Visual Arts Scotland - FLY 2016

December 2016

Publication: The Times

Visual Arts Scotland - FLY 2016
RSA Building
Edinburgh
 
THE exhibiting society, Visual Arts Scotland, has done much in recent years to cast off its home-spun, ‘craftsy’ image and to become a progressive artistic forum, showing work in a range of media across the fine and applied arts. In recent years, the society has gone from strength to strength under the presidency of painter, Robbie Bushe. This year’s annual show demonstrates a wealth of drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, sculpture, jewellery and other applied arts.
 
 
As in previous years VAS has invited a number of artists from other countries, working at the top of their game. Susan O’Byrne, originally from Cork, graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1999. She fashions intricately constructed animal figures by first creating a wire armature (described as ‘three-dimensional line drawing’) on to which she applies thin sheets of paper clay. This is then surfaced with printed and patterned layers of paper-porcelain. 
 
O’Byrne’s work refers to family and to identity. An installation here, consisting of dozens of different animal heads, is labelled with the names of family members, who originally came from the Black Forest in Germany. The patterning on the fine ceramic surface is derived from traditional domestic needlepoint, an expression of the skill and identity of O’Byrne’s female ancestors.
 
Another art-form more traditionally associated with women, jewellery, is well represented. Makers such as Evgeniia Balashova, Becca Pollard, Jo Pudelko and Li Wanshu demonstrate the infinite degrees of ingenuity and high levels of craft skill that the medium demands. Wanshu, from China, uses UV reactive nylon wire, UV light and fluorescent paint, to painstakingly construct wearable sculpture that references the rich ecology of marine life, such as jellyfish and anemones. 
 
In this show, the under-represented artists’ book tends to be a quieter, more understated affair. Despite its quietness and delicacy, the medium can be impactful, full of skill and imagination. Susie Wilson uses collagraph techniques, combined with sculpted and cut paper, to create small book forms which hint at time and cellular processes. 
 
 
Using the medium of paper elsewhere, Deborah Boyd White’s, sculpture ‘Chiselled Paper Blocks’ spans several art forms. The work, which has deep cuts, scores and tears embedded in layered paper, suggests some of the historical violence that books have attracted.
 
 
Robbie Bushe, who won the W. Gordon Smith Painting Prize earlier this year, has returned to his roots as an illustrator and enthusiast of comic books, to create an ongoing ‘live’ pen drawing, which imaginatively unfolds across scores of paper pages.  
 
The Cordis Prize is awarded annually for the best example of tapestry and weaving. Louise Martin’s ‘Ploughed’, Linda Green’s ‘Reluctant Revolutions’ and Rachel Johnston’s ‘River Shoes’ will certainly make the judges’ choice a difficult one. The final result will be announced on Thursday 8th December.
 
If there are flaws here in the curatorial process, they manifest themselves in the under-representation of certain media (glass is noticeable by its absence); the inclusion of work by artists who have been seen in the Society of Scottish Artists show, which immediately preceded this, in the same venue; and the unmistakable feeling that some work has been chosen, not on intrinsic merit, but, rather, by how it might ‘sit’ comfortably in relation to others.
 
Despite these shortcomings, its good to see that the fine and applied arts, as represented here, are thriving and evolving.