Society of Scottish Artists 112th Annual Exhibition

June 2009

Publication: The Times

Because it is primarily an exhibiting society the SSA maintains a fairly low profile throughout the year until its big annual exhibition gets underway. The show usually creates a splash and is a highlight on Scotland’s cultural calendar. This year is no exception. Forced from its usual premises at the Royal Scottish Academy building in Edinburgh, the President (Professor Elaine Schemilt) and Council were faced with a dilemma – find a new venue or die.


Fortunately the society were able to secure a new, temporary exhibiting space in Dundee – a city which embraces cultural innovation and often makes Edinburgh look stodgy and exclusive by comparison. Remarkably, the splendid venue (a renovated former jute mill overlooking the Tay) gives the impression of having been purpose-built for showing art. As if to emphasise this, the venue is also hosting Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design’s degree show.


The SSA’s philosophy has always been to combine the work of established and emerging artists – and this show is no exception to that democratic and egalitarian approach. So, the work artists of such as Will MacLean, Calum Colvin, Marian Leven, Dalziel + Scullion and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham – and many more - can be seen along side that of recent graduates Rowan Corkill, Mark Creaney, Georgina Porteous and Tielia Dellanzo.


Former SSA President Kate Downie is another internationally known artist. Following a residency in Karmøy last year Downie produced a body of work focussing on her observations of everyday life in this busy Norwegian port. Downie’s vision is essentially non-hierarchical in that everything she observes is accorded equal pictorial status – so, in ‘The Asphalt Sea: Fragments I & III’ (executed in situ on the prow of an Oselvar rowing boat) Downie’s perspectivally distorted view includes cars, overhead telephone and electricity cables and road signs. It is a work executed with energy and immediacy.


In a different way Dawson Murray also closely observes the world around him. His way of looking continues to evolve despite a disability which now leaves him unable to wield a brush. Although the etching ‘Fennel zig-zag’ was made by others, under his direction, it achieves a freshness, immediacy and element of chance more closely associated with his preferred medium, watercolour. Murray’s work finds a spiritual companion in the sparse delicate abstract studies of Tiina Leppänen. Dalziel + Scullion’s work poses some interesting questions on the nature of representation and reality. These three-dimensional photographic studies of trees are cleverly illusory because in scale, apparent texture and colour they closely mimic the actual objects they represent.


Despite a very few notable exceptions there has been an unwillingness to tackle some of the ‘big issues’ – the world financial crisis, global warming, famine, war. If there is a disappointing aspect to this show it is that - coupled with the lack of an international element which has characterised the SSA’s vision from the beginning (invited artists in the past have included Munch, Degas, Matisse and Picasso).


But this is a cleanly hung, well-chosen show characterised by professionalism and integrity.