Publication: The Sunday Herald
Hanneline Visnes and Lucy Skaer
A HUNDRED FLOWERS, A HUNDRED BIRDS, A HUNDRED CHILDREN, IN LATE SPRING AND EARLY SUMMER
Despite the intense and deliberately disorienting lyricality of its title, this show explores death, cruelty, violence and war. The artists Hanneline Visnes and Lucy Skaer graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1997 and this collaboration between the two, specially commissioned by the Centre for Contemporary Arts, was inspired by a joint trip to the Peace Palace in The Hague. Motivated by the sense of internationalism which was prevalent immediately prior to the First World War, the Peace Palace stood as a visionary statement of a world in which war was no longer a means of resolving national differences. In the current climate, such vision seems sadly lacking and this, therefore, acts an intensely ironic aspect in the artists’ treatment of their subject matter.
Stylistically, the work of the two could hardly be more different; although both are painters, the similarities stop there. Skaer draws thin and faint pencil lines on large sheets of white paper which are pinned to the walls; to these markings she adds coloured and white enamel paint. By contrast, Visnes paints in oils on small, irregularly cut boards. Deliberately playing on a faux-naif style, she uses a rich pictorial vocabulary drawn from folk art and other forms of visual culture (such as grave stones). Where Visnes paintings are detailed and invite the viewer to close in on the work, Skaer’s work needs to be seen from a distance so that the overall picture can begin to make sense.
The collaboration extends well beyond a desire to show work in the same venue and on the same theme – all of the works are a joint undertaking. Sometimes a whole room is given over to a single work (as in ‘Study’) which consists of seven different elements – three by Skaer and four by Visnes. In other cases, a triptych, for example, will consist of individual elements by both artists.
Significantly, Skaer has used Rorsarch Blots (found in psychological testing) as one form of source material. Images in ‘Study’ reveal the shapes which look as if they have been created using a folding page to replicate an ink pattern. In one, a dark shadow of a bird is cast on a field of grain while in another the image of two figures in violent struggle are duplicated as in a mirror image.
Curiously, the image of wheat or a similar crop is found in several images by both artists. It’s symbolic of food and the stability which agriculture needs in order to flourish; significantly, this symbol is distorted by both artists – in Visnes’ case it is found as part of a motif in which skulls and deaths heads are prominent.
Whereas Visnes draws significantly on an inner vision to create her disturbing images, Skaer adapts both photographic and graphic sources. Working by stealth she creates uncannily decorative and alluring images based on horror and violence. This ability by both artists to subvert expectations lies at the heart of a powerful and moving body of work.