Tatha Gallery / Toby Paterson

Publication: The Times.  
April 2014 

The inaugural show of the Tatha Gallery directly opposite the site of the new V & A building in Dundee, is a promising start.  The gallery is a former hotel that once served ferry passengers to Dundee. A large, new window frames a startlingly composed view across the river Tay, while a model sailing ship dangles and spins in the kinetic winds of the estuary.

Painters Joyce Cairns and Alan Robb, and sculptor Doug Cocker, are three of Scotland’s most accomplished senior artists. All live locally and are members of the Royal Scottish Academy. The organisation boasts almost a score of members from the immediate vicinity.

Cairns paints passionately autobiographical narratives assembled around a collection of personal imagery and objects.   The Magic Gate is a typically vivid work. A portrait within a portrait, it shows an artist painting her younger self. A book, photograph and patterned plate are set on a table that is depicted on a flat, non-perspectival plane. The work alludes to the past, to memory  and to the pain of loss.

Robb’s work is detailed and assured, at one remove from the self, focussing on architecture, objects and landscape. Auchmithie Stone is a typically accomplished composition, depicting a sea-shaped sandstone agglomerate pebble, commonly found in the former fishing village. With ease, Robb imbues such apparently mundane objects with spiritual mystery.

Cocker’s favoured medium is wood. He uses this infinitely adaptable material with the deftness of the most accomplished landscape painter or nature poet. Geography ¾ a large wall piece, consisting of nine individual works, shows Cocker at his best. These small, stained and painted constructions are rooted in landscape. Each is divided in two, so that the series resembles a collection of open books, allowing a metaphorical ‘reading’ of landscape.

Toby Paterson came to prominence when he won the Beck’s Futures prize in 2002.  This show is part of the Generation project that aims to introduce the last 25 years of Scottish art to a new audience.

Paterson, who was born in 1974, became interested in modernist and ‘brutalist’ architecture through skate-boarding. The best places to skate were often the paved environs of concrete ‘carbuncles’ so often despised by their inhabitants and the public. It’s clear that Paterson is fascinated by these structures and retains a fondest for them.

This show, carefully conceived, elegantly presented and beautifully crafted, can be viewed as a whole.  The prints, paintings and photographs are punctuated by large sculptural pieces, aptly titled Remnants. These give the vague impression of blocks torn from the very buildings Paterson so compellingly depicts on aluminium sheets, perspex, paper and board using the varied media of print, photography and paint. They are, in fact, hollow structures with superimposed photographic images of brick and concrete surfaces.

Paterson finds beauty, elegance and aesthetic merit in the least-loved, neglected British architecture. He is clearly telling us something politically and socially important, part of which is that such structures are part of a heritage that should be celebrated, not decried. We should take notice.