Visual Arts Scotland

December 1999

Publication: The Times

In various guises, the organisation now known as Visual Arts Scotland has represented applied artists, craftworkers and fine artists initially as the Scottish Society of Women Artists and, for a short period, as The Society of Artists and Artist Craftsmen.  This year the organisation celebrates its 75th anniversary and as such this is an important event in the cultural life of the nation.

As ever, the annual exhibition demonstrates immense variety in quality, media and intent. Additionally, the organisation has been well advised to continue its practice of inviting prominent artists to contribute.  This has a two-fold purpose: it should, in theory, set some kind of example of  best practice  and therefore acts as a benchmark to which others may aspire.  It also attracts a wider audience that might otherwise have been the case.  If the first reason sounds mildly patronising, this is not the intent because the society accepts submissions from both professional and non-professional members.

Some of the most interesting material here is the photography and although the invited photographer Zoltan Jokay demonstrates an ability to expose the slightly seedy underbelly of his native Germany, his work is by no means the only challenging material.  Maria Brynell s slightly blurred black and white prints, for example, are full of sublimated menace. And Catriona Grant s group portrait is a mildly unkind, if candid, study of the kind of Scottish wedding most of us might have been to.  By contrast, Adam Butler s carefully constructed scenes   with and without a human presence   are concerned with patterning and beauty.

Elsewhere, Alan McGowan s large, dark drawings such as  Hexenspeigal  are full of complex imagery and illusion   they also demonstrate fine draughtsmanship.   Invited Australian ceramist Alan Watt draws on the primeval aspects of his native landscape for inspiration and the resultant work is wholly sculptural, rather than functional.

Philip Braham is a quiet yet immensely powerful voice   and it would be easy to miss his three small works here.  Braham paints what are   at least on the surface   landscape, and often these are identifiably of Scotland.  But these are merely the outward expression of complex philosophical and aesthetic intent, as his  3 Studies for a Reformation  shows.  Susan Stewart address issues relating to time and memory in a somewhat melancholic tone although the way in which she forces written text to assume the properties of an image is convincing.  Lee Stewart's frank and close-up self portrait is far from flattering; but the impulse to view oneself with such scrutiny should surely be applauded.

A number of the contributors use wood as a material, mainly for furniture-making   a good deal of which is finely made.  Eschewing functionality, Lizzie Farey uses pliable, thin branches form different tree species to create spherical forms which have evolved from the practical to the conceptual.

An entire room has been devoted to the work of the painter Peter Howson, which is a questionable decision, although there is no doubting the diversity and power of the work.

Despite the diversity of talent, this show would have benefited from more judicious and perhaps brutal editing, as a cleaner sparser display is badly needed to do justice to those works which deserve unhindered consideration.


Visual Arts Scotland

Royal Scottish Academy


Mon - Sat 10 - 5

Sun 2 - 5

Until 18 Dec.


Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 15-12-99