The Society of Scottish Artists 2000 Contemporary Art Open

October 2000

Publication: The Times

When the Society of Scottish Artists was founded over 100 years ago its  aim was “to represent the more adventurous spirits in Scottish art”. This has been the organisation’s guiding ethos over the years and a strong innovative approach continues under Katayoun Dowlatshahi, the organisation’s new president.  The SSA’s annual exhibition has  always  served as the main forum for its work and this year’s show, re-named as a “Contemporary Art Open”, underlines the inclusivity that has formed part of the organisation’s core values.

The exhibition has benefited enormously from some severe and judicious pruning on the part of its selectors.  The result is a coherent, cohesive body of work of high quality.  Additionally and importantly, the work has been hung in a way which teases out stylistic and thematic resonances between different artists.  One example of this can be found in room VII in the abstract compositions of Kirsten Body, Jo Ganter, Philip Reeves and Jenny Smith.

This year, as well as inviting students and a number of installation artists, the SSA approached curators representing most of the main gallery organisations across Scotland, from Orkney to Galloway, and invited them to nominate work.  It is as if, curatorially speaking, Scotland has been treated as another country, with some the critical overview that implies.  Although the curators were free to select artists from any area of the country, most elected to nominate locally-based artists. The result is a wide and geographically representative selection. 

The photographer Craig Mackay, for example, has a rare insight and talent.  Although keenly absorbed by issues relating to his native Highlands, his work has universal significance.  These studies carry a strong message and dwell on humanity’s relationship to nature, as well as historical and cultural issues. Colin Kirkpatrick, with his installation ‘Cow Town’, explores links between Orkney and America, focusing on cowboy culture and cattle farming.  Christine Milne’s work, although abstract, is based on the Galloway landscape and the processes which shape it.

Elsewhere, Kirsten Whitten’s disturbing combination of portraiture and figuration, with its distortion of gender, scale and perspective is particularly strong. In a similar way Gillian Devaney’s ‘Nothing Begins and Nothing Ends’ makes use of multiple perspectives in a style of painting which owes much to photography and current trends in realist representation. 

Marie-Louise Blaney  has created a number of works using cured fish-skins and her sculpture ‘Fish Tale’ was created as part of a performance at Glasgow School of Art.  Peter Russell’s scurrilous and satirical work ‘A Scots Reliquary’  ridicules the Scots’ ability to mythologise their own history.

Photography and print-making is similarly well represented and Emily-Jane Major, for example, demonstrates how the textured surface of fabric can be used as the basis of work of beauty and simplicity, while Colin Wishart’s photograph’s are spiritual statements of great sensitivity.  In a different way, Malcolm J Thomson’s photographic studies of familiar objects transform the material into something unexpected and arresting.


The Society of Scottish Artists 2000 Contemporary Art Open


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Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 18-10-00