Society of Scottish Artists 115th Annual Exhibition

February 2012

Publication: The Times

Doubtless, the founder members of the Society of Scottish Artists did not countenance the idea that the epithet ‘venerable’ might one day be applied to their rebellious fledgling organisation.


But all ‘new orders’ inevitably become anciens régimes and so history has applied its inevitable patina of respectability on the society that was originally set up to represent the more ‘adventurous spirits’ in Scottish art.


Squeezed budgets have this year resulted in restricted space and so, where vast canvases, large numbers and sprawling installations were once the norm, tamer domestically proportioned works predominate.


That said, among the two hundred or so exhibitors (a number of whom are recent graduates from Scotland’s art schools) there is a good deal of high quality work. Significantly too, the prices of many of the pieces are within reach of most budgets – many of the works can be had for under £200.


Dundee graduate Katherine Adamson’s sculpture consists of granite setts that have been inscribed with their individual radiation level (in Becquerel’s per cubic metre). The result is a bold form that contains a kind of found, concrete poetry. Elizabeth Eilersten from Gray’s School of Art employs a similar idea.  ‘Can’t play with me’ is, in effect, a giant version of Scrabble, where the two words ‘ME’ and ‘YOU’ seem like stark antitheses in a life game.


Representing Edinburgh College of Art, Louise Blamire’s untitled photograph shows a carefully staged and constructed composition of a young child in an empty barn. An abandoned piece of farm machinery, which forms the backdrop of the girl’s pose with outstretched arms, can be read as angelic wings.


Robert Callender, who died last year at the age of 79, was a stalwart of the SSA, having acted as its president between 1970 and 1972, and again from 1975 to 1976.  At its core Callender’s work was an homage to those who made their living from the sea. A small bothy near Stoer in Sutherland acted as a focal point for work that was based on flotsam and jetsam of the Scottish littoral. 


As well as collecting and using real objects Callender also made replicas or reinterpretations of reality, such a fragments of boats. As a tribute to Callender’s unique and important place in the contemporary art of Scotland, the artist’s life size ‘New York Shore Gate’, dating from 1987, commands the north wall of the basement. Far from being trompe l’oeil, this work is really about the artist’s celebration of form, texture and colour in an object which most would not normally classify as art.


Although the majority of works here are wall pieces, a number of other art forms such as the artist book represented here by Susie Wilson and Sarah Diver are also work mentioning.


Last year, the SSA exhibited in Slovakia and, earlier this year, in Poland. Although these ventures were relatively modest in scope and ambition it would be valuable to see greater evidence of this international activity at the society’s annual showcase event.