Under a title borrowed (and slightly mistranslated) from Balzac’s Le Chef-d’oevre Inconnu Ingleby presents a series of interconnected images, posted daily in an exhibition that isn’t an exhibition.
The sequence began on Monday 13th April and will continue until the gallery is able to resume its normal programme, publishing a new work daily in a rolling sequence, with every selection being the work of an artist who has taken part in some aspect of the gallery’s more conventional exhibition programme over the past 22 years. It is in effect be a tribute to all of our favourite things.
The works appear each week day via our website and instagram and every Friday an email summarises the previous five days sequence, and releases a newly commissioned film from the studio of one of the artists featured that week. To subscribe to our weekly emails please join our mailing list here.
Callum InnesPart 35
From a critical moment in the history of non-objective painting, exemplified by Suetin’s Suprematist White Square we arrive at the work of one of the most singular present-day practitioners of abstraction. Callum Innes is one of very few living artists who can justifiably claim to have invented their own way of making pictures, in Callum’s case with a painterly language that involves the play of additive and subtractive processes,
The present work, Resonance No. 1, 2019 is from an on-going series of white paintings in which paint is applied and dissolved almost simultaneously, one brush putting it on, just ahead of a second dissolving it away, so that pigment and turpentine run in channels down the canvas. Unlike his (probably) better-known Exposed paintings, which are typically made in layers over many weeks, a Resonance work is the product of a single intense day in the studio – the process once begun having to be pushed all the way to completion. He doesn’t make them very often and so they appear almost like punctuation marks between other series. The resulting paintings are curiously contradictory: amongst the quietest and most subtle in the artist’s repertoire and yet also the most demanding to make and, in their finished state, the most active and alive to the play of light across their delicate surface.
Callum took part in our very first exhibition in July 1998 and his friendship and support have been hugely important to us over the past 22 years. We have made six solo exhibitions together in the years since, including most recently an exquisite installation of paintings filled with colour and light to mark the opening of our current gallery in Edinburgh’s former Glasite Meeting House two summers ago. These days he is spending his time between studios in Edinburgh and Oslo, from where he has sent us this short film to mark the end of the 7th week of The Unseen Masterpiece. Thank you, Callum.
Detail of Callum Innes, Resonance No. 1 , 2019
Callum Innes, Oslo Studio, May 2020
Nikolai SuetinPart 34
There’s a point, almost exactly half-way through John Smith’s film The Black Tower, featured in yesterday’s Unseen Masterpiece, in which representation gives way to abstraction as the blackness of the tower eats its way across the screen towards a rectangle of total darkness. In art historical terms it feels like a reference to Kazimir Malevich’s black square of 1915.
Malevich’s iconic painting was first exhibited in Petrograd in 1915 in the Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings an exhibition which also included work by his disciple Nikolai Suetin – another key member of progressive UNOVIS group, which dedicated itself to promoting Suprematism in all its possible forms. Today’s work, a Suprematist collage by Suetin, takes us back to that time, but also looks back over John Smith’s shoulder to the white collaged rectangles of John Stezaker’s Tabula Rasa – and further back in this sequence to the ‘Found Monochromes’ of white rectangles photographed in city streets by David Batchelor, which featured in his friday film a few weeks ago. It was alongside these in the 2007 that we first had the pleasure of showing this work by Suetin as part of our sequence Eight Days. More recently it was one of the stand out works in the National Gallery of Scotland’s 400 year history of collage during last summer’s Edinburgh Art Festival.
John SmithPart 33
From John Stezaker’s collages of white rectangles in the empty spaces of film stills in yesterday’s sequence, we arrive today at a mysterious black form haunting a series of frames from John Smith’s 1987 film The Black Tower. Explaining why he chose this particular work for ‘the Unseen Masterpiece’ in the present moment John writes: “Like many of my films, including The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), shown at Ingleby Gallery in 2014, The Black Tower uses the power of the spoken word to fictionalise the reading of documentary images. Moving back and forth between representation and abstraction, the film incorporates a narrative within which an ominous building appears in various places around London, seeming to be spreading like a virus and eventually forcing the film’s protagonist to self-isolate at home.”
As with so much of John’s work he is playing here with what it means to make films, and with how ideas of implied truth and authorial control simultaneously establish and undermine our understanding of narrative. It is funny and terrifying in equal measure - the tower haunting the narrator, following him wherever he goes, and ultimately drawing him into a kind of horror story of paranoia and self-incarceration. It is hard to think of a film better suited to the weirdness of the world in which we currently find ourselves.
Click anywhere on this panel to watch John Smith: The Black Tower
John StezakerPart 32
One of the chief pleasures of working on The Unseen Masterpiece over the past weeks has been the opportunity to invite contributions from artists whose work we love and who have played some part in our exhibition programme over the past 22 years. John Stezaker’s 2013 Billboard for Edinburgh was one of our favourite manifestations of that project and his response to being involved in the present sequence has been as generous as it is appropriate.
“I relish this opportunity to do something in relation to the Balzac short story. It is a story which has haunted me and my work for years. One series of collages which is more associated with my reading of the story in terms of the negotiation of the space between the seen and the unseen is the Tabula Rasa series. Much of my work as you know is about seeing things where there is nothing - faces in masks etc. So, there is much that applies in Frenhofer’s blindness, or is it the others’? which seems so pertinent to what we are confronting at the moment and to the power of the unseen.”
Stezaker has made these Tabula Rasa collages since the mid 1980’s, intervening into images of landscape, or film stills, with a distorted white rectangle reminiscent of a cinematic projection screen, to offer a new take on the original blank state of childhood and intellectual innocence. The five new works made for this sequence follow on from the burnished rectangle of Ben Cauchi’s ambrotype published yesterday – “the what’s there and what isn’t” as Cauchi put it – posing the question not just of what we see, but of how we look.
Ben CauchiPart 31
Like Garry Fabian Miller, whose work rounded off last week’s sequence, Ben Cauchi is a photographer who looks to the early history of photography in order to make work that is firmly rooted in the present. He uses box cameras from the nineteenth century and constructs modern variants adapted to work on a larger scale, made of wood, leather and brass.
Inside these wooden boxes he explores one of the very earliest photographic techniques; the wet-collodion process, producing ambrotypes and tintypes in which a chemically coated plate (of glass or metal) reacts to light to capture an image seen through the lens. It is a process invented at a time of pioneering discovery in the worlds of science, industry and reason, yet also a time when ideas of spiritualism and mesmerism held the public imagination. A dichotomy that haunts Cauchi's work.
The present image Untitled 13 belongs to a series of ‘burnished’ ambrotypes in which the surface of the image is further worked by the artist’s hand. As Ben describes it: “Basically, all the image is composed of is pure light and silver… what I’m doing is making the image from working over the silver salts in the surface of the film. Buffing the film flattens the silver salts embedded in the collodion which makes them reflect like a mirror with an opalescent, almost bottomless quality”. In short, “it's all about light and what’s there and what isn’t” which seems like an appropriate note on which to start this week’s sequence of The Unseen Masterpiece.
Garry Fabian MillerPart 30
For the past thirty-five years Garry Fabian Miller has made photographic images without a camera, working entirely in his darkroom using the techniques of early nineteenth century photographic exploration to experiment with the possibilities of light, as both medium and subject. His earliest camera-less photographs looked closely to the pioneers of the medium in the 1830’s, passing light through translucent objects, principally leaves, seedpods and flower heads and using them as transparencies through which light passed onto light-sensitive paper.
From this starting point, essentially rooted in the natural world, he has continued to explore a more abstract form of picture-making, albeit with nature as a continuing presence in horizons and edges, and the movement of light. This rootedness in place owes a great deal to Garry’s life lived on Dartmoor in the remote south west of England and his daily routine of watching the rising and the setting of the sun.
We’ve worked with Garry since the very early days of the gallery, making six solo shows in 20 years, including most recently Blaze which marked the end of an era as analogue photographic materials become extinct in a digital age. Dwindling supplies of paper and chemistry, and the increasingly fugitive nature of his life-learnt methods, saw Garry embracing the perversity of his position in a final blaze of picture-making glory, which filled our gallery with light and colour in the winter months.
The work shown here as the 30th step in The Unseen Masterpiece was made just before lockdown. This week’s film of the artist in his darkroom and studio was filmed by Sam Fabian Miller, the artist’s son, over the course of last couple of weeks. Thank you, Sam.
Film: Garry Fabian Miller in the Stusio, 2020. By Sam Fabian Miller
Anna Atkinspart 29
From the work of a pioneering photographer of the present day, to one of the very first female practitioners of photography as a medium. Anna Atkins (1799-1871) trained as a botanist and first became interested in the possibilities of photography as a means of recording plant specimens for scientific reference. In doing so she became one of the very first women photographers of all time. She learned the principles of how to make a light-sensitive images from her correspondence with photography’s inventor William Henry Fox Talbot, and perfected the cyanotype method of photogenic drawing invented by a family friend Sir John Herschel.
We showed a few glorious examples of her work, including the peculiarly modern forms of Achrostium Simplex included here, in 2010 in A Little Bit of Magic Realised (a title taken from Fox Talbot’s 1839 description of his own newly invented medium) an exhibition which paired works by Atkins and Fox Talbot with two present day ‘camera-less’ photographers Susan Derges and Garry Fabian Miller.
Zanele MuholiPart 28
The idea of the confrontational self-portrait, and of such images as fragments of much larger stories, has found a new champion in recent years in the photographs of the South African artist and self-described ‘visual activist’ Zanele Muholi, whose extraordinary series ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ – ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ is one of the most compelling and politically powerful bodies of self-portraiture made anywhere in recent years. These too use everyday objects and props, or materials as they refer to them, to explore themes of labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics - layering the imagery with meaning and association, with the ultimate tool being their own body: “The black body itself is the material, the black body that is ever scrutinised, and violated and undermined”.
Like yesterday’s artist Oana Stanciu, Zanele Muholi took part in our 2019 exhibition ‘Sometimes I Disappear’. The first major UK survey exhibition of Zanele Muholi’s work was scheduled to open at Tate Modern in late April but is currently postponed, awaiting the museum’s re-opening.
Oana StanciuPart 27Continuing the theme of self-portrait photography using props and performance we move from the work of Jonny Lyons to that of Oana Stanciu - a Romanian artist, now living in Edinburgh. Oana took part in our 2019 show Sometimes I Disappear (alongside, Zanele Muholi, Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman) an exhibition which looked at the work of four photographers using self-portraiture to both confront, and yet avoid, the viewer's gaze.It is a beguiling contradiction in which the self becomes both subject and object; simultaneously revealed and concealed; exposed, and yet distanced by the artifice of props and costume. The title of the show was borrowed from Cindy Sherman’s comment on her own work: “I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.” This description could easily have been describing Oana Stanciu’s uncomfortable domestic tableaux in which the artist experiments with her body and everyday objects, bending and stretching herself into poses that occupy space with the self-awareness and control of a dancer.
Jonny LyonsPart 26Last week’s sequence ended with the work of Kevin Harman and the release of Skip 16, a filmed portrait of the artist at work on the streets of New York, and also a record of the 48-hour performance that goes into the making of such a work. Performance of some sort or other is a key ingredient much of Kevin’s (non object-based) work, giving rise to a cast of characters including the West End Sherriff and Mr Honourable; the artworld’s first private detective.Performance also provides the link to today’s artist, who, like Kevin, lives and works in Glasgow - coincidentally in the studio right next door. Jonny Lyons brings three elements to each of his works: first, there is the making of a tool for the promised performance, which might be a sculptural object or some kind of ingenious device; secondly there is the performance itself, more usually enacted solo these days but sometimes enlisting the help of a long-suffering friend, and finally the finished photograph that becomes the artwork. This photograph is far more than just a documentary record of the first two elements. It has that function of course: fixing the moment between 'cause' and 'effect' of Jonny’s often anarchic pursuits, but they are always beautifully composed and carefully crafted, infused with a kind of melancholic wit reminiscent of the physical humour of early silent cinema.The present work Oxford takes its name from the UK’s most popular style of three-seater outdoor bench. An everyday object taken to the limits of absurdity. Like Buster Keaton's famous newspaper which unfolds exponentially to completely unwieldy proportions, here Lyons' shift in scale turns an ordinary situation into a quietly tragicomic scenario. This work was made for Dream Easy, Lyons' first solo exhibition at Ingleby in spring 2016.
Kevin HarmanPart 25
This week’s sequence ends with another artist making work from ordinary materials. Like Kay Rosen’s paint chart installations mentioned yesterday, Kevin Harman’s Glassworks use household wall paint, but (unlike Kay’s very deliberate selection by colour and name) in Kevin’s case it is paint which has been mis-tinted and would otherwise be thrown away. Working with this recycled paint and salvaged double-glazed window units, he makes works that combine the biggest visual impact with the smallest possible footprint. As he describes the process: “We split open the windows and paint on both the inside surfaces of the glass. Layers and layers, letting them dry, adding more, and so on. And eventually seal them back together. They are almost more like sculptures than paintings, but there’s also that sense of subverting the material so that the window loses all transparency and becomes this other thing to be looked at rather than through.”
This quotation comes from an interview with the writer Irvine Welsh introducing a new book about Kevin’s work which was due to be published last month alongside an exhibition of his work in the gallery. We look forward to sharing both the book and the exhibition later in the year.
There’s a link in Kevin’s use of reclaimed materials to the other series of works for which he is best known, the ‘skips’ that he has been making guerrilla-style on city streets since 2007. The most recent of these ‘Skip 16’ was made in the Bronx in New York the summer before last as part of a solo presentation of his work for Frieze New York. This week, in a parallel universe, we would have been in New York presenting Kevin’s latest glass paintings at this year’s Frieze, but instead they have been viewable on the fair’s online platform, which closes today. To mark that moment our Friday film this week takes us back to the Bronx with Christopher Cook’s remarkable portrait of Kevin at work.
Film: Kevin Harman, Skip 16, Frieze New York. By Christopher L. Cook
Kay RosenPart 24
In the summer of 2008 we celebrated the gallery’s 10th birthday by moving premises from the Edinburgh townhouse in which the gallery was founded, to a 6000 sq ft warehouse at the back of Edinburgh’s main train station, a property we inhabited until 2016. Our inaugural exhibition in the new space was a first ever UK exhibition of work by the American artist Kay Rosen. She titled the show HUEN, a word that doesn’t exist, except as an invented amalgam of two others - hue and hewn - a typically precise gesture of imprecision to describe a body of work ‘shaped from colour’.
Rosen’s love of colour is second only to her love of language and much of her work harnesses the power of both to make us see things we would otherwise miss. Today’s selection for The Unseen Masterpiece Blurred is a typical combination of simplicity and nuance - her 2004 comment on the fudge of party politics in an era of political sameness, realised originally as a wall painting in 2004 (now in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales).
Kay also took part in Gravity’s Rainbow in 2011, already mentioned in this sequence as an exhibition about found colour, or in her case, a combination of appropriated colour and words, taken from the pages of paint charts on the basis of their quasi-poetic names. The resulting wall painting was presented as a modernist abstraction in stripes of green, brown and russet with an evocative, if slightly ridiculous, new title created when the names of the paints used were gathered together in the appropriate order – Mud Hut between Willow Tree and Apple Tree beside Rocky Road separated by Hedgerow from Copper Canyon.
Winston RoethPart 23
The theme of rainbow-referencing colour continues in today’s contribution to the sequence, which turns from works in which it has been found and borrowed to the very deliberate decision-making of the American painter Winston Roeth. There’s nothing arbitrary or accidental in Winston’s meticulous process; each colour choice nudges a painting to slow completion, and in doing so reinforces his reputation as one of the great colour painters of the present time.
We were first introduced to Winston by our friend the painter Callum Innes and both artists took part in two exhibitions about colour in the first decade of the gallery’s life: a self-explanatory exploration of the monochrome White in 2003 and its more jaunty cousin Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow & Blue in 2005. We have since held two solo shows of Winston’s work in 2006 and 2011.
The present work Easy Lover, from 2009, is made with tempera on slate roof tiles, the pigment covering the slate’s uneven surface and producing a kind of visual alchemy as colours shift and shimmer in the light. It is one of a large number of works that will be included in what promises to be a career defining retrospective of Winston’s work at Museum Wiesbaden this autumn.
Ugo RondinonePart 22
From Ian Davenport’s candy coloured stripes we arrive today at the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s Everyone Gets Lighter, a rainbow coloured neon arch most recently installed on the side of the Kunsthalle Helsinki alongside Rondinone’s exhibition of the same name, as part of the Helsinki Festival last autumn. The phrase itself is taken from a poem by the poet John Giorno who died of a heart attack, aged 82, a few weeks after the exhibition opened. As his New York Times obituary observed, Giorno may have first found fame as the subject of his lover Andy Warhol’s 1963 movie Sleep, but it was as a beat poet determined to “shake poetry loose of the page and embed it more deeply in the fabric of everyday life” that he will be remembered. And as the husband of Ugo Rondinone.
In common with the last few artists in this sequence, Rondinone is another great colourist, using the possibilities of both colour and material with diverse delight. The knowledge of Giorno’s death brings an inevitable sadness to this otherwise upbeat selection, but that is typical of Rondinone’s world in which a note of melancholy frequently underpins an apparently cheerful first impression. Rainbows were everywhere in his Helsinki exhibition, as they are now in these days of honouring the bravery of health workers around the world. The latest iteration of his 6 year project Your age and my age and the age of the rainbow stretched floor to ceiling across some of the gallery spaces with literally thousands of children’s drawings of rainbows. That connection to the present moment is perhaps one reason why Ugo suggested this work for The Unseen Masterpiece, as well, of course, as it being a tribute to his partner of the last 22 years.
Ian DavenportPart 21
Nine years ago we borrowed the title Gravity’s Rainbow from the American writer Thomas Pynchon for an exhibition about ‘found’ colour. Works in which the colour content originated elsewhere - borrowed or stolen from outside the studio. Last Friday’s artist David Batchelor is the master of this way of thinking and he pointed out Pynchon’s own use of ‘borrowed’ adjectival phrases to suggest very specific and vividly recalled colour experience:“drowned man green” for example,“deep cheap perfume aquamarine” and “creamy chocolate FBI-shoe brown”.
Batchelor took part in that show, as did today’s artist Ian Davenport, whose contribution – a site specific painting - offered an alternative, and quite literal, reading of the exhibition’s title: paint flowing in rivulets down the gallery wall, a rainbow of colours drawn by gravity towards the floor where it pooled in a technicolour puddle. His source material was a painting by the 16th century painter Vittore Carpaccio, its colour components deconstructed and re-assembled as a series of poured lines.
One of the earliest of Davenport’s wall paintings of this sort, which marked a shift from the shiny surfaced abstractions of his earlier career, was the one that he made for the 2003 Tate Triennale Days Like These (an exhibition that also included Batchelor’s work). The very first, however, was the test work that he made on the wall of his own studio in East London, a detail of which was used as the cover image for the Tate Triennale catalogue. This original wall painting remained in place when Davenport moved studios and was inherited by the next tenant; David Batchelor.
David BatchelorPart 20
In much the same way as yesterday’s artist Margaret Mellis scoured the beaches of Suffolk in search of material for her driftwood assemblages, David Batchelor has spent his working life combing urban environments for what he calls the ‘found’ colour of the modern city. His eye is drawn to the things that others throw away or dismiss - the plastic produce of pound shops and the recycled off-cuts of contemporary life.
In the short studio film released today (to mark the end of week 4 of the Unseen Masterpiece) David refers to the genesis of a photographic series begun in 1997 in terms that could be applied to almost all his working methods: “The Found Monochromes are a series of photographs where I went out into the streets around Kings Cross, where I lived at the time in London, and looked for blank, white rectangular panels on walls, on doors, on windows, so they’re like the monochrome in art, like Rodchenko or Robert Ryman, but actually inadvertent and found in the street of the city rather than in the more rarefied world of art”.
David balances a deceptively casual approach to art making in both two and three dimensions with a reputation as one of our most considered writers on the subject of colour’s place in the modern world - his book Chromophobia has been in print for over 20 years and is currently available in 7 different languages. We’ve worked with him since he took part our exhibition Thread in the summer of 2006 at which time we also installed his hanging Candelas – light sculptures made of recycled plastic bottles – around the city for the duration of the Edinburgh Art Festival. Last summer we hosted a solo exhibition My Own Private Bauhaus celebrating his long relationship with colour through the circle, the triangle and the square.
Film:David Batchelor in the Studio, May 2020
Margaret MellisPart 19
Margaret Mellis, who died aged 95 in 2009, was one of the original members of the generation of artists who colonised the town of St Ives in the years immediately before the second world war. As such, she provided one of the last direct links to Alfred Wallis (whose work appeared in this sequence yesterday) visiting him regularly with her husband the writer Adrian Stokes, and taking sketchbooks and crayons to the workhouse where he lived out the last year of his life before dying in poverty in 1942.
Margaret was always a colourist at heart, having been taught at Edinburgh College of Art by S.J.Peploe, but she was also a habitual gatherer, making collages and constructions from whatever she could find, and, following her move to Southwold in 1976, she became an inveterate beachcomber, scavenging materials for her driftwood sculptures at the sea’s edge, and swimming in the sea every day. Like Wallis everything that arrived in her life, including through the post, suggested itself as a possible material, and this included an extensive series of flower drawings on the inside of opened-out envelopes.
We showed her work in our first ever exhibition at the gallery in 1998, the inventively titled 'Opening Exhibition', prior to which she came to stay with us in Edinburgh – a visit which gave us left us with the unforgettable memory of an indomitable Margaret, aged 84, brushing her teeth in the open doorway of the bathroom, her shock of white hair set off by a pair of red woolly socks and a long black leather coat.
Alfred WallisPart 18
The first time we presented Frank Walter’s work, in the spring of 2013 (the first time his work had ever been publicly shown) we did so in an exhibition titled Songs of Innocence and Experience, alongside the Texan shrimp fisherman; Forest Bess, and the Cornish fisherman turned scrap merchant; Alfred Wallis. Both, like Walter, were untrained artists of uncompromising vision who chose to live and work outside the boundaries of conventional society. Both made work that now holds an important place in the history of 20th century art.
Like Walter, Alfred Wallis would paint on whatever material came to hand: old boards and pieces of card; using house and yacht paint, with an immediacy and honesty that is rarely found in the work of supposedly more sophisticated painters. These were the qualities that so struck the artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood when they first saw him working at his kitchen table through an open window in the back streets of St Ives in the summer of 1928. When the young modernists returned to London they enthusiastically posted photographs of their own work to Wallis. Unimpressed, the old man promptly turned them over, made a painting of his own on the reverse, and sent them back.
Frank WalterPart 17
Following yesterday’s contribution from Peter Doig, a Scottish artist with Caribbean connections, we arrive at the opposite – an artist from Antigua who thought he was Scottish. Or to be accurate, who believed himself descended from a line of Scottish aristocrats in a lineage that included the Dukes of Buccleuch, Charles II and Franz Joseph of Austria. In fact, it was through FrankWalter, whose estate we began to represent in 2013, that we first met Peter, who had heard that we were showing the work of the reclusive Caribbean artist and phoned the gallery to find out more.
Francis Archibald Wentworth Walter, to give him his full name, self-styled 7th Prince of the West Indies, Lord of Follies and the Ding-a-Ding Nook, was a prodigiously talented artist whose self-imposed isolation led to his work being almost entirely unknown during his life. In the years since his death in 2009 his work has been swiftly and comprehensively assimilated into the history of Caribbean art, representing Antigua & Barbuda at that nation’s inaugural pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and this spring as the subject of a first major museum retrospective (of several hundred works) at the MMK Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt. This exhibition was postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but is now scheduled to open (to a socially distanced public) on 16th May.
As the MMK exhibition will demonstrate Frank Walter had an unmistakable and visionary voice across a broad spectrum of subjects including figuration, abstraction and cosmic speculation, but in particular his gloriously fresh landscapes and tree paintings trees stand out. They have a direct, almost anthropomorphic, quality - as if he were recording a kind of companionship offered by trees when people had long since let him down. Painted with a rare immediacy, on whatever material came to hand (Dark Green Tree is on the side of an old carboard box) they confirm the arrival of one of the most distinctive Caribbean artists of the last 50 years.
Peter DoigPart 16
Last week’s sequence ended with Andrew Cranston, this week begins with Andy’s friend, and one-time teacher at the Royal College of Art, Peter Doig. In the summer of 2013, the National Galleries of Scotland staged a magnificent exhibition of Peter’s work and at the same time he was the 21st artist to make a work for the public billboard project on our (then) gallery building with a giant poster of drunk and disorderly figures, dancing and pissing on the side of the wall. It reminded many a passer-by, an audience that experienced our programme solely through the Billboard for Edinburgh, never actually crossing the gallery threshold, of the building’s previous life as the nocturnal landmark ‘The Venue’. Site of many a dodgy club night and deservedly forgotten gig, but also host to some of the great acts of the 80’s and 90s including Sonic Youth, the Stone Roses, Nico and Radiohead.
Peter was born in Edinburgh, and so of course we claim him as one of the great Scottish painters, despite the fact that his family left when he was one to live in Trinidad for six years, before moving Canada where he spent most of his childhood. In truth Scotland has had far less of a role in his life than the Caribbean, especially Trinidad where for the last 20 years he has had a home and studio, but nonetheless his exhibition that summer, appropriately titled No Foreign Lands, felt like the long awaited homecoming.
Andrew CranstonPart 15
We end week 3 with Andrew Cranston's tribute to the previous day's artist, Craigie Aitchison, a bit of anecdotal storytelling typical of Andy's pitch perfect, often autobiographical, musings on life and art. This being Friday we also release a new film made under lockdown, this week's having been made in Glasgow by Andy's son Lewis over the past couple of weeks. Thank you, Lewis.
"I think of Craigie Aitchison quite a bit, more than I probably should, him being a so-called minor artist. I mean I think of him more than Cezanne, more than Warhol. In fact I don’t think of Warhol at all. Maybe its because I met Craigie twice, both times somewhat tipsy with his bedlington terriers. I think of him in the shapes I see: islands, lone trees, bowls of fruit, dogs of course.
Arran was where Craigie’s spent much of his childhood and its shapes continued to haunt him all his life, especially Holy Isle which he could see from his house in Lamlash.
Since then holy isle had been bought by Samyé Ling Buddhist Community. Craigie distilled it down to a simple shape. It always makes me think of the Little Prince and the drawing of a snake swallowing an elephant.
Keep it rough. The edges of things, how they meet. Don’t tidy. Yellows and greys keep good company.
Painting is an act of remembering and forgetting, covering and uncovering, tracing and retracing, Getting lost and finding a way. Some how starting is a blank. A feeling of How do you do this again? And only by going through the motions can you get anywhere. Maybe us Painters are like dogs - Bedlington terriers even - routinely pissing on certain trees and lampposts, chasing sticks, growling at strangers, circling before we sit, digging to bury bones for later…creatures of habit."
- Andrew Cranston, 2019
Film: Andrew Cranston, Studio Sounds, April 2020. By Lewis Cranston
Craigie AitchisonPart 14
Continuing the trip down memory lane prompted by Howard Hodgkin’s appearance in the sequence we arrive at Craigie Aitchison’s magnificent Crucifixion from 1979, a painting that was the centrepiece of our exhibition of Craigie’s work in the summer 2003 and which now belongs to the National Galleries of Scotland.
Craigie was another very important figure in the very early days of the gallery – he took part in our opening exhibition in July 1998, alongside Ian Hamilton Finlay, Margaret Mellis and Callum Innes as one of a group of artists from Scotland whose reputations had been forged further afield, their work seldom seen on home soil.
Craigie was especially unconvinced by our arguments about why he should show his work in Edinburgh – his relationship with the place being one of unforgiving animosity forged by the deeply conservative circumstances of his childhood and what he still felt, half a century later, as the dismissal and disapproval of ‘Edinburgh folk’. The process of persuasion took a lot of afternoons at the wrong end of a vodka bottle before he agreed to take part in our first exhibition, but over the time we worked together, until his death in 2009, we were proud to play a small part in rehabilitating his relationship with the country of his birth
Howard HodgkinPart 13
The thread that links this painting by Howard Hodgkin, to that of Rose Wylie’s is memory. Both artists are known for an unmistakable and unflinching approach to an art which draws deeply from the corners of personal experience – mixing references to film, literature and art history with fragments of remembered situations, often only loosely tethered to the original memory, yet filled with the intimacy of emotional connection. In Howard’s case the emotive timbre ran at a permanently high pitch, and yet for all the joyousness of his palette, not to mention the occasionally upbeat title as appears here, his work was almost always touched by a kind of delicious melancholy.
Howard also looms very large on a personal level, in terms of our memory of the early days of the gallery. Before we had even opened the doors, and long before we had any sort of track record, we wrote to him to ask whether he would consider an exhibition at the gallery we were trying to open in Edinburgh. I came across his reply in our archive recently: “I like Edinburgh, and no one has ever asked me to make an exhibition there, so why not?” And so we showed his work at the 1998 Edinburgh Festival, our second exhibition, and one which gave us a level of instant credibility that we certainly didn’t deserve. We owe him a huge debt.
Rose WyliePart 12
The previous image of Louise Bourgeois’s Merci Mercy was made in 1992 when the artist was 81, a year noted as marking Bourgeois 'arrival' in the wider public consciousness (despite an already long and productive career) with her inclusion as the sole woman in the Guggenheim's inaugural SoHo show and the announcement that she would represent the USA at the Venice Biennale the following year. Today’s contribution is a monumental painting by Rose Wylie; another artist whose work has found acclaim and critical recognition later in life but who rightly wants to be known simply as a painter, rather than for either her age or sex. It is the paintings that matter most, and like Bourgeois she has spent a lifetime developing a deeply personal, drawing-based language that is instantly recognisable as her own, balancing a kind of anxious hesitancy and a casual certainty of mark making.
In this work, a sort of self-portrait as an ant-figure in evening dress, Wylie herself appears, dancing across a series of six hectically empty canvases. It is one of her biggest paintings to date, and typical of her large works in being marked by an unbridled energy and a joyfully direct visual language in which text and image jostle for position. As Clarrie Wallis has noted Wylie’s pictures “are painted with a kind of visual shorthand that is direct and legible. The ability to elicit a range of responses is made possible precisely because of her reduction of form to an essential vibrancy...”. *
* Clarrie Wallis, Rose Wylie (London, Lund Humphries, 2018, p.8)
Louise BourgeoisPart 11
Louise Bourgeois’s 1992 drypoint Merci. Mercy., seems, at a glance, an appropriate image for a world in which we are suddenly so aware of the need to give thanks to those who look after us... but this is Bourgeois working with a very different intention, bashing her message home mark by mark by hammering a nail into a thin copper plate. She appears here, as the 11th artist in this sequence (following Caroline Walker’s image of her mother) as one for whom maternity was a recurring theme. Pregnancy, the womb, birth and the breast were constants across her long career, with the balance between thanks and forgiveness always central to her thoughts of motherhood. As she said: "I want much more than thank you... I want forgiveness... I ask for mercy”.
At the same time, she struggled with the views of others, especially when her position as an artist of strength and determination led to her being ascribed a kind of heroic status - as she said in 1990, on the eve of her 80th birthday: “the feminists took me as a role model, as a mother. It bothers me. I am not interested in being a mother. I am still a girl trying to understand myself”.
We have included Bourgeois’ work in a number of exhibitions over the years, most recently as part of and per se and, a sequence of rolling pairings which celebrated the gallery’s 20th birthday in 2018, and in which her female Sainte Sébastienne, a kind of anxiety driven self-portrait, was matched with an anonymous 15th century altarpiece of the more typically male and punctured martyr.
This particular work, Merci. Mercy., is one that has a special resonance in our lives, having spent the last 15 years on the wall of our kitchen as a constant reminder of both its apparent message and the underlying message of its medium.
Caroline WalkerPart 10
The role of women in society, and specifically the undervalued labour of the historically invisible female, is a theme shared by the work of yesterday’s artist Ruth Ewan and today’s, the painter Caroline Walker. It is one that Caroline has explored in a number of recent series of paintings of women working in hotels, nail bars and anonymous offices. She works initially with photographs, often snapped covertly, through drawings and oil sketches into lustrous, light filled paintings. As the writer Marco Livingstone put it ‘much of the effectiveness of Walker's paintings arises from the fact that as a spectator one is simultaneously looking into other people’s lives and putting oneself in their place’. In other words, they offer a curious combination of intimate insight and a voyeuristic vantage point.
More recently still Caroline has turned this lens on a subject much closer to home to record her mother working in the house and garden where she grew up. Collectively these new paintings offer a deeply personal portrait of the love that lies behind images of mundane domesticity.
These paintings were scheduled to be shown this summer in the exhibition ‘Janet’ for the (now cancelled) Edinburgh Art Festival. We look forward to hosting this show later on in the year.
Today we release a new film made by Caroline in the studio viewable below.
Film: Caroline Walker in the Studio, Spring 2020
Ruth EwanPart 9
Like Anya Gallaccio, Ruth Ewan often creates art that leads to events as much as objects. There’s an almost theatrical engagement with people and communities, and, like Gallaccio, she is also not afraid to work with unconventional and often organic materials, although as she has said “I think most people underestimate how difficult it is to work with plants. They can’t be manipulated and controlled as easily as many people think – that’s one of the reasons I like them so much.”
In Back to the Fields (shown at Camden Arts Centre in 2015, the Sao Paulo Biennial in 2016 and most recently at CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux in 2019) she gathered all 360 of the trees, plants, minerals, bones and farming implements that are named in the Republican or Revolutionary calendar adopted by French government from 1793-1805, into an epic installation of growth and decay. Alongside the most recent showing Ruth widened the scope even further with a series of objects, each celebrating a different quality: virtue, talent, labour, conviction, honour and revolution. Conviction was represented by a series of hand-painted mirrors, such as would normally be found in a pub, channelling voices across time to call for social equality and justice. One of these, as appears here, is the voice of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790, and A Vindication of the Rights of Women written a year later 1791. Published against the tumultuous background of the French Revolution, A Vindication of the Rights of Women is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy and the first to argue for the rights of women to be equal to those of men. Incidentally, Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary (Frankenstein) Shelley) was married to the philosopher and anarchist William Godwin who was raised as a Sandemanian – the English annex of the Glasites, for whom our gallery was originally built as their principle Scottish meeting house.
Anya GallaccioPart 8
Transformation at the hands of nature and time provides the link between Jeff McMillan’s weather-infused paintings and Anya Gallaccio’s frequent use of organic or fugitive materials. The promise of decay is inherent in making work from roses, gerberas, oranges, and chocolate, not to mention the shifting states suggested by works in sand, salt chalk and ice. Time is an active ingredient in almost all of Anya’s projects: dictating the passage from the moment of a work’s creation to the inevitability of its decomposition or destruction. In this work from 2003 the process is arrested – held and trapped - between the panes of glass in a pair of doors which themselves offer the defunct promise of an entrance, or a means of passing from one state to another.
In 2012 Anya was the 16th artist to make a work for our public art project Billboard for Edinburgh – with a photograph from her on-going series of microscopic close-ups. This became a more complicated project than originally envisaged: her choice of subject was a fragment of dirt from ‘Arthur’s Seat’, the volcanic outcrop that dominates the Edinburgh skyline on the horizon behind the billboard site. In order for her to make this work she asked us to send samples of soil to her San Diego studio. These were consistently impounded by US customs, but on the third attempt an unmarked envelope of muddy contraband finally made it through.
Jeff McMillanPart 7
Susan Hiller’s quasi-scientific cataloguing of her own past through the relics of old paintings has a kind of connection to the recent work of Jeff McMillan. He describes his studio as 'a kind of laboratory; a place where process painting meets the natural processes of time and entropy'. The transformation so unambiguously conveyed by Hiller’s act of incineration, finds a more mellow counterpart in McMillan’s marshalling of time and the weather on the paintings which hang on the exterior walls of his studio in a small London yard that he describes as: 'having evolved into a sort of environmental installation for painting'.
It is a process of aging and curing, of seasoning, rather than deterioration; a balance of waiting and watching as frames stretched with old linen dipped in thinned oil paint are gradually altered by the weather over a period of 1-2 years. As Jeff puts it, '...sun, rain, mildew just become another part of the process. I bring them in when they intuitively feel right. Then I take them off the frames and iron and flatten them. Eventually they are like a new raw material to work with in the studio - some are framed behind glass, some I fold and dip again, or some, like this example, are folded and become sculptural'.
Susan Hillerpart 6
Katie Paterson’s A drawing made from the ashes of stars at the end of week 1 led this week to Susan Hiller’s sculpture made from the ashes of paintings. Hand Grenades, from 1972, is one of the earliest of her Relics series presenting the charred remains of her own previously-exhibited paintings in what she described as ‘quasi-scientific formats’. In the text that accompanies a related work she wrote: ‘Rather than announcing the death of painting, these works return painting to something nearer its performative functions in pre-Renaissance and indigenous cultures, where it acts as part of ritual’. Ideas around ritual and magic were ever-present themes in Hiller’s work, in 2011 she took part in our exhibition Mystics or Rationalists, a title borrowed from the first of Sol LeWitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art which stated 'Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach' a description that perfectly described Hiller’s contribution to the exhibition of photographs of hovering figures culled from the internet and presented under the collected titled Levitations: Homage to Yves Klein.
Katie PatersonPart 5
The theme of burning continues in this week’s final instalment of The Unseen Masterpiece; one of Katie Paterson’s silver Ideas – a series of unrealisable artworks, created, says the artist 'to exist in the imagination'. Except, with Paterson the line between what is and isn’t realisable is a fine one that causes constant surprise. Many of her projects seem unfeasible, for example: a candle that burns with the scent of a journey from earth into deep space, or a necklace of fossils spanning the history of the world from its first creation, and yet working with scientists and researchers, she consistently finds ways to bring an elegant simplicity to the most complex concepts. One of those that seemed least likely on paper, but which is fast becoming one of the century’s favourite examples of forward-thinking environmental art, is her 100-year project Future Library.
A newly commissioned film marking the first five years of the Future Library project was recently launched on-line by the National Galleries of Scotland, and the Future Library Trust, after the premature closure of Katie’s exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. This film (A Future Library : A century unfolds) is now available to watch on-line via the National Galleries of Scotland website and Katie's artist page. A new film made by Katie at home to round-up week 1 of The Unseen Masterpiece, is viewable below.
Film: Katie Paterson at Home, Spring 2020
Alexander & Susan MarisPart 4
Roger Ackling (whose work preceded this in the current sequence of THE UNSEEN MASTERPIECE) made a 50-year career by burning tiny marks onto the surface of objects with a magnifying glass. It was a form of creative, meditative transformation, staying still and channelling the energy of the sun. Alexander and Susan Maris’s act of burning The Truth in Painting was made in a different spirit, but with no less conceptual and reflective motivation. The artists took two copies of Jacques Derrida’s 1978 text to the wilds of Rannoch Moor– one of which they had read, one they hadn’t - and burned both, capturing the ashes and mixing them with acrylic medium to make pigment with which they painted two simple monochromes, in subtly different tones of grey. We exhibited these in 2009 alongside works by Francis Alys, Callum Innes and Cornelia Parker in an exhibition that took its title from Alys’s work Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing: an exhibition about creative destruction and transformation. The writer Colm Toibin encountered them on our booth at Frieze art fair in London that same year and later described them in a very engaging blog about the mysteries of conceptual art for the London Review of Books, a link to which can be found here.
Richard LongPart 2
Richard Long’s Circle in Alaska follows the geographical direction suggested by Marine Hugonnier’s Towards Tomorrow and depicts a driftwood circle on the Arctic Circle, in the north west of Alaska, looking across the Bering Strait to Russia. It dates from 1977, a journey typical of Long’s reaching towards the remote edges of the world, on this occasion in the company of his friend and fellow artist Hamish Fulton.
The first work of Richard’s that we showed in Edinburgh was a circle of Dartmoor granite, in an exhibition titled Land in 2001, at a time when the gallery was on the ground floor of the Georgian townhouse. When the two weighty crates arrived, they had to be unloaded on the street, for fear of crashing through the gallery floor, each piece of wrapped stone carefully carried by technicians through the front door and into the gallery. Simultaneously, we were renovating the basement, demolishing an internal wall, which involved the team of builders carrying lumps of Edinburgh sandstone up the steps and into a skip on the street, next to which the crates were sitting. It was as if the building had become some kind of machine for transforming stone. Three years later we showed Richard’s work again in the exhibition From Here to Eternity – a 5m line this time – and expecting a work of similar weight and scale we sent a full crew of art handlers to collect the work in their largest vehicle. They were handed a small package, about the size of a shoe box, containing tiny sticks of willow. Richard’s great friend Roger Ackling renamed the exhibition Vermeer to Eternity.
Marine HugonnierPart 1
The sequence began where we left off - with Marine Hugonnier, the artist whose exhibition closed prematurely at the gallery in Edinburgh a few weeks ago. That presentation showcased her most recent Travel Posters, but for The Unseen Masterpiece we delve into her archive for a note of unbridled optimism in a previously unpublished photograph from 2001 which (like all photographs) captures a fragment of the past, whilst simultaneously offering a quite literal glimpse of the future – Towards Tomorrow – an image photographed across 53 miles of the Bering Strait, over the international date line, to a place where it is always tomorrow.
The exhibition that had to close early was our first solo show of Marine’s work, although her relationship with the gallery goes back to 2007 when she took part in our year-long sequence Eight Days, and in the summer of 2013 she became the 20th artist to make a work for the public art project Billboard for Edinburgh that ran on the outside of our building from 2008-2016.
CURRENT EXHIBITION: THE UNSEEN MASTERPIECE