Across Scotland, a generation of painters have created works to rival that of the London art scene, from abstraction to portraiture. With the disparity of a degree show, there is no Scottish style and there is no English style, but uniting these Scottish painters is talent, ingenuity and heritage. We take a look at ten of the best.
Alison Watt began her career with a focus on the female nude. A great shift took place in the late 1990s as she rebranded herself as a painter of fabrics. She replaced the woman uncovered with the covers un-womaned. It is this later work, depicting folds and swathes of drapery, for which she is most renowned. Her works are sensual and emotional, inviting the viewer to explore the space. Phantom and Sabine are some of her greatest works – serene, elegant and enchanting. Watt evokes memories of crumpled bed sheets, wedding dresses and tablecloths, bringing to light the beauty in the everyday.
Artist and musician Richard Wright is known for his intricate lace-like patterns rendered in gold leaf. As a protest against consumer art, many of Wright’s works are temporary, hand-painted onto dramatic architectural spaces and eradicated at the end of the season. These golden fractals are a kind of Byzantium Constructivism: geometric, ordered, exquisite, celestial. Richard Wright draws attention to the spaces he adorns, he allows them to speak and be noticed through his art. Where previously a stairwell might merely be functional, with the addition of Wright’s art the stairwell becomes a living, breathing space in its own right.
Steven Campbell was renowned for his witty and complex paintings. Whether they depict stocky Scots wearing tweed or individuals in trench coats and top hats, Campbell’s figures are distinctively British. Absurd whilst somehow managing to be both familiar and expected, A Man Perceived by a Flea is a nuanced comedy exploring man’s day-to-day relationship with nature. Campbell’s humour can however, also be used as a weapon. Elegant Gestures of the Drowned is thought to be a satirical reference to the Falklands War of 1982. A suited man and the religious figures of Christ and St Christopher (Patron Saint of Travellers) are drawn down into the maelstrom, united in the water, almost as equals.
Situated somewhere between 50 Shades and Earl Gray Tea, Alasdair Gray is considered a national treasure, both as an artist and a writer. His works, whether verbal or pictorial, combine realism and fantasy, creating wonderful explorations of satire, love and human nature. Gray has illustrated many of his own books as well as creating a vast array of paintings, including candid portraiture, scenes of war and serene landscapes. It is his mural painting however, that is best known. Across Glasgow, in restaurants such as Oran Mor, the Hillhead subway station and Greenbank Parish Church, his paintings can be seen. Every work of Gray’s embodies his own unique style: strong bold lines, striking colours and creative composition make his art decidedly distinctive.
At first, Eva Ullrich’s work appears abstract – a series of colours placed on a page – yet there is much more to her process of creation. Ullrich uses “painting’s inherent language as a platform to create landscapes.” Works such as The Tarn clearly depict a mountain lake, the dark, grey hues of the rocks and the flowing white of the water. Blaze is akin to a forest fire – orange flames and black, charred wood. Blaze evokes feelings of being unsettled, constantly moving – the eye follows the brush strokes quickly and frantically as if searching for the end of the fire. Even something as solid as a mountain in Amuri Tepui becomes a dynamic rhythm of colour, as if Ullrich has documented the changing light of the day or the movement of clouds across the sky. Eva Ullrich is not an abstract artist – she is a landscape artist who embraces and is embraced by the rhythm of nature.
Glasgow-based Louise Hopkins transforms magazines, books and maps into paintings and much of her work has social-political aspects. Untitled (1969) takes the form of a world map, where the names of countries and oceans are isolated and suspended in an ‘ocean’ of ink. There is no longer any indication of size – every place is equal. The world appears like a community, the painted void removes boundaries and places everyone together. Mum’s, Gold and Black consists of black silhouetted women painted over a catalogue. Many of the figures have golden heart lockets or ‘MUM’ on their torsos, to show the importance of a mother’s heart and impact rather than simply their external appearance.
Iain Hetherington brings to light issues of authenticity, individuality and value in a world dominated by mass-production and accessible technology. Hetherington, like Damien Hirst, creates his paintings as a series. He produces works mimicking machine production, where items are created without care, without emotion and without people. Each work displays honest imperfections – no two are precisely the same – but within a series they are all very similar. Radically Networked Old Hat resembles a collage of electrical diagrams and comic-book clippings, with industrial-style lettering. A new series of works entitled There’s Wally sees Hetherington suggesting, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion, that anyone can wear Wally’s iconic hat – but where is the individuality? The art?
Moyna Flannigan’s works embrace what it means to be a woman. Each painting is a confrontation. Her drawings, inspired by Adam and Eve, explore the tension between ‘individualism and conformism’ with her depictions of ‘couples under duress’. Aside from this collection, her works generally focus primarily on the female figure. Flannigan’s women are reminiscent of Picasso’s; angular, sharp, and contorted. Where the figures don’t confront the observer, their surrounding space does. These white wisps of women are drowning in a space of darkness, loneliness and oppression. The drama and emotion of Flannigan’s work is balanced by her sense of humour. Her otherworldly figures are comically promiscuous and exaggeratedly female with monumental bosoms. Most importantly, none of Flannigan’s women are victims. Moyna Flannigan’s work is a vision.
Nicolas Party brings a feeling of celebration to both his still-life pieces and his beautiful landscapes. His works are invariably fun frolics of colour and form. Party takes everyday objects – fruit, trees, kettles – and transforms them into an electrifying visual composition, prompting the observer to sit up and notice everyday objects. The colourful experience undertaken when viewing his art is so contrasting to the surroundings of his Glasgow career, making his work all the more startling, energetic and dynamic.
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