frames per second. The work introduced Gordon to an international audience as well as establishing many of the themes for which he became known in his later work, such as repetition, appropriation, time and memory.

Gordon trained at Glasgow School of Art and was the first in a string of graduates from the Environmental Art course who went on to establish highly successful careers. The course was devised and taught by David Harding and Sam Ainsley and stemmed from Harding’s highly successful career as the first Town Artist in Glenrothes in the late 60s and early 70s. One of the central tenets of this progressive teaching was that the lives of artists ¾ their family, town and culture ¾ were all valid material for art.

Roddy Buchanan’s work is directly linked to his own community. His large scale photographic installations explore the religious and cultural links with football.  He has also looked at the cultural values of flute bands on either side of the religious divide in west central Scotland. Buchanan’s technique is patient and meticulous. By gaining trust and respect, through dialogue, rather than relying solely on observation, he has been able to make a large group portrait of Greengairs Thistle Flute Band, near Airdrie.  There’s no irony here and no metaphor, which is why the art work is so successful.

Painting is particularly well represented by Julie Roberts, Callum Innes, Alison Watt, Victoria Morton, Toby Paterson, Richard Wright and the late Steven Campbell. Campbell’s large ensemble of acrylic paintings, ink drawings, music and bench seating, On Form and Fiction, was first show at Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre in 1990, where it’s impact was significant, confirming Campbell’s justified international reputation. Campbell’s dreamlike, figurative narratives derive as much from the history of performance art as they do from painting, although these are often set in what is a recognisably Scottish landscape.
David Shrigley’s suite of woodcut prints and installation of over-scaled ceramic boots will please followers of this quirky, whimsical artist.

Christine Borland’s work  has had a long-held fascination with medical science. Borland invited a number of sculptors to make traditional clay busts of  Josef Mengele, the physician notorious for his experiments on the inmates of Aucshwitz. Borland supplied the artists with the same blurred photographic images and descriptive texts of Mengele, from which they fashioned their likenesses.  The results, although disparate, have some chilling similarities. Chief among these is Mengele’s rather handsome open features, apparently at odds with his heinous crimes.

Taken together, this grouping, rich in ideas across diverse media, shows how the Scottish art world presented a significant challenge to the hegemony of larger centres in Berlin and London.

Ian Hughes - Obituary

Ian Hughes

The death of Ian Hughes at the age of 55 has deprived Scotland of one of its most talented artists.

Born in Glasgow, Hughes attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, where his work showed early promise. As a student, he won a clutch of prizes, including a major travelling scholorship from the Scottish Education Department.  The award allowed him to travel to….where he….

Early exhibitions at the 369 Gallery in Edinburgh and the RAAB Gallery and  Fischer Fine Art in London confirmed the emergence of an artist with a powerful and passionate vision.

However, it was the 1987 show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, ‘The Vigorous Imagination’, which sealed Hughes’ reputation and opened up his work to an international audience.  The exhibition, which focused on painting, included the work of artists from across Scotland and included Hughes’ friends and contemporaries such as Peter Howson, Ken Currie, Steven Campbell and Philip Braham.

The project’s curators included Keith Hartley from the National Galleries of Scotland and the critic Clare Henry who has since championed Hughes work, in particular. The catalogue observed that

“…Hughes is drawn to those states of mind and body which are abnormal, extreme and raw. They expose the underlying realities of life, which we tend to forget or gloss over in our busy everyday dealings…”

Following the success of ‘The Vigorous Invitation’, Hughes was invited to become Artist in Residence at SNGMA. An exhibition in 1989 at the same venue confirmed the choice as a judicious one, given the quality of work produced. This was self-portraiture at its most eviscerating, where the deepest realms of the psyche were opened to public scrutiny.

Writing at that time about the process of producing work Hughes commented:

“Four Large Heads lying against the studio wall stared at me intently, accusing me of cowardice. I was feeling tired, ill, depressed. For eight long hours I had struggled with these works. Dragging myself up, I began to physically attack the images. I felt like a frenzied, wounded creature. I sacrificed my rational mind to the instincts of the animal, the madman, the psychopath.”

Public exposure did not sit easily with Hughes. He eschewed the trappings of success and continued to live and work as an artist dedicated to the pursuit of his personal vision. Increasingly this moved towards high empathy for those whom  society had rejected, such as the homeless and the mentally ill.   Hughes began to pursue a parallel career as a psychiatric nurse. Both vocations assumed equal importance and each nurtured the other.

It therefore seemed fitting that in 1991, in a direct combination of these roles, Hughes fulfilled a residency at  the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, which specialises in the treatment of psychiatric illness.

It was around this  that Hughes sustained serious facial injuries from a patient who attacked him with an metal oxygen bottle and which required him to undergo extensive maxillofacial surgery.

The link between his role as a medical professional and as an artist is key to understanding Hughes work. His work as a psychiatric nurse brought Hughes into contact with some of society’s most vulnerable and fragile human beings.

Hiughes exhibited extensively in Europe where his work found a more receptive audience than in his home country. In 2005 Hughes’s empathic scrutiny reached a high point with an exhibition at the Phoenix 369 Gallery in Edinburgh. ‘Testaments Betrayed’ was a series of portraits depicting the Twelve Disciples seen through a contemporary setting.  Hughes’ working method was meticulous, detailed ¾ he captured each ruptured blood vessel, the unkempt, nicotine-stained beards, the broken noses and the alchohol-ravaged skin of ‘Peter,’ ‘Thomas,’, ‘Bartholomew,’ and ‘Matthias’.

Although Hughes held no structured Christian belief, he used imagery derived from Christ’s passion as a metaphor for the general suffering of humanity. Such an approach was evident in what turned out to be his final exhibition, held in Summerhall, Edinburgh, earlier this year. ‘Unearthed Tongues Set Free’ continued Hughes’ fascination with Poland and Russia as sites of historical humanitarian atrocity, as well as the legacy of continued human suffering. The passionate empathy of the works was partially fuelled by words such as those from Lamentations 3:52-53 “Mine enemies chased me sore like a bird without cause. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.

The imagery, some borrowed from the religious tradition of the ikon, was harrowing and profound. Hughes spared neither himself nor the viewer. Photographs of Holcaust victims were overlayed and reworked, not superficilay in the style of Andy Warhol, but with a suffused gravitas. Hughes drew comparisons with these historical atrocities, what he called “the inversion of morality,” with contemporary events, such as those in Syria.

Discussing his work, Hughes explained “I do believe words are very important, but at the end of the day I want people to come to this show and know nothing about me ¾ even the titles don’t matter….I want them to look at the work and be moved by that….I want the art to reference peoples’ deeper sense of things, of morality and intellectual understanding…”

Ian Hughes is survived by his daughter Anna and his son Jacob.

Ian Hughes
Artist and Psychiatric Nurse
b. Glasgow, Dec 10 1958
d. Edinburgh, June 7 2014

The Kelsae Stane

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
Jake Harvey
The Kelsae Stane

Working with a team of itinerant stone carvers, the Scottish sculptor, Jake Harvey spent several months in Mamallapuram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu shaping, cutting and cleaving a thirty-three tonne lump of basalt.

The end result was eventually to become the Kelsae Stane, an impressive but quietly subtle piece of public sculpture, which was officially unveiled in Kelso town square on Monday 14 July.

The Kelsae Stane was the result of an open competition which was won by Harvey, Emeritus Professor of Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art.

Mamallapuram was chosen by Harvey because of its long tradition of stone quarrying and sculpture, some of which dates back to the 7th century.

Basalt from this area is typically iron-hard and unforgiving. Working the stone requires special manual skills, as well as hand tools, many of which are forged in situ by the quarrymen.

The final shape and form of the Kelsae Stane derives from the granite cobbles, or setts, found in Kelso, and elsewhere. Typically these small blocks, originally carved by hand, taper downwards and have a smooth convex upper surface.

Harvey has worked with stone from the beginning of his career has an intimate knowledge of the material.   He is the lead researcher in the international Stone Project, the objectives of which include investigating and documenting the way stone is worked around the world.  Hand tools are also an important aspect of the project.

Harvey revels in the essential physicality of his medium. He celebrates the tactility and durability of stone as the most fundamental material used by humanity. Stone connects us to our past and represents the possibility of continuity. Harvey is concerned that the teaching of hand-skills and crafts, such as sculpture and ceramics, is being increasingly removed from art school curriculum.

Harvey celebrates what he terms the ‘indexical marking,’ which is found on carved stone. Essentially this refers to the traces left by sculptors and masons, such as chisel and wedge marks. Such visible clues help to date sculpture and monuments, and assign to them a provenance.

When the initial shaping of the Kelsae Stane was completed, it had shed around 13 tonnes of its initial weight. From Tamil Nadu it was shipped to Glasgow and thence by road to Kelso where it was installed, at the beginning of the year, as part of a project to restore the historic square.

Over the past few months Harvey invited families, groups and individuals from within a 10 kilometre radius of Kelso to trace the names of their towns, villages, houses and farms on the four exposed vertical flanks of the stone, creating what he calls a ‘Mappa Mundi’ of the immediate area. These place-names were then permanently incised into the stone by a variety of techniques such as hand carving and mechanical grinding.

Toponymy, the study of place names, reveals a complex pattern of settlement and conquest in the region. The writer, Alastair Moffat who spoke at the opening ceremony observed that “…place-names are living things but they also remember the wash of history over the landscape. ‘Kelso’ comes from Calchvynydd, Chalk Hill in Old Welsh, the language of the Gododdin kings who led their war bands south to a pivotal battle with the invading Angles at Catterick in 600AD.”

The stone also acts a memorial to those innumerable and un-named individuals who worked the land in the region for generations. Their long-forgotten words are embedded in the names of the touns and steadings of the area. The stone sings them alive once more, now and into the future, while their voices resonate in the quiet poetry of Angelrow, Queenscairn, Sweethope, Blinkbonny, Makerstoun and Todrig.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Review of Norman McLaren Hand-made CInema in The Times


Norman McLaren
Hand-made Cinema
Talbot Rice Gallery


Until July 5

Animator, cinematic pioneer and visual artist Norman McLaren was born in Stirling 100 years ago. A major series of events in the UK and in his adopted country, Canada, celebrates one of Scotland’s most important cultural figures.

After studying at Glasgow School of Art, McLaren worked for the General Post Office Film Unit before moving to New York in the late 1930s. He joined the Animation Department of the National Film Board of Canada (under the documentary film-maker and fellow Scot, John Grierson) in 1941.

Although, McLaren won an Oscar in 1953 for his partially animated short, Neighbours, the fact that he spent most of his working life abroad goes some way to explaining why McLaren (who died in 1987), remains relatively unknown at home.  

This well-named show, which concentrates on his abstract animation, gives insightful information and commentary on a wide range of McLaren’s techniques, tools and tricks of the trade. It also poses, implicitly, a number of questions including the way McLaren may have worked given access to today’s digital technologies.

McLaren was clearly ahead of his time both as animator and conceptual artist. Among many other preoccupations, he was absorbed by the relationship between the musical and the visual.

A number of important films offer a kind of synaesthetic experience. McLaren collaborated extensively on Begone Dull Care (1949) with the Oscar Peterson Trio. This combination of jazz and image can best be described as an eight-minute abstract audio-visual collage.

Although each of the three sections of Peterson’s composition differ widely, McLaren perfectly captures the mood and rhythmic assemblage of piano, drums and bass.  In the first section each instrument is assigned a different abstract motif – the piano, for example, has a series of stripes and lines while the bass inspires vaguely organic forms against a saturated red background. All of the imagery is perfected synchronised with the musical rhythm.

McLaren’s techniques were also innovatory – many involved mark-making directly onto the surface of the film.  On making Beyond Dull Care, McLaren said: “we applied the dyes with big and little brushes, with stipple brushes, with sprayers, with finely crumpled paper and with cloths…we pressed dry fabrics into washes of still wet dye…Netting, mesh and fine lace were stretched out tightly in various ways against the celluloid..”

McLaren left maximum room for improvisation and rarely worked with  scripts, preferring the time-based ‘dope-sheets’ of animators. Much of his working material was low-tech, again often improvised. A curious angled wooden structure, rather like a technician’s drawing-board with a gap through which light is reflected, was used by McLaren to back-light the raw celluloid film on which he drew.  Indeed, seeing the various self-fashioned objects, often made of card-board and wood,  which McLaren used to create apparently hi-tech - but obviously analogue - animations, is certainly one of the highlights here.

Demonstrating the typically Scottish traits of frugality and invention McLaren was a firm believer in the paradoxical notion of artistic innovation through constraint, explaining, “A small budget, limited technical means, and an urgent deadline often act as a catalyst and help to impose the artistic consistency and unity which is an essential part of a well-made work.”

This well conceived show should go a long way to further enhancing McLaren’s deservedly high reputation.

·      A Dream of Stirling: Norman McLaren’s Scottish Dawn is at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Stirling until 22 June