Converge: Visual Arts Scotland Annual Exhibition

Publication: The Times.    
February 2016

         Visual Arts Scotland, an exhibiting society dedicated to applied art, craft as well as fine art, has occupied a position somewhere between the traditional ‘beaux arts’ ethos of the Royal Scottish Academy and the experimentalism of the Society of Scottish Artists. In the past it was much associated with ‘hand craft’ and the rather lumpen associations that term had, rather unfairly, accumulated. But this is an invigorated organisation, with clear goals and intentions. It celebrates the idea (and the ideal) of the well-made, while acknowledging the fluidity of contemporary thought in relation to object making. The boundaries between fine art, manual crafts and applied art have, as the title of this show suggests, converged. An artwork such as a tapestry or wall hanging may therefore be presented and understood at a number of levels. The object can be well conceived, well made and pleasing to the eye, thus fulfilling the roles of decoration and function, as well as being thought-provoking.  This certainly seems to be how a grouping of tapestries – all entrants for the international Cordis Prize, initiated by novelist Ian Rankin and his wife Miranda Harvey, and now in its second year – have been conceived. All the works have a strong sense of spatial or temporal rootedness and all share a dedication to the strong tradition of tapestry as decoration, and narrative.  Marika Szàraz’s ‘Heaven and earth,’ with its black and grey geometries, indicates a fascination with surface, and the way light is absorbed by the density of the work. Misao Watanabe’s 5-metre-long ‘Happiness’ exudes that quality, with vivid yellow imagery derived from a field of canola flowers. Invited artists Steven MacIver and Andrew Mackenzie both explore the line, and linear structure. MacIver works with gold, silver and copper thread and constructs three- dimensional, large scale ‘drawings’ that combine the architectural and the organic. Mackenzie’s series of large drawings, using gouache and pastel on paper, ‘Service Station’, depicts that most utilitarian of structures, which have become a kind of ‘invisible’ architecture in the urban landscape. Here, the artist has based his work on an example that has been taken over by nature, where the intricate silhouettes and forms of trees soften the straight edges of human artifice. Curiously, these lines find an echo in the jewellery of Natalie Jane Adams whose wearable sculptures are constructed from acrylic thread, wrapped in metal. Theo Shields work returns us to the visceral, the atavistic and the elemental. His work is part installation, part sculpture and part document. A woodworker’s bench, complete with tools, also houses a video screen showing two short films – about furniture maker Chris Scotland and Fraser Waugh, the last trained green sand mouldmaker in Scotland, whose foundry specialises in architectural conservation. Shields has combined the raw materials used by these craftsmen and forced them into dialogue by pouring molten iron into chunks of hewn oak. The resulting works show a kind of trauma and beauty: the ‘negative’ space of a hollowed out tree-trunk of now preserved in a ‘positive’ iron object.