An Talla Solais, Ullapool, until 8 May 2011
FIVE young artists have retraced their steps to Ullapool to create a vital and varied exhibition of painting, collage, animated film, environmental installation and illustrations, at An Talla Solais.
The artists studied together with Eleanor White at Bridge House Art during 2006, producing portfolios which won them art school places. They went their separate ways, two to Edinburgh College of Art, two to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee and one to Glasgow School of Art.
They have all since graduated, and this show brings together their work, in both individual and collaborative pieces, revealing five very different directions of artistic development.
The most arresting pieces of the show are the paintings of Rhiannon Van Muysen, originally from Durness. She has filled a room with pieces that are abstract yet bring together textures and patterns that seem completely naturalistic, as if they are lichens that have grown, rather than having been created.
One, a huge round ‘Titan’s Moon’, fills a wall with complex and mesmerising light. Another combines a sense of rusty decay with the expansiveness of deep space. Many of these pieces are circular and reminiscent of chemistry experiments that have generated unexpectedly beautiful, colourful results.
There are even actual petri-dishes, and magnifying glasses to allow us to peer into their textured contents. We are told their ingredients: clay, iron, sulfur and resin, or verdigris and agar-agar; familiar names with something strange and alchemical about them.
They make you wonder if they will appear the same on another day. I longed for microscopes, the ability to look even more closely. Rhiannon says she is inspired by ‘study of landscapes both vast and microscopic’. Her resulting paintings have an organic feeling that is both serene and intriguing.
Christine Morrison is also influenced by the environment and by the particularity of place. She presents two visualisations of data about the natural world: a demonstration of the high tide marks over a week – ‘7 days:13 tides’, the levels of which are represented by pieces of driftwood (in glass wax – why?) suspended at appropriate heights; and a wall-graphic showing varying day length over the 52 Sundays of a year.
Both are specific to Ullapool and are novel ways of seeing the rhythms of nature. My favourite piece of the show was displayed only at the launch, down at Ullapool harbour, where, after dark, a rowing dinghy floated in a water-filled boat that will never go to sea again. At its prow, a video played of a journey out into open sea. The little boat bobbed in reality and on film, to a soundtrack of spray and creaking timbers, as if remembering an earlier voyage.
Tiffany Bottomley is interested in feminism, and creates collages of fabrics, lace, fabrics, mirrors, silk flowers and plastic wreaths. A hair piece is hung with pink flowers. On the beach is a pile of stones, each decorated with pretty patterns: dots, stripes and glitter.
There is a lot of pink frilly stuff but it is shredded and stuck back together again in odd ways, as if Tiffany has taken apart the very idea of girliness and pieced together something different, something rather unsettling and impersonal, something that asks questions about what femininity is all about.
Mary Somerville’s stop motion animations are strangely delightful. ‘Sirius the Dog Star and Dog’ features a two-headed plasticene dog, who inhabits a monochrome world of everyday objects that do not behave normally. A chair shuffles about, as does a box on legs. A sad plasticene character sits at the bottom of a ladder but does not climb up it. We ask why not?
A door closes and we want to know who is behind it. It opens and we wonder where it goes to. The world is pared down to a few simple shapes and as narratives are suggested, we are drawn into making stories.
Matt Stockl’s illustrations take stories and songs as starting points and move on from there. They are dark and stark, black pen drawings of odd part-people part-animal characters. He has brought a little known Grimms fairy tale, The Three Army Surgeons, back from oblivion, and created a series of suitably disturbing pictures to go with it. I’ve not seen anything like it since David Hockney’s illustrations of Rapunzel and Rumpelstilzchen.
© Mandy Haggith, 2011