September 2010

Publication: Northings



Finlay Room

RSA Building

The Mound




In recent years, perhaps more than most organisations, the Royal Scottish Academy under the enlightened policies of some new academicians and council has done more to promote the work of younger and more established artists alike.


The present exhibition is just one such example of this type of fresh thinking – it presents work by five artists who participated in the 2009 RSA Residencies for Scotlandprogramme. As successful applicants, each of the artists received funding (up to £5000) and an opportunity to spend time at RSA ‘Partner’ arts venues across Scotland. These venues form a wide geographical spread and two are based in the Highlands: Frank Pottinger showed and worked at The Rendezvous Gallery in Aberdeen and Tigh Alasdair Ruaraidh, at South Lochs on Lewis while James Lumsden’s residency was at An Talla Solais in Ullapool. Anthony Schrag worked at Deveron Arts, Huntly while Becky Šik’s residency was in the nearby Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Lumsden.  The only truly urban residency was Patricia Cain’s which was based at a WASPS Artists’ Studio in Glasgow. 


In respect of its new residency programme the RSA has said that “ …the primary aim….is towards…[its]… radical development….intended to create….opportunities for emerging and established artists of calibre, to work for a set period with a network of collaborating partners across Scotland.   [The RSA] is very happy to support opportunities for further study, contacts with other artists from a culturally diverse background….”


The thinking behind such a new venture is to be welcomed because it further extends any community’s understanding of what artists actually do; and its geographical spread inevitably results in diverse work because the specific locale – or genus loci – often exerts a significant effect on the work being produced.


Indeed, this is the case (in one way or another) with the work of all of the artists here.  Perhaps the most obvious and literal examples are to be found in the work of Patricia Cain, Frank Pottinger and Anthony Scragg. Cain’s sizeable acrylics give the impression of having been created in situ with the artist absorbing the visual and emotional stimuli around them.  Works such as ‘John Brown Tenement II’ and  ‘Riverside Museum VIII’ seem to reinforce the sense of literality in her work which has a strong, bold graphic content. However,  the work ‘Inscape III’ or, rather, its title hints that these works are about much more than mere surface interpretations of townscape. The term inscape was coined by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who was a Jesuit and priest; for him, this neologism represented the essential characteristics and internal essence of a thing – his definition also extended to the individual and how the object or thing in question affected the psyche and inner mental landscape. So although Cain is working out of a tradition which includes, in Scotland, Muirhead Bone, J.D. Fergusson, and more recently, Kate Downie; and further afield, Ferdinand Léger – the work is about far more than surface. Perhaps it’s about finding poetry in the mundane or celebrating the ordinary.


James Lumsden’s work is, by contrast, wholly abstract while his titles such as ‘Liquid Light (Containment) (1)’ and ‘ATS Suite (7)’ give no real clue as to his approach.  It’s possible to spend considerable time here pondering his technique and medium, and puzzling over his exact methods but such scrutiny can actually do more to obscure than illuminate the effect of the work. The overall sense here is one of fluidity and harmony; while the shapes, forms and textures of these combinations of canvas, card acrylic and graphite suggest chance,  rather than design.



There’s a certain sense of mystery and intrigue in Becky Šik’s cast metal sculpture. An ensemble or assemblage consisting of a ‘table,’ a ‘lamp,’ and a mysterious object create a rather disconcerting effect. Is this furniture or a representation of it? Or is it something akin to the sculpture of Turner Prizewinner, Simon Starling who engages in the metamorphoses of objects by melting one down to create another?  The title of the whole piece ‘Dreamers and Jokers Sailing in Circles’ gives little away although, taken together, the titles of the three constituent elements ‘We’re Only Fire Fighting (Light)’, ‘Car Bone Den (Table)’ and ‘Nantucket (Sculpture on Table)’ do create a kind of disjointed narrative. It would be naïve to assign a particular reading to this work; its elusive ‘meaning’ is part of the artist’s intent and it’s clear that there is no particular fixity in the artist’s intent, either.  Although these strange pieces of cast aluminium were made in the heart of the Aberdeenshire countryside they extend themselves far beyond that immediate environment.


Frank Pottinger’s residency in a small studio overlooking the Atlantic in Lewis clearly brought him into immediate and inevitable contact with his environment. The works which he has produced as a result of his residency are like collected fragments of the archaeology and prehistory of the Outer Hebrides. Atavistic and visceral these images in pastel, litho & Chine-collé, collage & pencil make it clear that Pottinger’s interests, like Cain’s, extend well beyond the surface of things to hidden layers of imagery which although more accessible here than in other places can be overlooked, or, worse, taken for granted.