Axolotl Gallery, Dundas Street, Edinburgh, until 30 November 2011
IN REVIEWING a group show at a commercial gallery, it’s often hard to find a thematic through-line beyond the fact you’re viewing a bunch of works which have become available at once.
At least in selecting the work of a variety of artists over different media who are all based in Caithness, Dundas Street’s Axolotl Gallery has ensured that those selected share a collective local influence.
As is the case with such things, most of the works on display here are much more about the craft than they are the art, and taken on those terms there are a lot of striking pieces. Jenny Mackenzie Ross’ glazed pottery pieces stand out, including ‘soft’ vases – thin, tall vases which appear to have been dented before they’ve been set – and a ‘harbour bowl’ with a smooth, colourful interior and an outer shell like rough stone.
Patricia Niemann contributes a fun and strangely practical-looking red and grey felt Viking hat, while Michael Bullen’s glassworks are mesmeric – delicately formed black ravens and bright crustaceans, and in Coelacanth the ghost of a white fish seen as if through water. Alice Calder’s Sea Weed, meanwhile, recasts tough, organic seaweed in grey, fragile-looking porcelain, while David Morrison’s Tension is an abstract lump of black-painted wood, positioned as if it were a poised pair of antlers or a flailing pair of arms.
As regards the painted works, landscapes and particularly coastal scenes rule. Morrison‘s pieces are summer-themed, although their impression of Highland foliage is delivered in drab greens and pinkish reds. More striking are David Watt’s Caithness Sunset, a burst of heart-warming orange which doesn’t entirely wash away the outline of distant hills, and Meg Telfer’s pieces, which carve twilit lochs and hilltops with no more than delicate slashes of white.
It’s not an exhibition which will tell you a great deal about Caithness itself, then, but the area’s art scene is revealed to the extent that we become aware that there seem to be a great many capable and talented decorative artists from or making their homes in the area.
Editor’s note: Caithness is sometimes referred to as the Land of the Cats or Headland of the Cats, referring to the Cattini people, hence the old spelling of the name Katnes.
© David Pollock, 2011