W. Gordon Smith Painting Competition

January 2016

Publication: The Times

W. GORDON SMITH PAINTING COMPETITION
DOVECOT GALLERY
EDINBURGH
 
It’s been commonplace, over the past few decades, to hear various pronouncements about the ‘death of painting’. It’s clear, however, that such judgements are premature, and inaccurate.  Certainly, on the evidence of this show, the craft and art of painting is very much alive.
 
The first W. Gordon Smith Painting Competition was initiated by the late critic’s widow, Jay, to celebrate both the achievement of her husband and the medium he did so much to encourage and support over several decades. From a total entry of around 500 works, 50 were anonymously selected by a judging panel comprising the teacher Sandy Moffat, journalist Susan Mansfield, former gallery owner Tom Wilson and painter Margaret Hunter.
 
The result is a surprisingly cohesive body of work, with a welcome gender balance, judiciously displayed in the tasteful well-lit minimalism of Dovecot, a renovated former public baths.
 
A central focus is Gwen Hardie’s ‘Body 11.10.15’ a typically autobiographical depiction in a circular format (oil on tondo) that is also now much associated with the artist. Hardie homes in on skin and bodily surface, while also revealing depth. Although almost wholly abstracted, her works  disconcertingly probe flaws and imperfections, physical and psychological.
 
The body is the subject and object of other works, mainly by female artists. Samantha Wilson’s ‘Mowgli’, disconcertingly, does not depict the anodyne Disney image we might expect. Here is a fragile and tortured soul, full of pathos and pain, rendered (in charcoal and powder paint) with a sensitivity that is heartfelt and genuine.
 
Audrey Grant’s oil painting, showing a seated female figure against a disturbing yellow ground, takes its title from R.M. Rilke’s Seventh Duino Elegy ‘Nowhere, Beloved Will World Be But Within Us’ (Nirgends, Geliebte, wird Welt sein, als innen).  Grant’s imagery somehow conveys the sense of Rilke’s words while avoiding literalism.
 
A number of other themes and tropes make themselves readily apparent here. One is landscape, perhaps not surprising in a Scottish context, but Calum McClure’s ‘Across the Pond II’ imbues a fine tradition with a contemporary edginess. Matthew Draper’s ‘Fleeting, A Hike Through Rannoch Moor (Part 3)’ (not painting, but pastel on paper) is more traditional in that it represents the muted but complex colours and moods of that most evocative of Scottish places. Karen Warner’s ‘Swirling Winds Lammermuir Hills’ conveys a keen sense of place with vibrant, energetic paint.
 
There are a number of symbolic works here, such as Carolynda Macdonald’s ‘Under the Wings of a Dream’ which takes us to the world of the 18th century dream allegory. It shows a pair of finches removing jewels from a delicate Chinese porcelain vase, set against an idealised landscape. Alice McMourrough’s ‘The Presentation of Pythia and the Pretender’ is a fantastical and rather disturbing allegorical-mythic construction of childhood. The winning entry, by Robbie Bushe, ‘The Admissions Gate’ is a keen allegorical satire on the processes and procedures surrounding artistic acceptance and recognition.
 
Taken together these works augur well for the continuing strength of a medium that shows no sign of declining popularity or ingenuity.