Publication: The Times
The gardener/poet Ian Hamilton Finlay has written that “One visitor will abbreviate the garden, another enlarge it. To one, it is the entertainment of ten minutes, to another the meditation of a day.” The painter, Dawson Murray, is an observer who enlarges experience through close and concentrated meditation. His recent work — mainly large and colourful water-colours studies of his Fife garden — is a synthesis of experience where observation and feeling merge.
These are paintings work at an intuitive level and reflect the joy of experiencing the forms and colours of nature. But this is nature which is guided by human intervention which, in one sense, is the definition of a garden. It is impossible to look at these works without thinking of such masters as Monet whose repeated and intense focus on his own garden has much in common with Murray’s approach. Even when his subject is not sunlit and sumptuous vegetation, he infuses his painting with a liquidity and light, as in his prosaically-titled but poetically-executed ‘Cabbages Under Snow’. Even the much more limited palette of works such as ‘Tomatoes and morning glory’ has a sensuousness and a freedom which demonstrates great skill in the handling of his medium.
One might question the relevance of such work a century after Monet’s definitive exploration of the genre. But Murray’s work seems fresh and probing, hinting not just at observation but also at some kind of spiritual element.
Almost at the other end of the artistic spectrum is a group show of thematically linked installation pieces entitled ‘Say Nothing, Be Silent’. All of the work focuses in some way on communication, and the difficulties and complexities which this involves. Naomi Potter’s work consists of two chairs on which are placed, respectively, a representation of a heart and a stone, which are connected by a series of wires. Playing on the term “to make a stone of one’s heart” Potter uses the visual to invoke the verbal. It is a frozen dialogue where the two participants have been reduced to their symbolic minimum.
In a recent video work Nathalie de Briey has filmed herself having lessons in operatic technique from a trained professional. As well as referring to her own childhood experience, the work deals with another kind of communication — singing. De Briey describes the process of learning to breath properly as like near death, because of the physical demands on the body.
In work which consists of a series of garishly coloured clothes fashioned from latex and textured like goose-flesh, Ana Rewakowicz refers to popular culture — and in particular the fashion industry — and plays on ideas of superficiality and assumed identity. The fact that the clothing is non-functional, although it appears to be wearable, is a further ironic comment on the mutability of fashion which dictates to an ever-consuming market, manipulated by big business.
Also using clothing in a way which resembles the hyper-kitsch aesthetic of director John Waters, Jo-Anne Balcaen has suspended a series of nylon night-dresses from the ceiling on a series of springs; the viewer is implicitly invited to pull on these, so that the whole installation becomes a mobile and faintly amusing spectacle, saved from the ridiculous by its own sense of irony.
Quite how successful or likeable these works are, is debatable. They are certainly provocative and form a contrast to the radically opposing aesthetic of Dawson Murray and all that his work represents.
Dawson Murray - Garden Paintings
Roger Billcliffe Gallery
134 Blythswood Street
0141 332 4027
(until 19 October)
Say Nothing, Be Silent
18 King Street
0141 552 2540
(until 16 October)