The Romanticism, Folklore and Fantasy of Michael McVeigh

Publication: The Times 
September 2016

Michael McVeigh
The Scottish Gallery

There is no doubt that Michael McVeigh, who was born in Dundee in 1957, possesses a singular vision.  McVeigh is largely self-taught, although he did attend classes at the city’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. He depicts city scenes, harbours, parks, gardens, pubs and public events with, as the gallery suggests, a mixture of “romanticism, folklore and fantasy”.  At times McVeigh’s work is reminiscent of the work of the English naïve painter, Alfred Wallis, in his images of the harbours of Prestongrange, St Abbs, Eyemouth and Leith. McVeigh’s way of seeing is whimsical, full of detail and technically skewed. His perspectives are distorted or ignored, lending his work a dreamlike quality, which also recalls Chagall. McVeigh’s oils, etchings and pencil sketches often tell stories.  These narratives focus on the fisherman of his harbours or the characters who populate his pub interiors, provoking curiosity and intrigue. Who are the solitary figures who sit on the barstools and at tables absorbed in their newspapers, or alone with their thoughts, against the the backdrop of stained glass in ‘Afternoon Pub’ and ‘Bennets Bar’? There’s an altogether more raucous atmosphere in the pencil drawing ‘The Trades House Bar’ (2005). McVeigh’s sketch, constructed on a number of sheets of paper, conveys an immediacy not always possible in other media. The artist is both part of the scene, and detached from it. McVeigh is clearly fascinated by the world that surrounds him and is able to extract the extraordinary from the apparently mundane.  His studies of parks, squares, churchyards and townscapes in his adopted home of Edinburgh have colour, form and magic.  In, for example, the highly stylised ‘Autumn, Ainslie Place’, the rather austere Georgian garden acquires an altogether more lyrical quality. At times, McVeigh’s work can appear recalls the winter scenes of Pieter Breughel the Elder, as in ‘Princes Street Gardens in the Snow’. In other other works he becomes involved in the pageant and spectacle of ‘Norway Day, Edinburgh’ or ‘The Royal Wedding, Royal Mile’. The latter is partly fantasy, and demonstrates the role of the imagination in McVeigh’s work – an embroidered overlay on reality. McVeigh is neither chronicler nor recorder, but rather a poet of image, who lives and works literally, on the streets rather than a studio. He observes what most would term everyday life and transforms it into something essential, magical and precious.