Dun­can Macmil­lan on New Con­tem­po­raries at the RSA

De­spite an over-use of words, the grad­u­ate tal­ent from Scot­land’s art schools shows imag­i­na­tive and thought-pro­vok­ing so­lu­tions

The Scotsman - - Con­tents - Dun­can­macmil­lan

This is the 250th an­niver­sary of the foun­da­tion of the Royal Academy in Lon­don and its pres­i­dent boasted re­cently that it was con­se­quently the old­est art teach­ing es­tab­lish­ment in the UK. That is not so how­ever. The Trustees Academy in Ed­in­burgh was founded in 1760 and so nine years ear­lier than the RA schools. When Ed­in­burgh Col­lege of Art was cre­ated in 1909, the Trustees Academy was in­cor­po­rated into the new in­sti­tu­tion, quite lit­er­ally, for the staff and stu­dents of the old in­sti­tu­tion sim­ply moved whole­sale into the new one.

We have a very long tra­di­tion of art teach­ing and so this lit­tle piece of his­tory seemed à pro­pos as from that mod­est be­gin­ning we now have five art schools, Ed­in­burgh, Glas­gow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Mo­ray, and once again with New Con­tem­po­raries the RSA cel­e­brates the best of the tal­ent from their de­gree shows.

There are just over 60 artists in the ex­hi­bi­tion this year. The largest group is from Glas­gow. Dundee and Ed­in­burgh are not far be­hind. Aberdeen has eight grad­u­ates and Mo­ray, the most re­cent and by far the small­est, has just one.

The work is as lively as you would hope and also very di­verse. In an age of crum­bling cer­tain­ties it is right that our artists should not look for easy so­lu­tions and their search does take them to some strange places. What seems to be a fig­ure in a vo­lu­mi­nous gown is the very strik­ing work that greets you as you en­ter. By Mon­ica

Dritschel, it is an artist’s lay-fig­ure dressed en­tirely in white sliced bread art­fully cut into petal-like shapes. The artist tells us that it has to do with our re­la­tion­ship with food, but it stands on its own with­out that ex­pla­na­tion.

That is of­ten the case here. Read­ing the la­bels, I fear cur­rent art teach­ing pushes stu­dents to try to use words and so, seek­ing to ex­plain what they have done, they some­times for­get that once it is out there the image will have its own life and mean­ing. That be­ing so, it is all the more en­cour­ag­ing that there are so many strong images here. Na­ture tri­umphs over nur­ture, per­haps.

Rob­bie Sprid­dle’s three ab­stract com­po­si­tions com­posed on a sim­ple grid of squares of primary colours are a case in point. They have a pedi­gree go­ing back at least to Mon­drian, of course, but by the force of their pres­ence they claim their in­de­pen­dence. Nearby, Rowan

Craw­ford’s beau­ti­ful com­po­si­tions made of rain­bow coloured per­spex are, he says, lit­er­ally ab­strac­tions. The colour is ex­tracted and iso­lated from pho­to­graphs. Again the re­sult stands on its own how­ever. The same is also true of Chiara von Put­tkamer’s work. She has made a small ex­hi­bi­tion of 17 ab­stract paint­ings, all very dif­fer­ent, but all bold and strongly painted.

Alan Aitken’s paint­ings have a sim­i­lar

Her in­stal­la­tion re­calls with plenty of hu­mour the do­mes­tic in­te­ri­ors of the Fife mining towns of her child­hood

strength, but are of do­mes­tic sub­jects, much sim­pli­fied. They are ren­dered in patches of thick-tex­tured paint. It gives them a sat­is­fy­ing so­lid­ity and they be­come ob­jects as much as images. Although the artist cites Hei­deg­ger in his ex­pla­na­tion, we don’t need phi­los­o­phy to un­der­stand his pic­tures. Doaa Yule is ex­plic­itly philo­soph­i­cal with texts, ref­er­ences to Plato and Ber­trand Rus­sell and an ex­pos­i­tory black­board in the man­ner of Joseph Beuys. Here too the words seem re­dun­dant. The best piece is a set of three sim­ple lines drawn in space, two black sticks and one a flu­o­res­cent tube, to­gether more elo­quent than all the texts.

Fall­ing back on words can eas­ily lead to il­lus­tra­tion. Three bold paint­ings by Louis Ben­nett made up of bits of im­agery from car­toons, comics and chil­dren’s his­tory books set out, he tells us, to warn against “con­tem­po­rary Bri­tain’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with a

mis­re­mem­bered par­tial his­tory”. It is a wor­thy aim, but he is lim­it­ing him­self by il­lus­trat­ing an idea in this way. There are echoes of Steven Camp­bell in his work and Camp­bell’s in­spi­ra­tion should lead him into more imag­i­na­tive realms. Lucy

Buchanan, on the other hand, makes no pre­ten­sion to deeper sig­nif­i­cance, but has de­lighted in let­ting her imag­i­na­tion off the leash to cre­ate a nos­tal­gic fic­tional world in a se­ries of minia­ture stage sets for a cou­ple of 1970s char­ac­ters she has in­vented.

Other artists have cre­ated stage sets on a big­ger scale. Elise Bell, for in­stance, has made an in­stal­la­tion re­call­ing with plenty of hu­mour the do­mes­tic in­te­ri­ors of the Fife mining towns of her child­hood where, she in­fers, the Grand­moth­ers of Methil ruled the roost. Edith Pritch­ett calls her work an ex­tended self-por­trait as a woman, a mil­len­nial and an artist, but she is not at all solemn about it, ei­ther. Her hu­mor­ous draw­ings are a de­light and are vis­ually much more so­phis­ti­cated than their im­agery might sug­gest, and her ren­der­ing of Adam and Eve in the Gar­den of Eden as a Tin­der Be­trayal is a great image and nicely top­i­cal.

Sev­eral artists have as­sem­bled col­lec­tions of small pic­tures and draw­ings as though the state­ment of a big sin­gle work was some­how too lim­it­ing, or per­haps sim­ply not achiev­able. Han­nah Mooney ,for in­stance, has pro­duced a whole se­ries of tiny paint­ings ex­plor­ing pur­pose­fully the tra­di­tional gen­res of land­scape and still-life. Her pic­tures do not seem de­riv­a­tive or dated, how­ever, and are very ac­com­plished. Tak­ing this mod­est, small-scale ap­proach seems to have al­lowed her to re­dis­cover the en­dur­ing vi­tal­ity of these gen­res. Tess

Glen has cre­ated two in­te­ri­ors hung with lit­tle, un­framed draw­ings and wa­ter­colours. Jack Dun­nett’s small pic­tures are equally in­trigu­ing and are like mys­te­ri­ous frag­ments of ob­served re­al­ity.

Work­ing on a larger scale, David Rae takes a straight­for­ward ap­proach to land­scape, though the care­fully ob­served scenes that he paints, an aban­doned club house, an ur­ban park against a yel­low twilit sky, or a group of semi-derelict build­ings in front of a church, do not them­selves seem straight­for­ward. Ob­served re­al­ity is of course the province of the pho­tog­ra­pher and there are sev­eral good pho­tog­ra­phers here. Matthew

Buick’s pic­tures of two peo­ple peer­ing through a crack in a fence and of a tiger in the zoo gaz­ing into the dis­tance past a child in a push-chair are nicely caught mo­ments. Craig

Wad­dell’s por­trait pho­to­graphs are also very dis­tin­guished. Por­trait paint­ing is too of­ten vi­ti­ated by be­ing too be­holden to pho­tog­ra­phy. He has re­versed that by in­form­ing his pho­to­graphs from the ex­am­ple of por­trait paint­ing with a very sat­is­fac­tory re­sult.

Un­til 18 April

Clock­wise from far left, Craig Wad­dell; Han­nah Mooney; Rob­bie Sprid­dle; Louis Ben­nett; David Rae; Edith Pritch­ett

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