Royal Scottish Academy 186th Annual Exhibition

June 2012

Publication: The Times

It’s not surprising, given the fact that two of the three convenors of this year’s RSA annual exhibition – Doug Cocker and JamesCastle – are sculptors that the medium is so well represented.


Sculpture by a significant proportion of the twenty-two invited artists does much to augment the quality and diversity of this outstanding exhibition.  The vast tower composed of wooden bricks by Aeneas Wilder is eye-catching while Gwen Hardies’s continuing exploration of the female body, not as a sexual object, but as a textured and flawed surface, contributues greatly to the show. It is also good to see the work of Kate Downie, Jo Ganter, Jacki Parry and Marian Leven.



The third convenor, Ric Russell, an architect, has chosen wisely from his own field and the architectural contributors include Gokay Devici who designed potter Lotte Glob’s workshop, dramatically sited on the shores of Loch Eriboll in Sutherland.


The RSA’s policy changed dramatically for the better in 2010.  At the invitation of small team of convenors a number of invited artists (half of whom are non- RSAs) have been given extensive and expansive space across the thirteen upper and lower galleries.


This formula works in both a visual sense and an intellectual one. The theme of this year’s show is ‘Artists’ Studios’ and as one enters the RSA building, at the top of the stairs, there is a photographic collage of these wonderful workshops of creativity, from small rural sheds to urban warehouses and from city lofts to highland barns. For some reason the words of James Joyce’s character Stephan Dedalus spring to mind” "Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."


Clearly, the convenors are asking, implicitly, a pertinent and engaging question: what is the relationship between an artist’s working environment and the work they create? For some the relationship such as the sculptor Steve Dilworth based in southern Harris, is all-important as the texture, geology archaeology and natural history of these exposed islands has a binding force and inextricable link.  Dilworth is an artist of outstanding talent whose work is clearly of high international quality. Here he incorporates parts of dead birds into shell-like wooden wooden bodies. The forms are agile, sleek, still, vaguely menacing and very powerful.


Indeed the same can be said for Lotte Glob (her work is not part of the current exhibition) – the colours, forms, and energies in the ancient geological landscape of western Sutherland clearly permeate the potter’s earthy atavistic creations.


Arthur Watson is one of the twenty-two invited artists (eleven are RSAs while eleven are non-members).  He has demanding roles as a teacher at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, and now, since the recent death of former RSA President Bill Scott (whose role Watson has now assumed) his duties with the RSA have increased significantly.


Watson (who hails from Aberdeen) makes works which links word, place, land and people.  Watson’s thinking and creativity is in a tradition that links him to American artists such as Lawrence Weiner and Ed Ruscha – and with the often-anonymous folk-ballad makers of pre-Reformation Scotland and authors such as Lewis Grassic Gibbon.


Watson uses wood, word and form to create elegant but not simplistic works. Here, two circular images of a mountainside (each is a mirror image of the other and may, indeed, be Lochnagar) are surrounded by words, phrases and place-name fragments which indicate the way the adjective ‘grey’ is used in phrases in different parts of the country: (GREY) NORTH SEA GREY [ABD]; CLOUD HOWE GREY [KCDN]; PEEP O DAY GREY [AGS]. The abbreviations in square brackets refer to locations such as Aberdeen, Kincardineshire and Angus.


It seem fitting that given Bill Scott’s sudden death that most of gallery 7 has been given over to his work; and in particular the sense of the way Scott worked in his studio.  Scott’s talents as an artist of stature often seemed strangely overlooked and so it is intriguing, if sad, to gain an insight into the artist’s sensibilities at this time, including the way he crafted bronze and wood. The room is one large installation titled ‘Measuring Personal Space’.  The space is, of course intellectual as well as physical and a range of objects – some vaguely identifiable (a double-ended spoon, a ladder) give clues into Scott’s creative process. ‘Measuring Personal Space’ is a fitting swan song: a vast creative journey, an intellectually demanding tour de force and a poignant legacy.