Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Kate Downie: Estuary at The Scottish Gallery

Published in The Times 15 April 2015

Kate Downie was inspired by travels in Australia,
creating works such as
Little Suspension Bridge on the Great Ocean Road

For some artists there is an intrinsic relationship between the journey and creativity. Witness the travels of JMW Turner throughout Europe in his search for education, inspiration and ever more challenging subject matter. Many others have worked in the same way.
The link between the work of Turner and that of Kate Downie, despite the 175 years that separate them, is more than superficial. Both artists explore man-made structures and objects such as boats, buildings and bridges; and both do so in varying media such as printmaking, ink, watercolour and oil paint. Both were elected to their respective academies (Downie to the RSA and Turner to the RA) in recognition of their prodigious talents.
Downie has said that her work “. . . attempts to transform ordinary places into poetic acts of memory . . .” She has found, or created, such poeticism in the streets of Edinburgh, on the remote Norwegian island of Karmøy, in the bustle of Beijing, and on the roads, bridges and coastlines of Scotland. She is drawn to junctions, crossroads and borders — the places where the land meets the sky, or the sea meets the land; where one landscape becomes another and is a place of transformation, of competition and of contrast.
The preparation for her present show took her and her partner, Michael Wolchover, on a tour of Australia — including Tasmania — and Japan. As the title suggests, her focus was on estuarine environments, where rivers meet the sea and where the activities of man and nature are dictated by a specific environment.
Downie treats the ordinary with the same respect and fascination as the grandiose, the monumental and magnificent. In a large, elongated oil painting on wood, From Okayama to the Seto Sea, the focus is not on the large modern bridge seen far in the background but on the simple and elegantly constructed bridge of planks and poles that links a path on either side of a muddy inlet. This forms the subject of a smaller ink and watercolour study, Zig-zag Bridge, Okayama, which is, in turn, partnered by Little Bridge, Hagidepicting an even more modest structure.
Such an all-encompassing interest in the visual environment is what Downie has described as “a democracy of looking”. Here, in her notebooks and sketches, it is possible to see the same attention being paid to the structure of Venetian blinds and rotary washing lines as to the Kintai and Sydney Harbour bridges.
Downie does not shy away from the obvious or areas deemed somewhat condescendingly as “for tourists”. In River Source, Uluruand its companion pieces, she transforms her palette from dark grey to sweeps of vivid orange and red. Importantly, she manages to convey a sense of place that extends beyond the visual.
Some of her most powerful work emanates from her time in Tasmania. The Five Day River is dominated by swirling black and grey, edged by greens and yellows; Tamar Estuary is more tranquil, giving prominence to timbers and grasses. Downie is an artist at the height of her powers — energetic, gifted and hungry for experience and experiment.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Frank Walter at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Time Around Trees


A short video of the exhibition, Time Around Trees at St Margaret's House, 151 London Road, Edinburgh by Eoin Cox, Tansy Lee Moir and Catherine Lilley

The show ends on Sunday 22 March.

It looks great!

Further details:

Tansy Lee

Studio 6.20, St. Margaret's House
151 London Road
Edinburgh, EH7 6AE

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

New Contemporaries 2015 at the RSA, Edinburgh

Erin Fairley’s Orange Rope is one of several politically and socially engaged works by talented new artists and architects
Published in The Times 17 March 2015

Rated to 4 stars

Rated to 4 starsThis annual exhibition brings together work by 72 artists and architects, selected from last year’s art college degree shows. It is a highly privileged forum as well as an indicator of future success. The increasingly professional approach by even the youngest artists is evidenced by the serious price tags, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand pounds for an individual art work.
Because this exhibition is drawn from such a wide cross-section, it’s impossible to discern common concerns. However, it would be true to say that these emerging artists are politically and socially engaged. There’s also an air of ominous menace, offset by some colourful but complex work.
Moira Watson’s installation Control. Money. Power, for example, is a series of five bomb-shaped objects, suspended from the ceiling. The presence of such threatening symbols acts as a metaphor for the forces that seek to manipulate our lives.
At the front portico, Deb Marshall’s sound installation Kairos I floods the area with thunder. Its companion piece, Kairos II, includes a classical, headless cast of Venus Marina accompanied by Dido’s Lament, by Purcell, scored, recorded and performed in reverse. This is an immersive work, sensitively in tune with its surroundings, where “meaning” is somehow less important than sensory experience.
Although Erin Fairley and Emma Smith are from different colleges, Dundee and Edinburgh respectively, their works sit comfortably together. Fairley uses rope and thread — here a red web defines the cupola above the sculpture court. She also works outdoors, in wild landscapes, combining textiles with ceramics. Smith’s Transposition, a pair of inverted red velvet curtains that may have protected some precious, but invented, museum object, indicates a sense of loss and memory.
It’s good to see the notion of craft returning to the way artists make art. Dominic McIvor’s 168 incorporates drawing, embroidery and plaster while Robbie Hamilton’s wooden plinths and ramps explore the environment of skateboarding. Seamus Killick’s Premium Fingernails, a series of 83 paintings, is labour-intensive and minutely detailed. David Fleck’s constructions, carved and shaped from wood, are also inspiring. Catherine Ross’s vast oil diptych Passage depicts sea, ice and the vast rusting hulk of a ship.
One of the most affecting works is Richard Phillips-Kerr’s Avatar. The artist has projected a moving image of a talking head on to a life-size plaster-cast body. In Hindu mythology the avatar was the physical embodiment of a god but today the term denotes a digital presence. Kerr manages to combine both senses with what seems to be a message of caution from other worlds.
This highly impressive and professional show bodes well for the health of Scotland’s art schools and the artists who emerge from them.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Love of language reveals a lexicon of ambition

“Abstract” is a label that is often applied to the work of Raoul De Keyser, the Belgian painter who died in 2012 aged 82. Its use here doesn’t seem entirely helpful. Almost all of these 40 or so colourful paintings and objects, which date from the late Sixties until the year of De Keyser’s death, have some direct relationship to the observed world. At first glance, De Keyser’s work can seem slight, even simplistic. The paint, often in primary colours, has no depth and the paintings themselves have an air of the unfinished. But this was precisely De Keyser’s intention — to deny his work beauty (a term with which he struggled) in order not to distract from his true purpose.
So, what was De Keyser attempting to do? His work is full of conundrums. An early piece, Camping V, from 1971, consists of a painted canvas stretched over a wooden box. It’s a large work, about a metre high and wide, with a depth of 20cm. At the corners, large stitches join the canvas together. The link between the title and the work seems obvious but there’s more to this than first appears.
It’s part painting and part sculpture. As one looks at it there’s a temptation to visualise it hanging on a wall, its six sides reduced to one dimension. The flat, bold colours of green, blue and cream seem derived from grass, sky and tent canvas. But is De Keyser’s roguish sense of humour at play here? Do the stitched sides in some way mock the viewer struggling to “stitch” together “meaning”?
De Keyser loved language. However, he often struggled with the way words were used to describe and distort his work.
The term art historians give to work such as De Keyser’s is “abstract figuration”. It suggests that the basis of the painting lies in observation but emphasises the honing process and precision of the finished work.
De Keyser claimed that too much was read into his work while at the same time making clear that it was supported by a sturdy intellectual framework.
And so it is when we look at these paintings.
At the point when we grasp an apparent superficial meaning, a simultaneous notion of underlying complexity begins to take hold.