Sunday, 2 June 2013

Tinctures for Tragedy: Intermedia at ECA Degree Show, 2013

 'Intermedia' (as distinct from Mixed Media) has been all the rage for some years at Edinburgh Art College's Degree Show but this is the first time someone has approached me and asked if I would like to hear a story as part of an installation - the latter by Marcus O'Shea.  

The performances are variants on the themes of  'Tinctures for tragedy', by  O'Shea,  three framed bottles, containing liquids with unusual ingredients,  seemingly quirky but then their irony sinks in.  There is a serious political message, made clear by the precise dates, which all refer to acts of extreme violence:  Derry 30.01.1972; Ciudad Juarez 1993-2013; and Utoya 22.06.2001. i.e. notorious tragedies in Northern Ireland, Mexico and Norway.  I'll just show one with its description of ingredients:

Utoya 22.06.2011, part of Tinctures of Tragedy by Marcus O'Shea.

Utoya 22.06.2011
broken glass, roses fed with lamb's blood, spirits steeped in right wing propaganda, healing herbs from the south of Norway, healing herbs from the middle east.

For more on Marcus O'Shea, see

As for the performers, Agnes Torok, the performer who captivated me with her seemingly true life story about her grandmother is one of several performers you may hear,  all giving a different interpretation to the same title 'The Survivors' and a brief outline by O'Shea.  The other performers are all well-known on the Edinburgh Performance/Spoken Word scene: so if not Agnes, you may catch Harry Giles, Rachel McCrum, James Harding or Rachel Amey.
Agnes Torok, performance artist below 'Tinctures for Tragedy' by Marcus O'Shea

James T. Harding, performance artist between 'Tinctures  of Tragedy.'

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Artists' Open Studios, Spring Fling 2013

Silvana McLean in her studio at home in Moniaive

Down in Dumfries and Galloway during the Spring Fling Festival I toured round as many artists' open studios as I could fit in before my brain fogged. It's wonderful to get a peep into the artists' studios, sometimes in their homes, and imagine the life of an artist.  There's something for every taste, from the kitsch to architectural,  brassy and bold to delicate.   Here are my favourite three:

Given my interest in Orkney and Shetland which inspires my own poetry, it was inevitable that I was attracted to Silvana McLean's work.   Silvana too is into poetry, marrying poem and art, even making poem bottles (as below), a neat reference to messages in bottle thrown into the sea.
 Poem/installations - Silvana McLean

 She has been Artist in Residence, for 3 months in 2001, in the booth at Scalloway, Shetland and much of her work is obsessed by Big Waves, huge elemental forces.  (See the notebook below). 

Silvana McLean's Notebook

She talked about the sound of the wind fluting down the hollow aluminium rails alongside the steps to the booth.  One can almost hear that wind in her sketches.  What is it that attracts her to the idea of North, I asked? It was more about living with the elements, a migratory feel - every spring she gets a pull but Silvana preferred not to analyze it for superstitious fear that inspiration would then desert her.  Having visited both Shetland and Orkney, she is now inspired by the Antarctic - the rolling mountains surrounding her home in Dumfriesshire must have something to do with her interest in glaciers and glacial erosion.

Artist's books by Silvana Mclean
Also one of her pictures is on the cover of my friend, Jean Atkin's poetry book:

Book cover based on 'Equilibrium' by Silvana McLean.

 Michael G. Clark, who lives in Alloway, was using the former Stables at Lochinch Castle to display his elusive, evocative oils.  He is interested in stripping back to the essence or romance of the object, rather like poetry, he said.  Many of his paintings are redolent of the heat and sun of the Bordeaux area which he frequently visits.  Others are painted in a cooler northern light, like the white tulips I particularly loved,  which you can see on the wall behind Michael in the photo below and an iconic little black dress (without which what would we do?)

Michael Clark giving a demo in oils in the Stables  of Lochinch Castle,
Castle Kennedy Gardens, Stranraer

 Michael gave a very helpful demo to explain the basics of oil painting, with many amusing anecdotes, charmingly involving the children present too.  One child wrote in his Visitors' Book 'I like the way you paint without using detail' which shows she had been paying attention!

Finally, a print-maker, Lisa Hooper whose work is available in post cards and birthday cards if you can't afford the prints!  I was already familiar with her work due to the inspirational book by Carry Ackroyd 'Wildlife in Print-making' (Langford Press, 2011) in which she is one of the many print-makers featured.  Pattern and simplicity mark her work.  She has an eye for the distinctive shape and mannerisms of birds, probably due to her former life as a wild-life conservationist. Not surprisingly, you will also see her work in the artists' tent at the Rutland Ornithological Fair every year.

 I particularly loved the Red Throated Diver you can see in the photo of Lisa below. This print is one of her many inspired by Japanese wood-blocks printed on Japanese paper.  Much of her other work is from  lino-cuts.

Lisa Hooper in her home in Port William

3 views of Lisa Hooper's studio - Lisa Hooper

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Smell of Old Archives: on the art of Hugh Buchanan

Hugh Buchanan at Summerhall
Looking for a lecture taking place during the Festival of Historical Fiction recently at Edinburgh's Summerhall, I opened the door, by chance, on a large 19th c room, the size of a ballroom on the first floor. Summerhall  is rather like being in a rambling stately home, though denuded of grand furnishings and one never knows what one will find:  a blown-up photo of a calf's skeleton perhaps from its days as the former Royal Dick Veterinary School, or one of the exhibits from Richard Demarco's vast collection housed here.  But no, it seemed I had stumbled upon a library, or ancient archives on shelves around the walls, so realistic I could almost smell the mustiness of crumbling parchment.   They were, however, water-colours of the Esterhazy Archives at Forchtenstein, south of Vienna, painted by Hugh Buchanan.

Packet No 12  Forchtenstein
Photo courtesy of Hugh Buchanan

Old receipts, rental agreements, and ledgers may not sound enticing but these are so exquisitely painted, they are things of beauty.  Gothic German calligraphic inscriptions, old crests and seals are rendered accurately,and so are the subtle tones of marbled papers in wavering colours of russets, peach and old tallow but far from being a painstaking reproduction, Hugh Buchanan's water-colours evoke  the play of light and dust, the texture of the paper, (he will even use sand-paper to achieve this) and the atmosphere of private libraries in castles and stately homes.   I could not help thinking of mortality, not only because of the torn, yellowing and crumbling paper depicted but because these archives are people's lives, not epic historical achievements, but the minutiae of daily, domestic balance sheets.

There was also a selection of water-colours  of the archives of Drumlanrig Castle near Dumfries;  and the old library at Traquair House,  in the Borders (famed for its system of labelling the shelves and spines (e.g. Pythagoras, shelf 1, book 14). Old country houses, stately homes and castles are the best places to find undisturbed archives, Hugh told me.  Libraries are apt to organize everything into perspex boxes which do not make such  atmospheric paintings.

Old country houses and castles have long been Hugh's haunt.  When at Edinburgh Art School he specialized in painting architectural spaces and since then he has had a prestigious career.  His works are in the collection of the Queen, the Queen Mother, HRH the Prince of Wales, the Palace of Westminster, the City of Edinburgh and the V and A among others.  Painting the interior of houses such as Highgrove and Balmoral, surrounded by beautiful architectural spaces,  including old private libraries led to his present interest in archives.

His subject matter was of course ideal for an exhibition during a  Festival of Historical Fiction  but he told me later that the Esterhazy watercolours (though not Drumlanrig and Traquair ones) will continue, not in the 'ballroom' but another room in Summerhall and on the walls surrounding the main staircase throughout the summer.  So if you love old books, and parchments, do try and see it.  Even if you can't read the contents, you can imagine them and the people they are about.

 I  recommend  A.N. Wilson on Hugh's work 'Enlightenment and the Library Paintings of Hugh Buchanan' (2008) which you can find on Hugh's website, and read more about his illustrious career.  You can also discover other intriguing bits of information such as Hugh's collaboration with Peter Davidson, 'The Eloquence of Shadows' (Thirdpart Publications, 1994) which must be the most unique book of its year.  Hugh's water-colours and Peter's  verse - in contemporary Latin with English translations, such as:

                                 LVX TACET.  LOQVITVR VMBRA.
                                    Light is silent, the shadow eloquent.

For more info and photos of art work see