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.
Craig Murray-OrrPart 70
And so, we reach part 70, the end of week 14, and, for now at least, the moment to stop this sequence of The Unseen Masterpiece. We said at the outset that we would host this (non) exhibition on Instagram and our website until the gallery itself was able to re-open, but of course we had no idea that we ‘d still be at it over 100 days later. However, I’m glad to say that we are now preparing the building to welcome visitors, by appointment, from the start of next month, and so this will be the final post.
Where better to end than with the work of our old friend Craig Murray-Orr? An artist we have known almost as long as any other, a friendship that pre-dates the existence of our gallery, and whose work we first showed back in 1998. Yesterday’s description of Lilian Tomasko’s work as hovering on the edge of abstraction, but steeped in memory and personal meaning, could equally be applied to the tiny paintings on panel that Craig has been making for many years. They appear to be landscapes, and feel like they come from somewhere, but the landscape itself is simply a vehicle for the artist’s depiction of an emotional and mental state. They are tiny poems.
Back in 2015, interviewed for a book about his work, Craig was asked to describe what these paintings are about: “Feelings. Emotions. Colour, tone and marks. I’m not trying to tell anyone anything. They are not demonstrative. But hopefully they are powerful. They are explanations to myself really, and to no-one else, but when they work, they hopefully have meaning for other people because I’m not so different from everybody else”.
As always, being a Friday, the week is rounded off with a short film about the artist’s life over recent weeks. Today’s was made at home in Dartmouth Park, London by Dana Purvis. Thank you, Dana, thank you, Craig, and thank you to everyone who has followed this sequence over the past few months. Above all, thank you to all 70 of the artists whose work has featured, and who collectively make up a history of our gallery over the past 22 years.
Craig Murray-OrrUntitled XXI, 2019oil on board13.8 x 20.3 cm / 5 3/8 x 8 in
47 x 53.3 cm / 18 1/2 x 21 in (framed)
Craig Murray-OrrUntitled XIX, 2017oil on board13.8 x 20.3 cm / 5 3/8 x 8 in
47 x 53.3 cm / 18 1/2 x 21 in (framed)
Craig Murray-OrrUntitled XXII, 2018oil on board13.8 x 20.3 cm / 5 3/8 x 8 in
47 x 53.3 cm / 18 1/2 x 21 in (framed)
Craig Murray-Orr at his London Studio, July 2020
Liliane Tomaskopart 69
Following Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta in the preceding part of the sequence, we come to a painting by Liliane Tomasko. Like so many of the artists who have appeared in The Unseen Masterpiece over the last 14 weeks, and many more who haven’t, Liliane Tomasko holds the work of Morandi in very high regard. It is precisely because his paintings ought to be so boring, that they are so fascinating to other artists - he brought a kind of alchemy to the most basic ingredients – he was a magician.
Liliane’s painting is not named for Morandi, but like all of her work it owes something to a Morandi-esque memory of ordinary things. Her earlier works focused on the quiet corners of domestic experience – a tumble of sheets, a pile of blankets, the shadows and corners – as she described it: “…I felt there was so much around us that was quietly interesting and calling to be looked at.” Over time her work edged ever further away from its figurative origins, working from memory she gradually allowed the edges of things to blur into a kind of softness that has since evolved into the fluid and expressive abstraction that you see here. It is a transformation that takes her closer perhaps to the spirit of De Kooning than Morandi, and yet somehow her frame of reference is still deeply connected to the tangible world.
Liliane took part in our linked series of artist pairings and per se and in 2018 between Sean Scully, who has called her “the painter of the lost and the left. The painter of memories” and Howard Hodgkin, who appeared as part 13 of this sequence. Like Howard, Liliane’s language of apparent abstraction is steeped in memory and personal meaning, and rooted in reality. Her work is a fusion of sharing and withholding: with the painting as a public expression of private inspiration.
Giorgio MorandiPart 68
Resistance and Persistence, the 2016 exhibition that originally included yesterday’s work by Rachel Whiteread, borrowed its title from an essay by Sean Scully on the work of the inimitable Italian modernist Giorgio Morandi. Today’s work, one of half a dozen by Morandi that were included in that show, hung alongside Rachel’s shelf sculpture Step. It was a co-incidental, and almost too perfect, pairing – as if Rachel had somehow deconstructed the Morandi and turned it into a series of ambiguous forms.
We borrowed the Morandi from the collection of the great literary philanthropist Drue Heinz, who despite being 101 at the time did us the honour of a visit. Her painting hadn’t been seen in public since she acquired it in 1959, and looking at it, next to Rachel’s shelf, she claimed to be seeing it properly for the first time. Smiling, she looked at the two works, and said “it’s as if I’m banging my head between two ideas”.
Morandi worked in semi-monastic isolation in Bologna in the middle years of the 20th century, painting the same sets of jugs and vessels over and over again.
He is a contradictory artist: deliberately understated yet deeply engaging; always small of scale and yet somehow heroic. Thanks to the generosity of a number of collectors we have been able to include his work in several exhibitions over the years. One of our favourites was the 2017 pairing with A Lot of Sorrow a film and audio work by Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson. It documents in real time a performance in which he asked the American rock band The National to play their song Sorrow repeatedly for six hours straight. It is a masterpiece of endurance art which turned out to share an unmistakable connection of spirit with the Morandi painting – in a sense (at least on paper) the ingredients of a Morandi painting and Ragnar’s film should be rather dull, but in reality they are melancholic and hypnotic masterpieces.
RACHEL WHITEREADpart 67
Following one artist whose work concerns the space occupied by everyday things (in Antony Gormley’s case that space most usually being the extent of his own body) to another sculptor whose work over the last 30 years has been constantly engaged with ideas of mass and volume, and the physical presence of ordinary objects.
Rachel Whiteread’s casting of the forgotten spaces that lie inside, between, and beneath things transforms what is usually invisible into tangible forms in plaster, rubber, concrete and resin. Implicit in this process is a sense of the stories that these objects have to tell, the traces of their now anonymous lives. Nowhere was this ghostly memorialising more poignantly expressed than her 1993 project House, a concrete cast of a Victorian terrace house in London's East End. By turning the world inside out through her casting process, Whiteread's subjects are at once familiar and strange, both unnervingly intimate and quietly neutral.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Rachel a few times, including in our 8 Days series of ‘pairings’ in 2007 in which she nominated her own chair-based work Cushion and asked us to find an interesting table, with a personal history, to show alongside. Thanks to a friend whose collection goes in a number of amazing if eccentric directions we were able to borrow the breakfast table of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. It was a peculiar but very satisfying combination.
Like yesterday’s artist Antony Gormley, Rachel also contributed to our public art project Billboard for Edinburgh, and more recently we showed a group of sculptures (including the work illustrated here) alongside work by Sean Scully, Edmund de Waal, Cy Twombly and Giorgio Morandi, in our 2016 exhibition Resistance and Persistence.
ANTONY GORMLEYPart 66
The hidden potential of everyday things as both the subject and material of making art is central to the sculpture of Iran do Espirito Santo, whose work ended last week’s sequence. It is not perhaps the first thing that one associates with the work of today’s artist Antony Gormley, but then again, what could be more ordinary and available than the artist’s own body? For four decades Gormley has explored the world through the physical space occupied by his own form, cast innumerable times in myriad positions, and installed in countless locations around the world.
The standing, crouching, leaning figure of the artist is one of the 21tst century art world’s most recognisable shapes, but back in the early 1980s he was more likely to be chewing his form out of slices of bread than casting it in iron. Today’s work belongs to this less monumental moment, which feels an appropriate place to start this final week of The Unseen Masterpiece. Antony was the one of the very first artists to respond to our invitation to take part in this sequence, when we started thinking about it at the very start of lockdown, responding immediately with something genuinely ‘unseen’. As he put it “Herewith an idea that could not be called a masterpiece, but nevertheless deals with the subject of collapse that has concerned me all my working life.”
Journey was made from his rubber work boots, peeled back and unravelled in layers. We are very pleased to publish it here for the first time.
Iran do Espírito SantoPart 65
Following Andrew Miller’s Brancusi-esque totem in part 64 of The Unseen Masterpiece, we end our penultimate week with the work of another sculptor for whom the debate between form and function has special relevance as he discovers the hidden beauty of ordinary things.
Like Andrew Miller’s stacks of lamp shades, Iran do Espírito Santo’s ‘Bulb’ has its starting point in the world of electric light, but ends up in a very different place. For Iran, shifts of material and scale uncover new properties in the commonplace, subverting an apparently Minimalist tradition with sculptures of everyday objects made strange by their disorientating size and incongruous material. In making these works Iran strips away all extraneous detail to reveal a paradox that lives at the centre of his work, simultaneously getting to an essential truth about the form of an object whilst removing it completely from any connection to its apparent function.
We have worked with Iran since he took part in our exhibition ‘Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing’ in 2009. Our exhibition of his work for the 2010 Edinburgh Art Festival was his first solo exhibition in the UK and remains one of our favourite exhibitions. For nearly a month Iran and his team made exquisite wall drawings in paint and graphite transforming the entire gallery through subtle gradations of tone from white to black in a hypnotic repetition of ever-shifting greys. It was initially intended as a backdrop to his sculpture, but having finished the wall paintings it looked so spectacular we decided to leave the space empty.
Iran do Espírito Santo in the studio, São Paulo, Brazil
ANDREW MILLERPart 65
The elevation of the ordinary, so apparent in Sue Collis’s work of yesterday’s entry, is an instinct shared by today’s artist Andrew Miller. Andy is a Glasgow-based artist whose work frequently involves salvaging discarded, everyday objects, re-inventing them in order to question the way objects are valued and used. He is interested in the ambiguity that sometimes sits between notions of form and function – and nowhere is his delight in rescuing the redundant more evident than in the series of totemic lampshade sculptures that he has made in recent years.
The image here shows three works at the Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art for the first Yinchuan Biennale in 2016, titled Maybelle, Carole Anne and Mary Beth. We showed their cousin Barbara Anne’ in our first exhibition of Andy’s work in 2012, and he has since made them for sites as far flung as Dallas and Beijing. The geography of this is interesting – especially in relation to their carefully chosen names which seem to have something to do with the Midwest, despite their very British sensibility. There is something of all our grandmothers in these works, mixed perhaps with a little Brancusi, and in order to make them Andy spends months emptying the charity shops of Glasgow and Edinburgh of any and every available shade. Each contains and suggests a forgotten story, the fragments re-assembled and the story re-written within the new work. They are at once funny, poignant and despite their towering forms, strangely human.
Susan CollisPart 63
Following Ryan Gander’s stack of fictitious ‘A’ level papers for the future in yesterday’s sequence, we arrive today at a very different piece of paper in Sue Collis’s Twice the Man – a sheet of crumpled A4, exquisitely patinated in platinum leaf. It is a typical Sue Collis gesture – to spend hours labouring over something that ends up looking like it is ready to be thrown away – simultaneously precious and apparently worthless.
Sue enjoys drawing attention to the overlooked aspects of life, however modest, indeed often it seems the more modest the better. She uses precious metals, gemstones, silk, cashmere and rare woods and long, long hours of highly skilled craftsmanship to make trompe l’oeil imitations of rubbish and scrap. As she says: “I guess my guiding principle is to get to a balance between something that is very lovely or very ordinary and then the absolute opposite of that”.
Sue made the first exhibition in our street level gallery at Calton Road, when we opened the space there in 2008. The building was converted from a former nightclub in an old warehouse and had been a construction site for most of the preceding year. Sue’s installation included the apparent detritus of a building project – although closer scrutiny revealed that the screws 'left' in the walls were made of solid gold, their rawl plugs of precious turquoise and coral; splatters on the battered broom in the corner had in fact been set with opals and diamonds, and the white paint spilled on the new wooden floorboards was actually inlaid mother of pearl. The real builders unwittingly spent a few hours trying to wipe them off and half of our early visitors passed by assuming that we hadn’t yet finished installing.
Sue has since contributed to a number of exhibitions at the gallery including the and per se and series alongside Richard Forster and Ben Cauchi in the summer of 2017. A few months later her major outdoor commission The Next Big Thing in a Series of Little Things was unveiled by the University of Edinburgh – a kind of giant version of our paint spattered floor in inlaid bronze across the expanse of Bristo Square in the centre of the city.
RYAN GANDERPart 62
From one passionate advocate of art education to another…. Yesterday’s artist Bob & Roberta Smith is a seasoned cultural campaigner whose lockdown instagram has posted a daily ‘art task’ alongside regular footage of Bob in his new shirt emblazoned with the legend ART IS YOUR HUMAN RIGHT.
Today’s artist, Ryan Gander, is equally committed to the cause. A couple of months ago, as lockdown took hold, he sent out an instagram message offering ‘free tutorials’ for final year BA and MA students to discuss their work via email. The response was so overwhelming that he had to enlist the help of other artist friends including Ahmet Ögüt to fulfil the demand. It’s a fantastic gesture of generosity that fits the times.
Today’s entry is a new work made by Ryan over the past weeks which turns the formalities of educational assessment inside out. Ryan’s I can not yet even describe it to myself, takes the form of a stack of ‘A’ Level Art and Design exam papers for the year 2027 written, as he puts it “from the perspective that the world is populated by artists that understand, and are honest about, their own impetus for making artworks”. It’s a wry (and occasionally biting) satire on the fallacy of pursuing success for its own sake.
Ryan was the fourteenth artist to make a work for our Billboard for Edinburgh project, in the autumn of 2011.
BOB AND ROBERTA SMITHPart 61
Last week’s sequence ended with Peter Liversidge whose work in recent years has sometimes tended towards the political - often collaboratively so. Works such as Notes on Protesting enacted with schoolchildren in London and Stockholm, or the sign and placard painting workshops that he has run across the country, exist somewhere between performance art and community activism. His approach with these projects is usually rooted in the small scale, the local, the personal - the things which perhaps we can do something about - rather than in the politics of a wider stage.
This provides us with the link to today’s work by the master of the slightly wonky text painting – the artist known as Bob & Roberta Smith. For more than twenty years Bob has engaged in collaborative projects to open people’s eyes to the absurdities and injustices of everyday life. His painted statements are often humorous, sometimes satirical and occasionally sincere - mixing moments of Utopian optimism with something more doubtful, but they always come back to an honest belief in the potential of art as an agent of change, and the vital importance of art in education.
Unlike Peter, Bob has embraced a more overtly political position, a direction of travel which culminated in his founding the Art Party and standing against former education secretary Michael Gove in the 2015 general Election under the slogan All Schools Should be Art Schools.
In 2009 he was the third artist to contribute to our public art project Billboard for Edinburgh with his campaigning The Climate Needs U - Bring Back the Edinburgh Tram, a prophesy which finally came true five years later.
Peter LiversidgePart 60
Well it was about time for an easy link… as we reach the end of week 12, the 60th entry in The Unseen Masterpiece, we move from Andrew Grassie’s painting of Peter Liversidge’s work in a framing workshop, to the work of Peter himself.
We’ve worked with Peter since the summer of 2006 when we invited him to make an offsite work in Edinburgh during the city’s annual arts festival. Some weeks later a letter arrived: a proposal… "I propose to walk people’s dogs”, the next day another “I propose to run a dentist from the gallery to provide free dental care for the festival goer”. And so on, day after day, until 105 proposals later we realised that this was the work: Festival Proposals – and what became the first of many volumes that have appeared in the years since; books of typewritten proposals for artworks and performances that document Peter’s unique way of working with galleries and institutions as diverse as the Tate Gallery, the Whitechapel, Bonniers Konsthall, and most recently the British Antarctic Survey.
The work shown here belongs to an ongoing group of photographs taken by Peter under the title Photographs taken whilst Walking’ in this case through the Barcelona Zoo when Peter was in the city for his exhibition at Santarcangelo. When he came to print it he wanted the image to be life size, but not generically life size – specifically so – to the actual bear, and so he persuaded the curators at the gallery to ask the zoo-keepers to measure the bear… which they did.
Being a Friday, we end the week with new film by Peter exploring another avenue of his work - the ‘postal objects’ that he has been sending through the mail for the last 20 years. As with the typed proposals not everything sent reaches its destination (the 105 proposals that we received back in 2006, were three short of the 108 that he wrote and sent) the others are still out there somewhere. As he says at the end of the film “where do they go?
Peter Liversidge, Postal Objects, July 2020
Andrew GrassiePart 59
The photocopy-realism of Richard Forster’s drawings in yesterday’s sequence leads today to the photo-realistic tempera paintings of Andrew Grassie. Despite the visual trickery that photo-realism might suggest, Andrew’s paintings have a spirit of hushed modesty about them. It comes from an intimacy born of their tiny scale, mixed with a kind of intentional blankness, and a refusal to be drawn into any opinion about what is depicted. And yet his choice of subject is very deliberate, often showing us behind the scenes at the museum – the process of installation, or storage, or in this case a framer’s workshop. His works memorialise the bits of the artworld we aren’t supposed to see or think too much about, and in so doing there is something surreptitious, almost subversive, about them.
They are concentrated paintings, in every sense, and can be discombobulating. We exhibited Andrew’s work in ‘8 days’ (our 2017 series of artist pairings) in which he elected to show alongside a wall painting by Daniel Buren – which we had to install twice – once 3 months in advance so that Andrew could document the room prior to making his painting of it, and once for the pairing itself in which the Buren re-appeared alongside Andrew’s painting of the Buren in the room. It was a very strange experience with a sense that the viewer could almost step inside the tiny painting, or that the picture itself had stepped out into the room.
Given the speciality that Andrew has made of glorifying the artworld’s unseen backrooms he was able to suggest numerous possibilities for an appropriate work in this sequence, but in the end, we went with this one – an image of one of our favourite framers. It depicts one of the occasional exhibitions that Mark Darbyshire hosts in his Islington workshop of work by artists that he has supported, in this case our friend Peter Liversidge.
Richard ForsterPart 58
It’s all about drawing this week… from Charles Avery’s precision pencilwork and fluid ink washes in yesterday’s entry, to Richard Forster’s meticulous use of graphite today. Richard’s is a documentary approach, choosing his subjects from photographs rather than from life - images found in magazines, books, or on the internet, or occasionally his own snaps. At a glance his choice of subject can seem quite diverse, encompassing glamour-girl nudes of the 1920s tastefully depicted in pastoral settings, to seascapes from the coast near his birthplace in the north of England, and the meeting points of architecture and social change.
They are brought together by his extraordinary, painstaking, almost compulsive approach - and by an underlying interest in measuring both his experience of the world, and something about himself through long hours spent at the drawing board. It is a slow and intimate process, a kind ‘photocopy-realism’ as he has described it, setting the elusive experience of an instant caught on film against the slow time of the drawing’s making and in so doing forcing the viewer to slow down the process of looking.
Richard is especially drawn to the socio-political history of the former DDR – the building of the Bauhaus (and spread of its influence westward) and the more recent phenomenon of ‘ostalgie’ – a kind of nostalgia for aspects of life under Communism in former Eastern Europe. The image featured here depicts the moment in September 1961 when Frieda Schultze, a 77-year old grandmother living in a building in the border between East and West Berlin escaped from her first-floor window into the arms of West German soldiers on Bernauer Strasse.
We’ve worked with Richard since 2007 and have made several exhibitions together, including ‘Modern’ in 2014 which subsequently toured to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
Charles AveryPart 57
Following Alex Gorlizki’s multi-disciplinary straddling of Jaipur and Brooklyn, we arrive today at the work of another artist whose inspiration seems born of a strange hybrid of cultures. Charles Avery’s The Islanders is an epic project of visual, intellectual and philosophical invention – an immersive fictional world which draws on the artist’s experience of the Scottish Hebrides, the back streets of Rome and the east end of London.
The backbone of the project are the artist’s drawings, often large in scale and focusing on every conceivable detail of island life, both human, botanical, zoological, geographical and architectural. For the past 20 years these drawings have gently pushed the narrative forward, weaving a storyline that seems to function in parallel to our own universe, populated by people and things that are at once both familiar and a little strange.
I confess that when we first met Charles over 20 years ago and he told us that he was planning to devote the rest of his life to this all-consuming single project, we thought he was a bit mad and looked the other way. More fool us. But though we arrived late on the Island’s shore, it has been one of the great pleasures of the last 6 years of the gallery to be involved in its ongoing story, staging The People and Things of Onomatopoeia, for the Edinburgh Art Festival in the Summer of 2015 and last year’s Gates of Onomatopoeia’ which included a giant, mathematically-inspired tree standing nearly 6 metres tall in the centre of the gallery.
ALEXANDER GORLIZKIPart 56
The idea of the artist’s studio as a physical manifestation of the artist’s brain, as revealed so beautifully in Ben Stockley’s film portrait of David Austen last Friday, brings to mind another artist who favours a collage-like approach to making work across many mediums. Like David, Alex Gorlizki gathers ideas across, sculpture, film, painting, and textiles – but always returns to the exquisite works on paper that form the bedrock of his practice.
Alex’s studio in Brooklyn is another treasure trove of discovery, a bizarre bazaar of accumulated wonders, where his own works mix with collections of objects and drawings from around the world, and in particular from Jaipur where, 20 years ago, he established a workshop with the master miniature painter Riyaz Uddin. Ever since he has continued to develop a new language that finds fertile ground in the diversity of contradictory cultures.
The walls of his studio are covered in cork boards which gather hundreds of drawings and fragments, both ancient and modern, pinned and interleaved and covering the breadth of Alex’s interests from Tantric cosmology, ornamental topiary, popular culture, minimal abstraction and biomorphic symbolism to the shapes and sizes of plumbing parts. Back in 2017 Alex allowed us to transplant one of these mind-scrambling, sensory feasts to the gallery - an image of which appears here as part 56 of The Unseen Masterpiece
And so, we reach the end of week 11 of The Unseen Masterpiece – how did that happen? - and Alec Finlay’s William Blake inspired ladders lead to David Austen’s paintings of stars. As with both Finlay and Blake, the linking of word and image is a constant through David’s richly dense and diverse body of work. This is often as true of the works themselves (many of which feature fragments of text) as it is of their original inspiration, culled from the artist’s deep knowledge of literature, film and art history.
It’s knowledge that David also sometimes brings to the world of curating – most recently in collaboration with George Shaw and Jonathan Watkins in Aerodrome for Birmingham’s IKON gallery, a wonderful tribute to the life of their friend Mike Stanley involving many of Mike’s artist friends, including David himself, and Alec Finlay.
There’s a collage-like approach to David’s curating – and to some extent to his way of thinking and making work – collecting and connecting elements that might first seem disparate, but which come together to make sense of the greater whole. It’s a methodology that finds physical form in his London studio – an Aladdin’s cave of art and literature that feels a little bit like stepping into the artist’s brain. To end week 11 of The Unseen Masterpiece we are delighted to share LONDON DREAMS, a new film portrait of David in his studio which he describes here:
I was returning to the studio after eight weeks away
It felt strange, like entering a dark tomb
The shutters opened and let the light in
Who is this person who made these odd works, these sheaves of drawings and watercolours
And read all these piles of books?
I was nervous of making anything or continuing the half-finished works on the
walls that now seemed frozen in time, as if by another’s hand.
I asked my friend, the photographer Ben Stockley whose studio is just above
mine in Bow, if he would like to make a little film.
Ben likes photographing artist's studios and has often done so in mine. He
especially loves the fall and play of light, the jetsam and flotsam of images
and objects that accumulate in an artist’s studio.
We felt it would be interesting to make a fictional story, recreating a return to
the studio but almost as if in a dream or half remembered thing.
In a way I became an actor, though the role is myself, in a just passed
moment in time.
London Dreams is a film by Ben Stockley / Director of Photography Tom Turley / Music Composed by Sylvain Chauveau Performed by Melaine Dalibert / Editor Angus Berryman Colourist Dave Ludlam JamVFX
Film: David Austen - London Dreams, June 2020
Alec FinlayAlec Finlay
Following yesterday’s fallen star by Ceal Floyer we arrive today at Alec’s Finlay’s sky-reaching installation for Jupiter Artland A Variety of Cultures. If Ceal’s work channels the poetic potential of ordinary things, Alec Finlay’s embraces poetry itself as an inherent part of everyday life. Which makes sense, as he is first and foremost a poet, as indeed was his father Ian Hamilton Finlay whose work appeared as part 40 of this sequence.
This work in particular owes something to another artist/poet - the 18th century visionary William Blake - whose tiny engraving of a ladder stretching to the moon (I want I want’) has inspired so many artists down the years with its sense of deep yearning for the things that lie beyond reach. Like Blake, words and images are almost always linked for Finlay - shifting between observation of what our eyes tell us to be true and we see in our hearts and minds. In this case we are faced with an orchard of native fruit trees, “an essay in eco-poetics”, as Alec describes “to grow season by season, gradually transforming ladders with fruit trees into fruit trees with apples”. As such it is work that seems intensely hopeful – a vision for the future – which won’t be fully realised for another 20 years. It’s the kind of optimistic commitment to future generations that has become part of the message at Robert and Nicky Wilson’s Jupiter Artland, and which feels more necessary now than ever. We are lucky to have them in Scotland.
This week Alec was announced as one a recipient of the 2020 Cholmondeley Awards for poetic achievement. Congratulations Alec.
Photography: Hannah Devereux
Ceal FloyerCEAL FLOYER
There’s a very obvious link between yesterday’s work by Anna Barriball and Ceal Floyer’s today, and in that both works use the (now rather old fashioned) technology of a 35mm slide projector, but there are other threads that connect their work, not least a powerful sense of the poetic potential of ordinary things.
There’s a clarity to Ceal’s delivery of concise, often humorous ideas that can make them seem deceptively simple in that they are never quite what they seem, yet never pretend to be anything else. This work, Fallen Star (2018), is typical of this deceptive precision - a slide projector projects a solitary star on to the gallery’s ceiling, from where a mirror sends it falling back on to the floor, as if genuinely fallen. It began with the niggle of a Perry Como tune but ends up a long way from the sentimentality that this might imply – the star resolutely unpick-up-able for a rainy day or any other.
We first showed Ceal’s work as part of our series of artist pairings in 2007 in which a simple fluorescent light sculpture by Dan Flavin was joined by her Door - an illusionistic strip of brilliant white light projected onto a closed door so the light seems to flood from beneath, offering the possibility of a world beyond. In 2011 her contribution to the exhibition Mystics & Rationalists also looked to the threshold of a world beyond – by placing a ready-made WELCOME doormat at the gallery door, but at the point of exit rather than entrance.
Anna BarriballAnna Barriball
Marcel Broodthaer’s delight in found objects, not to mention dissolving images (as featured in yesterday’s entry) brings us today to the work of Anna Barriball. This image of a seemingly melting tree from 2006 was first shown in our exhibition of Anna’s work that same year and belongs to a body of work made using photographs and slides found in street markets. With the photographs Anna’s touch is always light and sometimes even humorous: blowing a bubble of ink across the surface or obscuring images of buildings behind white framer’s mount board with a ‘window mount’ cut through the board to reveal the positions of the windows.
This series of works made with ‘found’ slides have the lightest touch of all. In contrast to the artist’s often labour-intensive graphite rubbings, drawings and sculptures, these works exist without her physical involvement. They are elevated to art objects on the basis of their imperfections, but otherwise appear unchanged. The original images are blown out or corrupted almost beyond recognition, but not quite – there’s a blurring of certainty that suggests the shifting forms and textures of an alternative reality. As Anna once said (speaking about another work, but the sentiment applies equally here) “I wanted to create an awareness of looking, a moment of recognition that goes beyond the literal”.
Marcel BroodthaersMarcel Broodthaers
Last week’s sequence of The Unseen Masterpiece ended with Jonathan Owen’s reductive processes of carving in two and three dimensions, which brings us to another artist for whom the processes of erasure and alteration have creative potential. Marcel Broodthaers was a poet who turned to the visual arts aged 40 and whose short but influential career lasted just 12 years until his death in 1976. The playfulness which marks much of his work is nowhere more evident than in the short film La Pluie (Projet pour un texte) from 1969 in which the artist attempts to write in the pouring rain (actually a watering can concealed just outside the frame) the ink of his words washed away before they can fix to the paper. It’s funny, but also a melancholic reflection on the poet’s struggle.
There’s a link here to another of his works from the same year – Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’(A throw of the dice will never abolish chance) 1969, in which the carefully arranged words of Mallarmé’s poem of the same title are blocked out by solid bars, turning the verbal into the purely visual, and (inevitably) recalling Mallarmé’s remark that the perfect poem would be a blank page.
Broodthaers’ use of the found object, in this case a poem on the page, brings to mind something of the ‘eraser drawings’ that Jonathan Owen makes on the pages of old books of photographs. And as with Owen, the borrowing of a found object sometimes involved the appropriation of another artwork. One in particular, a thrift shop painting of Marshal Pétain with a cigar stuck through the mouth (Le Général mort fume un cigare éteint - the dead general smokes an extinguished cigar) suggests itself as a spiritual forerunner to Owen’s re-carving of ‘found’ marble busts of once powerful men.
We showed La Pluie (Projet pour un texte) alongside work by Cornelia Parker in our year long series of artist pairings 8 Days’ in 2008. We are grateful to the estate of Marcel Broodthaers for permission to reproduce a still from the film here.
Cornelia Parker’s description of her work ‘Breathless’ as “silently sounding the last gasp of the British Empire” brings us neatly to Jonathan Owen’s questioning of ideas of permanence and power – the attributes so often associated with the 18th and 19th century marble sculptures that are his favoured raw material.
Like Cornelia he uses ‘found’ objects as a sculptural starting point and enjoys the inherent history of the original object. It offers a way of working that seems especially relevant in the present moment when the conversation around public monuments is being so vigorously re-phrased and reassessed. As Jon says in the short film published today to mark part 50 of ‘the Unseen Masterpiece’ of the sculpture he has been working on most recently - “it was an object made to project a fixed, singular world view. My intervention is an attempt to subvert and puncture this familiar defunct rhetoric, to re-activate the object through transformation rather than destruction, to make a new proposition”.
This film documents the carving that was underway in his Edinburgh workshop before lockdown began and also introduces a new group of ‘eraser drawings’ that he has been working on at home over the past few months. Like his sculptures, this is essentially a reductive process, a kind of two-dimensional carving of old photos from books - working backwards from blacks through greys to white, gradually removing ink from the surface of the page. The first of these, made some years ago, concentrated on removing sculptures from their plinths, but his most recent series have focussed on images from the history of cinema, erasing the foreground figures of Hollywood stars, and reshaping them into inanimate details of the scenes they once inhabited.
We’ve worked with Jon for many years and are looking forward to an exhibition of his newest works next year.
Jonathan Owen in the studio, June 2020
Cornelia Parkerpart 49
Thomas A. Clark’s vinyl text of John Constable’s signature, in yesterday’s sequence, is in effect an invitation for anyone to turn a window with a sky view into a ‘found’ Constable cloud study. Today’s image is a found cloud of a different sort – a photograph of shafts of light falling from a Cloudburst found on the rusted metal side of an old bomb disposal vessel in the courtyard of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem.
The ‘found’ image or object has been critical to Cornelia Parker’s body of work that frequently exploits the potential of an object’s inherent history, subverting its meaning by changing its physical properties. Most famously this has seen her crushing silver trophies and tureens with a steamroller and (in Breathless her permanent commission in the V&A) using the hydraulic lifting systems of Tower Bridge to flatten a circle of trombones and trumpets in what becomes a squashed brass band. As Cornelia puts it “One Victorian Institution has literally knocked the wind out of another… From below, the tarnished underbellies of the instruments become black cartoons of their former selves, silhouetted against the white ceiling. The loss of one dimension adds another. A working-class fanfare in the guise of a heraldic ceiling rose, silently sounding the last gasp of the British Empire.”
We’ve been very glad to host Cornelia’s work a number of times since first showing Alter Ego (a coffee pot and it’s crushed ‘shadow’) in the exhibition ‘Thread’ in 2006. We paired her work with Marcel Broodthaers in 8 Days in 2007 and included work in the exhibitions ‘Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing’ in 2009 and ‘Mystics and Rationalists’ in 2011. That year she was the 13th artist to make a work for our public art project Billboard for Edinburgh.
THOMAS A. CLARKPart 48
Following yesterday’s appropriation of Boetti’s Mappus by Jonathan Monk, the link today is to another form of artistic appropriation by the poet and artist Thomas A. Clark. His borrowing of John Constable’s signature is both more and less directly drawn from Constable’s original than Monk’s map is from Boetti’s. On one hand it involves the most obvious appropriation of all, a direct copy of the artist’s signature, but on the other hand Tom’s use of it serves to expand the poetic reach of Constable’s famous cloud studies in the most generous way imaginable. His use of a carefully placed vinyl facsimile signature invites our participation in a process of everyday poetic transformation, with a set of simple instructions: “Place the signature at the right-hand bottom edge of a window that looks out at the sky”.
As Tom says, “while it is, of course, a homage to Constable, it is also a small encouragement to look at the sky, so part of my general poetics of attention, particularly to the natural world”.
The poetics of attention, as he calls it, has been the quiet motivation for a wide and wonderful body of work over the past five decades, often made in collaboration with his partner Laurie Clark with whom he established Moschatel Press in 1973. Together they run Cairn Gallery, formerly of Nailsworth, Gloucestershire and since their return to Scotland in 2002 based in the fishing village of Pittenweem in Fife. We’ve done a number of projects together over the years including (and there’s another link here to yesterday’s map) The Hidden Place a wall painting and screen-print which provided an alternative map of Scotland through linguistics, language and the origins of place names, rather than contour lines. It is a beautiful reminder that poetry is to be found everywhere, often hidden in unexpected places.
Jonathan MonkPart 47
Following on from Mark Wallinger’s re-working of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in yesterday’s sequence, we arrive today at the work of an artist who has made a career out of carefully considered appropriation and re-invention of other artist’s ideas. For the last 30 years Jonathan Monk has used wit, irony and a razor-sharp, if irreverent, intelligence to re-think the histories of conceptualism and minimalism through his own subtle twists on the original works.
The reference point for the work that Jonathan has nominated for The Unseen Masterpiece is Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa series – 150 maps of the world made from 1971-1994 embroidered by hand in Afghanistan and Pakistan which track the geopolitical changes of the late 20th century. But in place of Boetti’s beautifully embroidered flags of national identity, Monk gives us a collage of high visibility safety vests suggestive of cross-border authority and the thwarted passage of refugees. It’s an image that seems especially apt in the current moment.
Jonathan Monk took part in ‘8 days’ our 2007 series of artist pairings, alongside Keith Arnatt, with a re-staging of Arnatt’s seminal 1971 wall painting KEITH ARNATT IS AN ARTIST, a work he subsequently revisited and updated (with a change of tense) following Arnatt’s death in 2008 as a memorial to Arnatt on our Billboard for Edinburgh site in the Spring of 2010.
Mark Wallingerpart 46
As our colleagues in galleries around Europe, and especially this week in London, begin to re-open their doors, in Scotland we remain under lockdown, and so we enter week ten of The Unseen Masterpiece, continuing our (non) exhibition exploring the connections between things across 22 years of the gallery’s history.
Last week ended with the work of Moyna Flannigan whose collages gather and connect fragments from all manner of sources, much as we are attempting to do in this sequence. As she said in Friday’s film “sometimes these connections are purely visual, but often I’m trying consciously to connect disparate elements”. These elements include hands, feet and other body parts borrowed from her own drawings and paintings for new compositions, and often reference art history -which leads us here to Mark Wallinger’s Ego.
Ego is another collage of sorts, comprising two iPhone photographs of the artist’s left and right hands in a playful re-staging of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. As Mark has said: “I posed each hand as in the Michelangelo and I realised I was looking at the limit of what I know of my body. It was then slightly strange, as well. There’s a hubristic thing about the nature of creation of creativity. Michelangelo is being hubristic, in a sense saying: ‘and God created me’. This work was something that was Blu-tacked to my kitchen wall for a year and a half until it struck me that I was looking at these two extremities that I can move about and make things with…”
Ego was first shown in the exhibition ‘Mark’ which came simultaneously to the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh and DCA Dundee in the spring of 2017, linking the two galleries in a happy moment of inter-city collaboration. At the same time, we showed Mark’s 35mm film The End (what better place to start) as the opening work of and per se and a year-long cycle of exhibitions, on the theme of the connections between things that celebrated the gallery’s 20th year. In the summer of 2008 Mark was also the first artist to make a work for our public art project Billboard for Edinburgh.
MOYNA FLANNIGANpart 50
The haunted, often fragmented nature of Francesca Woodman’s photographs have a kind on empathetic connection with Moyna Flannigan’s recent collages, in which elements from art history, mythology, and popular culture combine to explore the representation of women. Her figures are an amalgam of memories, experiences, and ideas; the identity or essence of her characters remaining ambiguous and suspended, just out of reach. There’s often humour (as there is sometimes in Woodman’s compositions - her body squeezed into unexpected places) but also a darker, almost melancholic, sensibility.Moyna’s most recent works have often begun with an element of chance - the artist cutting up her own drawings and reusing abstract body parts to create a new order from the original components. This celebration of the fragmentary nature of things finds a clear expression in today’s film, made by Moyna (to round off the ninth week of ‘the Unseen Masterpiece’) which is in itself a kind of collage. It offers a glimpse into the diversity images that fuel her work. As she says “to a casual observer these images might seem completely disconnected, but for me they have associations to my life, my interests and to memory. I’m looking for ways to connect them in new work… sometimes these connections are purely visual, but often I’m trying consciously to connect disparate elements in new formal arrangements like collage, which change the meaning and the impact of the original material.”An exhibition of Moyna’s newest works was scheduled to open in the gallery this coming September, but like so much of life it will now be delayed. We look forward to staging it next year.
Film:Moyna Flannigan, June 2020
FRANCESCA WOODMANPart 44
The first time we showed Francesca Woodman’s work was in 2007 in a series of artist pairings, alongside the Richard Serra film included in part 43 of ‘the Unseen Masterpiece’ yesterday. On the face of it there’s quite a leap from one to the other, but behind the machismo of Serra’s lead-catching hand there’s a sense of yearning in the film which chimes with the spirit of Woodman’s photography. Incidentally, at the time of making the film, Serra was a friend of George and Betty Woodman, Francesca's parents, and was a regular visitor to their household, although Francesca herself would have only been ten at the time.
Like Smith/Stewart whose work preceded Serra’s in this sequence, Francesca Woodman used her own body as the principle subject and material of her work.
Despite her early death aged 22, in 1981, she created an extraordinarily mature and absorbing body of work in which ideas of presence and absence and longing are entwined in fragmented and haunting images.
We made a solo exhibition of Woodman’s photographs in 2009 and more recently alongside Zanele Muholi, Oana Stanciu and Cindy Sherman in 2019. In 2011 we included a few examples alongside an exhibition of paintings partially inspired by her work by Alison Watt. This exhibition ‘Hiding in Full View’ – was accompanied by fragments of a sonnet on Woodman, written by the poet Don Paterson and painted onto the gallery walls. One of them seems especially appropriate: “We don’t exist – We only dream we’re here – This means we never die – We disappear”.
RICHARD SERRAPart 43
From the austerely beautiful, if anxiety-inducing, installation by Smith/Stewart shown in yesterday’s sequence, we arrive today at the work of the acknowledged master of intimidating, grand-scale sculpture. Richard Serra’s monumental forms of rusted steel will be familiar to anyone who has been in a modern art museum, pretty much anywhere in the world, in the last 20 years, but the work shown here connects to a different, less certain, sensibility.
Hand Catching Lead from 1968 was the first of a series of experimental films made by Serra in the late nineteen sixties and early seventies. It depicts the artist's work-worn hand as he attempts to grasp, and frequently misses, lumps of lead as they drop from above. It’s a very simple premise and an unexpectedly hypnotic expression of a desire to capture something tantalisingly out of reach.
Smith/Stewart made a (perhaps unintentional) homage to this work in their 2002 film ‘A is B’ – in which a hand fills the frame, endlessly reaching forward, but never getting anywhere. It’s a powerful image and a reminder of the potential that lies in fragments.
Thanks to Gagosian Gallery, and the library of the Museum of Modern Art, we have shown Hand Catching Lead twice. Firstly, paired with work by Francesca Woodman in 2007 and more recently alongside works by (amongst others) Rachel Whiteread, Cy Twombly, Giorgio Morandi and Sean Scully in ‘Resistance & Persistence’ in 2015. It remains one of our favourite artist’s films of its time and type.
Smith /StewartPart 42
Cerith Wyn Evans' Column (which appeared in this sequence yesterday) is characteristic of the sometimes contradictory nature of his work. It is beautiful, but sometimes plays into a mood of anxiety where this beauty is undercut by some form of disturbance or awkwardness. It is often a mechanical intervention of a seemingly alien element (such as intense heat, light or sound) and yet the effect makes the experience of the work itself somehow more human.
Something of the same is true of the work of Stephanie Smith and Eddie Stewart who have been working as Smith/Stewart since the early nineties, often using their own bodies to express and explore the edges of physical and psychological experience. This isn't always a comfortable process, either emotionally or physically, as small acts become durational performances in which isolation and togetherness compete.
In their sculptural work they enlist all manner of interventions - light bulbs going on and off, hammers banging, walls turning in space - to unsettle the mood.
Enter Love and Enter Death, the work shown here, was an epic installation navigating uncomfortable space on a physical rather than an emotional level. The Georgian elegance of Inverleith House was carved up by a false beam running at eye level, simultaneously pulling the building apart and squeezing it together. It was a magnificent interruption of one of the UK's most lovely gallery spaces, sited within Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens.
As this sequence of The Unseen Masterpiece has unfurled it turns out that there are all manner of unexpected connections between the various parts. Cerith Wyn Evans, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Susan Derges, the last three artists, also all made spectacular exhibitions at Inverleith House under the brilliant (if sometimes slightly maverick) direction of Paul Nesbitt, whose world class programme sadly ended when the gallery was re-purposed by the RBG a few years ago. We miss it badly and remember it fondly for many wonderful shows, of which Smith / Stewart's Enter Love and Enter Death was undoubtedly one of the best. The good news this month is that a gallery is to be reborn in that space, renamed Climate House, in collaboration with London's Serpentine Gallery, with a remit to investigate art and the environment. Congratulations to the new director Emma Nicholson for getting this off the ground.
Cerith Wyn EvansPart 41
The first time I properly met Cerith Wyn Evans we had a drink in the bar of the ICA and he told me of his affection for Ian Hamilton Finlay (whose work ended last week’s sequence of The Unseen Masterpiece). Growing up in Wales, a long way from the world of contemporary art, Cerith discovered that the Llanelli library was duty bound to order publications on request, and so came the copies of Flash Art and Studio International that became, as he put it, his ‘lifeline’. In their pages he read about Ian - a man on a hill in Scotland whose intense agoraphobia meant that he never left his isolated garden kingdom – and yet whose work went out into the world to take its place in the European avantgarde.
Some years later Cerith made a pilgrimage to Little Sparta to see the garden and meet its creator. Ian invited him into the conservatory by the front door, turned on the radio, and began an incomprehensible conversation in which his soft voice was drowned out by the football scores. In 2007 when we made a pairing of their work in our 8 Days series in the gallery (subsequently re-staged at Art Basel) Cerith insisted that we put a radio in the space, a third element alongside each of their work.
In a work for the 2006 Tate Triennale, Cerith made explicit use of one of Ian’s early poems, setting his words as lines of gunpowder parcels in an outdoor performance of a firework text to mark the opening. The 'column' shown here has no specific reference to Ian’s work, and yet I can’t help but see a connection in spirit to a Little Spartan world “that has been empty since the Romans”.
When I suggested that we might include this work in the present sequence Cerith asked the include a quote from Samuel Beckett’s Lessness as “a form of epigram”
“…I feel it goes some way to elucidate my thoughts and feelings regarding this work. It's not 'officially' attached to the work, perhaps more a Common Law acquaintance”
"Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind.
All sides endlessness earth sky as one no sound no stir (…) Blacked-out fallen open four walls over backwards true refuge issueless.”
- Samuel Beckett, Lessness
Ian Hamilton FinlayPart 40
And so, at the end of the 8th week of The Unseen Masterpiece, we move from a photogram made in collaboration with nature, to the work of an artist whose greatest achievement was a unique partnership where art and nature co-exist. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden Little Sparta in the Pentland Hills (often described as the greatest Scottish artwork of the 20th century) is the summation of his life’s work – a gathering of his ideas expressed through nearly 300 sculptures which reveal themselves alongside the planting of a classically-inspired poet’s garden.
Ian took part in our very first exhibition in 1998, and we’ve made six subsequent solo shows, including a glorious collaboration with Inverleith House and the Scottish Poetry Library to celebrate his 80th birthday in 2005. Ian attended the opening of that exhibition, just a year before his death, in his (best) wellies.
Little Sparta continues in his memory, looked after by the Little Sparta Trust and cared for by gardeners George Gilliland and Lynn Maclagan. It is open according to Ian’s wishes, from June until September, but not this year. This week the gates should have been opening the start of a new season, but instead George and Lynn took a few hours to make the short film that appears here. Thank you, both.
Without ticket sales Little Sparta is without any revenue and needs the help of anyone willing to support it.
The work shown here is a poignant, and timely, reminder of the brevity of the human experience. As the late Tom Lubbock wrote, in in his obituary of Ian in The Independent:
“In Ian Hamilton Finlay's garden at "Little Sparta" there's a small upright stone, like a milestone or a gravestone, standing by a path. Inscribed on it are two lines of words: MAN / A PASSERBY. In the abstract it means, presumably: humans come into the world, and vanish from the world, but the world was there long before them and will be there long after. Humans only pass through, pass by. But by setting these words on a stone by a path, the work fixes its general mortal reflection on to you, the viewer, as you experience it. You stand in front of it for a time. Then you pass by. It feels like disappearing. Our greatest living artist is dead: his work survives him. It continues in the world… the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay is a wonder of its time.”
To support Little Sparta visit www.littlesparta.org.uk/support-us
Film: Little Sparta - The garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay - June 2020. By George Gilliland and Lynn Maclagan
Susan DergesPart 39
Following yesterday’s inclusion of Thomas Joshua Cooper’s poetic corner of the landscape, we arrive today at another artist whose innate sense of the natural world has, over the past 30 years, pushed the possibilities of what photography can do. In terms of using the photographer’s tools, Susan Derges, like Thomas, has not taken the easy route. In his case the pursuit of images involves lugging a heavy, fragile antique camera to remote corners of the earth, for Susan it has been a case of moving beyond the camera itself. Her approach goes even further back to the early days of 19th century photographic experimentation to make work in the open air with photo-sensitive paper and light.
Susan has described working with natural processes in the landscape as “a liberation from the baggage of photography” allowing her to act “as a channel through which natural events could be made visible”. What this has often meant is working at night, so that the world around her becomes a kind of darkroom, laying large pieces of chemically coated paper in trays on riverbeds and at the edge of the sea, to capture an instant in the flash of a light. It’s a kind of alchemy - finding new ways of making images, but also new opportunities to see what is usually hidden. Her works made in this way often have something of both the micro and macrocosm about them – simultaneously offering a close up of life, and a sense of something viewed from the edge of space.
The work included here is an appropriate choice for The Unseen Masterpiece. It was chosen by Susan and resonates especially in the present moment when ponds are full of spawn, and we are somewhat in need 0f the optimism that is suggested by a metaphoric vehicle for growth and rebirth.
Thomas Joshua CooperSt. Baithéne, Evensong, Abbey St Bathans, Berwickshire, Scotland, 2019/2020
The link between James Hugonin’s multi-coloured abstract painting and this small black and white photograph by Thomas Joshua Cooper is not immediately obvious, at least visually, but both works come from artists who share a spirit of unusually single-minded determination. In James’s case, the holding of knowledge and intention across the year or more that it takes to make a painting, with Thomas, the resolve to seek out his subject at, quite literally, the ends of the earth.
The two artists have known each other for years, having both shown with the Graeme Murray Gallery in Edinburgh in the 1980s but, despite sharing a similarly uncompromising attitude, the means by which they make their work could hardly be more different: James staying resolutely close to home, working intensely in the studio, and Thomas travelling the globe in search of his images.
Thomas is a self-described ‘expeditionary artist’ working exclusively with an adapted wooden box camera from 1898 and crossing the world in search of the pictures he will make, their location always chosen on the basis of a rigorous conceptual premise, rather than the sense of how the place might actually look. When he gets there (and bear in mind that in the case of some of his more extreme examples the journey to make a single picture may take many weeks) he makes a single exposure, one image which may or may not succeed. There’s a perversity to this which suggests that despite using the tools of photography he’s not really a photographer in any conventional sense, rather he’s a kind of artist-explorer driven by faith and (wilful) determination.
Alongside major expeditionary series, such as the 30 year project ‘the World’s Edge - the Atlas of Emptiness and Extremity’ recently exhibited to huge acclaim at LACMA, Thomas has also always made works closer to home in his adopted Scotland. The image shown here , selected by Thomas for ;The Unseen Masterpiece, is one of these, part of an on-going exploration into the peregrinations of early Scottish and Irish saints. Like all of his work it is exquisitely printed and toned by his own hand in his Glasgow darkroom – the point at which the picture is truly ‘made’ - black and white giving way to shades of dark and light.
James HugoninPart 37
Over the past 30 years James Hugonin has emerged as one of the most single minded and determined painters of his generation. He works very slowly, completing on average just one painting a year, and always following a structure of small marks of colour applied across an underlying grid. These are deeply subtle paintings with an understated clarity that sit somewhere between the light-filled pointillism of Seurat and the restrained poise of Agnes Martin, whose painting preceded James’s in the current sequence. Each of James’s paintings begin with a notebook, plotting sequences that will play out in the coming months, almost like a musical score. The analogy to music is apposite, as Martin commented of her own approach: “It's not about facts, it's about feelings. It's about remembering feelings and happiness. A definition of art is that it makes concrete our most subtle emotions. I think the highest form of art is music. It's the most abstract of all art expression”.
Their work shares many qualities including a kind of interior musicality and perhaps most unmistakably a balance between precision and control on one side, and the fragility of a very human touch on the other.
We have worked with James for nearly 20 years, having first come across his work in A Quality of Light a wonderful exhibition at Tate St Ives and across West Cornwall in the summer of 1997, curated in part by our mutual friend the artist Garry Fabian Miller. Since then we have made exhibitions and books to mark every major series of James’s work, celebrating his 60th birthday with closure of an 18 painting sequence in October 2010 and his 65th birthday with the Binary Rhythm paintings in 2015.
Agnes MartinPart 36
It’s no surprise that the meditative pull of Agnes Martin’s light-filled abstractions carry significance for an artist like Callum Innes, but the reason for following his work with hers in this sequence is as much personal as art historical. The very first time that I saw a full exhibition of Martin’s exquisitely lyrical paintings, as opposed to a few works here or there in various museums and collections, was in Callum’s company on an unforgettable trip to Dia Beacon in February 2002. We were with another friend, the artist David Austen, and made the trip up the Hudson on the Poughkeepsie train from Grand Central on a day so cold that icebergs were visible floating downstream. We only had one hat between the three of us and so took it in turns to have a moment of warmth. At Beacon we were met by the painter Winston Roeth who, through a curator friend at Dia, had arranged an out of hours visit to the museum. The four of us wandered those amazing rooms in total isolation. It was an extraordinary experience.
We have been lucky enough to include Agnes Martin’s work in a number of exhibitions over the past two decades, including a glorious & archetypal painting(such as the one shown here) in the 2002 exhibition Abstraction which paired antiquities with great abstract paintings. Agnes Martin’s work appeared with an exquisite Babylonian duck from around 2000 BC.
Some years later, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art unveiled a collection of Agnes Martin’s paintings as one of their ‘Artist Rooms’. On the same evening as we opened an exhibition of Callum’s work at our gallery and hosted a dinner in their joint honour in Callum’s top lit Edinburgh studio. It was a fine evening, although in retrospect I may have made too great a claim in my speech for Agnes Martin being Scottish… her people having originally hailed from the Isle of Skye. The same is true of Trump, so maybe such claims should be left to lie.
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.
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.
PAST ONLINE EXHIBITION: THE UNSEEN MASTERPIECE