Small Wall – Christmas 2009

1 Dec 2009 in Highland, Visual Arts & Crafts

Kilmorack Gallery, By Beauly, until Christmas 2009

WALKING into Kilmorack Gallery’s latest show is like receiving an early Christmas present. The exhibition features suites of 10″ X 12″ works punctuated by larger scale pieces and sculptural works, beautifully lit and presented.

Alan McGowan - Untitled Figure

Alan McGowan - Untitled Figure

Featured artists include Marj Bond, Sam Cartman, Kirstie Cohen, Brigid Collins, Ian Cook (RI RSW), Helen Denerley, Michael Forbes, Henry Fraser, Helen Glassford, Lotte Glob, Clare Harkness, Allan MacDonald, Alan McGowan, Sam MacDonald, Beth Robertson Fiddes, Ingeborg Smith, Hoch Aun Teh, Eugenia Vronskaya, Erland Tait, Peter White and Pamela Tait.

The show offers an alternative scale to that which we are used to seeing exhibited regularly in the space. The overall effect is like a bejewelled Aladdin’s cave, and spending time exploring it, particularly on a dismal winter day, is an absolute pleasure.

Highlights of the 10″ X 12″ works include Henry Fraser’s powerful and contemplative Adoration, Sam Cartman’s accomplished abstract Elgol Study, the dreamlike textural delicacy of Smoo by Beth Robertson Fiddes, Erland Tait’s surreal portrait Dagda, Eugenia Vronskaya’s richly evocative Harbour Istanbul and an intriguing series of composite cultural portraits by Michael Forbes.

'King of the Monster Robots' by Michael Forbes

'King of the Monster Robots' by Michael Forbes

In the provocative spirit of Pop Art and Surrealism, Forbes’s sharp graphic style presents an assemblage of imagery drawn from Western consumer culture. Famous faces and fictions we immediately recognise are thrown together in ways that are subversive, optimistic and playfully absurd: A Clockwork Orange forehead, the snout of a bulldog and the chin of Churchill in Oh Yeah, Uncle Sam, Barrack Obama and Abe Lincoln in The Face of America and R2D2, Frankenstein and King Kong in King of The Monster Robots.

Among the larger scale pieces, watercolours by Clare Harkness – distinctive for their command of an unforgiving medium and sensitive restraint – have universal appeal. Lilac Bills, Red Footed Boobies Galapagos contrasts keenly observed detail of the birds’ heads with a more abstract definition of the space they inhabit. Harkness impressively defines this with a just few bold brushstrokes of wet on wet.

Her smaller ink studies of puffins also exhibit a high degree of measured technique. She gives us all the visual information we need in a few strokes without ever over-cooking the image. Another large scale work, Black Headed Gull, successfully retains the expanse of white paper, evocative of the subject’s swift and liberating sense of flight. She positions the bird on a dynamic visual trajectory that allows the viewer’s imagination to take flight with it, a rare quality in the genre of wildlife painting.

Although known primarily for her wildlife sculptures constructed from scrap metal, a series of prints by Helen Denerley present another facet of her work. The boldness of lino cut technique in Wild Boar is well suited to spirit of its subject, while the collagraph Horse evokes a totemic presence like that of ancient low relief Pictish sculpture.

It is in her beautifully rendered etching and charcoal Corbus, however, that Denerley’s two-dimensional work really comes into its own. At her best, Denerley invests her sculptures with the essence of line, form and movement that convincingly bring her creatures to life, and she achieves the same result here in two dimensions.

The crow’s scruffy, scratch-marked feathers suggest its inner voice; the stern beak aptly contrasted with the delicacy of its feet and pecked definition of marks in the foreground. The sharp quality of the etching tool together with the delicacy of mark achievable with this technique is key to how we read the image. The artist’s choice of medium suggests vulnerability in the crow akin to all living things.

You could not come and yet you go, a work in mixed media by Brigid Collins, displays her characteristic distillation of poetry and image. The open book format, intimate scale and sensitive treatment of materials create a precious and multilayered surface. The beautifully balanced composition assembles fragments of found materials, rag and waxy papers, thread, silver leaf and flowers revealing the unique textural qualities of each. Shimmering metal and opalescent surfaces are collaged with organic material and embossed fragments of poetry creating a hymn of visual counterpoint and remembrance.

Alan McGowan’s Untitled Figure is superbly drafted and composed, a tactile study of human flesh and form in a subdued palette of finely tuned cool and warm hues. His Ophelia, a shimmering torso submerged in a thin veil of green and purple paint spatter, is a superlative study of life and death. Although the head lolled back is treated rather too heavily in comparison to the exquisitely rendered torso, there is a great deal of promise in this work which begs for further development and execution on a larger scale.

McGowan’s Faust works ably demonstrate his ability to grapple with the core of literary subject matter to the point where the human body, personal and collective, becomes the text. It is always exciting to see works by this artist exhibited in the North, and I hope it will not be too long before we see a substantial show of larger scale pieces in the gallery.

“Small but powerful” is an apt description for many works in this show. Kilmorack has long established a reputation for consistency, quality and excellence and this latest exhibition is no exception.

The Christmas exhibition is open Thursday-Sunday, 11am-5.30pm, until Christmas.

© Georgina Coburn, 2009