Scotland has produced some of the most vibrant contemporary British artists, dominating awards such as the Turner Prize in recent years. Many creative minds came from Glasgow School of Art and have been acclaimed both at home and internationally for their off-kilter aesthetic. Scotland’s women artists in particular have crossed borders and disciplines to take Scottish art to new heights. We take a look at ten women artists from Scotland worth knowing.
Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2011, Karla Black is a Scottish sculptor. After graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 1999 she participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions in the UK, Germany and the States. In 2011, she represented Scotland at the 54th Venice Biennale in Italy. Black creates large-scale sculptures by combining traditional art materials, such as paint and plaster, with everyday ones, for instance nail varnish, cellophane and toiletries. Her installations impose their presence by often occupying the entire space, but they simultaneously embody fragility and vulnerability. During an interview for the Turner Prize, she explained where her interest in sculptures originated: ‘Sculpture is what’s important to me […] because it’s real and because it’s really here. Its physicality matters. […] sculpture is absolutely rooted in the world. But I’d hope that my work can prove that that doesn’t mean that it [sculpture] is any less than an escape.’
Born in Scotland in 1965, Alison Watt attended the Glasgow School of Art. In 1987, before completing her studies, she won the John Player Portrait Award, which consequently landed her a commissioned work by the National Portrait Gallery of a portrait of the Queen Mother. Famous for portraits, still life and for an extraordinary attention to details in her paintings, Watt follows the tradition of figurative art. Among her many exhibitions is Phantom (2008), which was the result of her two-year work as Associate Artist at the National Gallery in London. For this show, Watt focused her pieces on Francisco de Zurbarán’s St Francis in Meditation, for which she further studied her long time fascination for colours, fabric and textures.
In 2008, she was appointed Order of the British Empire.
Recently appointed Baltic Professor at the Northumbria University in Newcastle, Christine Borland is a Scottish artist and member of the Young British Artists. A cross-disciplinary artist, Borland is interested in the apparent dichotomy of science and art, of life and death, and in her works these opposing forces constantly resurface. In 1997, she was nominated for the ‘all women’ Turner Prize. Her exhibited work, From Life, is a forensic reconstruction of a missing person skeleton, an Asian female in her twenties. By starting simply from the skull, Borland rebuilt the woman’s head with a bronze cast. The artist’s piece is an attempt to re-personalise the de-humanisation of people in the health and medical world. Boland gives the public access to sensitive materials collected through forensic and scientific investigations by turning them into poetic pieces of art.
Born and currently living in Glasgow, Victoria Morton is a painter, photographer and musician (she is a member of the band Muscles of Joy). Although painting is her favourite medium, she is not afraid to combine different disciplines in a show by incorporating paintings with photos, musical instruments and various objects which all become part of the same creative process. Morton’s paintings can be defined as ‘abstract realism’: they are often layered and characterised by bright, strong colours such as red, pink and blue palettes. She investigates the special relationship between the painting, the viewer and the space around. Music also has a strong influence on her creative process. Morton has exhibited her work in various countries in Europe and in the United States; she has furthermore taken part in collaborative shows with the group Elizabeth Go with artists Hayley Tompkins,Cathy Wilkes, Sarah Tripp and Sue Tompkins.
Born in Glasgow, Lucy McKenzie now lives in Brussels, Belgium. She has been a prolific painter since 1999, when she won the EAST Award at EAST International. The artist draws her inspiration from logos, posters, Eastern European murals, pop music and war iconography, which she transports onto her canvas with evocative political and social topics rooted in collective memory. McKenzie alludes to the collapse of ideology in the 20th century and to the last century’s use of art as propaganda and political tool. The Scottish painter has presented her works in solo and group exhibitions in Europe, including the 50th Venice Biennale, and in the USA.
Glasgow-based, Canadian-born artist Ciara Phillips is one of the nominees for the Turner Prize 2014, the winner of which will be revealed in December this year. Phillips focuses her artwork on printing, screen-printing, textiles and photographs. She was inspired by artist Corita Kent, whose work mainly focused on silkscreen. Phillips’ art often investigates the layers and dynamics of creative language in a broader sense, by including craft and design. In her ongoing project Workshop she investigates the collaborative process behind printing by welcoming different artists. The show includes a series of prints on canvas and cotton. A part from working with other creative minds, she also collaborates with social activist groups such as Artlink in Glasgow.
Julie Roberts, who graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1984, concentrates her creativity on strongly stylised paintings depicting households and domestic scenarios. Her paintings are both the result of an extensive archival research of stills, images and documents, as well as of the artist’s own emotional input. The people depicted, often resembling more paper figurines or cartoons rather than realistic figures, live in monochromatic backdrops. In her 2010 exhibition Child, Roberts showed a series of paintings and drawings depicting the lives and surroundings of children brought up in care. The work combined historical research and personal experience since the artist was separated from her siblings and put in foster care for a period during her childhood. Roberts’ artwork shows the artist’s concern and interest in justice and society.
Visual and sound artist Sue Tompkins studied painting at the Glasgow School of Art. She is part of the collective Elizabeth Go but she has also presented solo shows. She used to be part of a band called Life Without Buildings, which has now split up. Tompkins still sings at her art exhibitions, which are a combination of paintings and performances. She is interested in language in all its forms, written or spoken. The fluidity and ever-changing dynamic of words are represented as floating on paper or canvases hanging from the walls; the same applies for her performances, which change depending on the space or on the audience present. In 2011, she was the recipient of the Paul Hamlyn Award.
Originally from Belfast, Ireland, sculptor Cathy Wilkes studied at Glasgow School of Art. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2008. Her installations and sculptures often reflect the impossibility of being objective and the strict connection with the artist herself. By arranging, mannequins, utensils, papier-mâché and fabrics in apparent random positions, Wilkes investigates in a conceptual manner the mysteries behind why things are the way they are. One of her most notable pieces is Non-Verbal, inspired by Walter Sickert’s painting Lazarus Breaks His Fast. Furthermore, she has taken part in numerous group exhibitions over the years, including collaborations with the group Elizabeth Go.
Multi-disciplinary artist Lucy Skaer lives and work between Glasgow and London. She works with paintings, films, sculptures and drawings. The subjects of her works are strongly attached to the real world but then they pass through the artist’s elaboration, creating a delicate balance between realism and abstraction. Her artistic process usually starts from real materials, those being photographs, pictures or historical objects, she then rethinks their original contexts and she changes the scale or the medium. ‘What I want to do is change the nature of the image so that you can’t look at it in an easy way’, Skaer explained in her own words. In 2009, she was nominated for the Turner Prize for her sculptures. Moreover, she has worked with artist Rosalind Nashashibi in making a series of films about the Near Eastern, African and Oceanic collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.