Society of Scottish Artists 118th Annual Exhibition

Publication: The Times.   
December 2015

A one time, in the late 19th century, the Society of Scottish Artists was considered an upstart organisation, in contrast to the older more respectable Royal Scottish Academy. Both are now venerable institutions and the gap between the type of art and artists which forms their respective memberships has closed significantly.

This year both organisations are exhibiting side by side, in the same building, so it’s easier to compare their approaches. By and large, the SSA is the more adventurous, favouring a greater variety of media, younger artists and, often, bigger and bolder work.

That said, there’s a diversity in the current SSA show (236 artworks were chosen from a total of 1254 entries) that ranges from large installations occupying entire walls to small delicate prints, drawings and paintings that take up only a few centimetres. Between these extremes there are powerful graphics, inventive technologically-oriented installations, and sculpture that is made, literally, from shadows.

As in previous years (a tradition which stretches back to the origins of the SSA) the work of a number of invited foreign artists exerts a powerful attraction. Lise Vézina from Québec is a well established printmaker, who has also worked as a designer of women’s clothes. Her installation, ‘Tendre Le Tissu du Temps’ (Soft Tissue of Time) explores female histories from an autobiographical perspective. Found historical photographs (as well as those of the artist as a young woman) have been printed on sets of linoleum squares, punctuated by musical powder boxes). There is something poignant, magical and melancholy about this tribute to unknown women from across time and generations.

Koralia Maciej’s photographically derived graphic installation, ‘Cities in the Sky’, is spread over an entire wall and consists of interconnected composite images of architecture and construction. The philosophical basis and inspiration for Maciej’s work is Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities in which the writer imagines numerous cities as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. Discussing one city, Thekla, Marco Polo reports an exchange with its inhabitants:

“What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?”  “We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,” they answer.  Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. “There is the blueprint,” they say. 

The Minnesota-based art collective, Rosalux, has been invited to show a number of works following an exchange with SSA members last year. Here artists such as Ute Berog and Jack Dale demonstrate strong compositional and pictorial skills.

There are quieter moments from talented voices such as Annie Woodford and Phillipa Drummond who have created, in their respective works ‘Merisis’ and ‘Archipelago’, sensitive, delicate imagery derived from natural forms.

Andrea Geile’s ‘Level the Field No 8-No12’, a vast sculpture fabricated from rusted Corten steel, contributes an imposing monumentality while retaining an intrinsic sense of the organic.

Once again, the SSA demonstrates the health of the nation’s art scene and its outward looking approach. By showing cheek-by-jowl with the RSA Open, the SSA allows the visitor to ponder its expansive, exciting dynamism and the rather more reserved, but highly polished, approach of its older cousin.