So, only a week or so after my first trip I found myself back at King’s Cross early one Saturday morning boarding a train to Edinburgh. Having previously realised that my aim to see everything in the Edinburgh Art Festival was a tad ambitious, I’d scaled back and had a more manageable list in hand.
My first visit was to the Talbot Rice Gallery – an absolutely stunning space . The gallery has two main areas: first is the White Gallery which shows a changing programme of contemporary exhibitions. For the EAF, the gallery is showing Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: The Black Spot which explores Rollins’ group strategy that enabled him to study literature and produce works of art as a response to the learning process. Through this Rollins and his peers created their own unique aesthetic solution that inspired some intriguing works responding to literary masterpieces. The exhibition title comes from Treasure Island and the painting created in response summons audiences to reinvigorate a belief that the power of art can change lives.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: The Black Spot at Talbot Rice Gallery. Image courtesy of Chris Park and the Talbot Rice Gallery.
There is also the Georgian Gallery with an impressive neoclassical interior, originally designed by William Playfair as a natural history museum. The upper level displays works from the Torrie Collection, collected by Sir James Erskine of Torrie in the early 19th Century. They are predominantly made up of 17th Century Dutch paintings across a range of different genres. Erskine, a former student, bequeathed the works to Edinburgh University on his death. Downstairs houses changing exhibitions and it is here that their second exhibition of Donald Judd drawings is located. Talbot Rice Gallery are the first in Scotland to examine Judd’s working methods. The exhibition brings together a number of Judd’s drawings and materials, mostly never before seen in public, all closely connected to his three-dimensional works. Even after he abandoned painting, drawing was always an important component of Judd’s practice allowing him to problem-solve and express his thoughts and ideas. The drawings don’t adhere to any formal method of composition-making and his lines escape from the pages, disappearing from our sight.
Donald Judd’s drawings in the Georgian Gallery. Image courtesy of Chris Park and the Talbot Rice Gallery.
One morning, I realised that my flat on Abercrombie Place was very near a whole series of small commercial galleries and so after breakfast I set off, umbrella in hand, for a little stroll. My first stop was the Open Eye Gallery who were showing John Bellany at 70 to precede a major retrospective of his work at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which will celebrate his birthday. Much of Bellany’s work focuses on the fishing communities and harbours that he saw when growing up in Port Seton. Recently, Bellany moved to Tuscany and the bright optimistic colour range is a relatively new development inspired by his new surroundings.
John Bellany at 70. Own photograph.
Just along the road, Dundas Street is full of galleries. Bourne Fine Art are showing an exhibition of works by Jock McFayden to coincide with his exhibition at the Fleming Collection in London. McFayden defines himself very much as an artist rather than a painter and he sees his works as an organic way of describing the world we live in. The gallery is very atmospheric but, fundamentally, it is just another commercial gallery where the exhibition spills into the office space, meaning you have to tiptoe past working desks to see all the paintings. Underneath Bourne is the Dundas Street Gallery, a hire space that was closed and looking rather forlorn.
The closed Dundas Street Gallery. Own photograph.
Carrying on down the hill, I popped into The Scottish Gallery for their Duncan Shanks exhibition where large abstract paintings are filled with emerging heaving forms. On my way back into town I stopped at the National Portrait Gallery. This is a huge, beautiful gallery and one where you could easily spend hours or just pop in for 15 minutes to have a nose through one room and soak up the atmosphere. When it opened in 1869, the space was the first purpose-built portrait gallery in the world and, since then it has expanded and grown from strength to strength. With works spread across 17 large galleries, here is somewhere to lose yourself, particularly during the Fringe when you’re longing for a bolthole away from the madness.
The National Portrait Gallery. Own photograph.
Although I had the amazing EAF art map to help me know where all the smaller galleries are, the blue festival signs outside all the venues are more helpful than you can imagine and act as art beacons around the city. The Ingleby Gallery are showing Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Twilight Remembers which was included in lots of the festival previews and looked set to be a hit. I wasn’t let down. Before even mentioning the art, I have to say what genuinely nice people are working at this gallery. You’re greeted on arrival and handed the information sheets. They seem so pleased to see you and delighted that you’ve chosen to visit. I can think of a fair few other spaces that could learn from this.
Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Twilight Remembers at Ingleby Gallery. Own photograph.
Downstairs is quite subdued with a video piece, Carrier Strike, models, postcards and rare works on paper. For me, this exhibition really comes alive on the first floor. Three large boulders, bearing the names of Japanese war planes, become stepping stones from the Pacific warzone to Finlay’s famous garden, Little Sparta. In the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, Little Sparta brings together Finlay’s work in a natural landscape which is shaped and changed around the artistic and aesthetic needs of the works. The garden itself becomes an artwork, encompassing all the individual pieces under its ‘umbrella’. Upstairs explores the garden offering puns and teasing evocations about what the five-acre outdoor space may offer. Ingleby ran a number of trips throughout August but I only realised too late and then couldn’t free up the time – I’m gutted that I didn’t get to visit as it’s not regularly open to the public.
Finlay often explores the French Revolution in his work and two sculptures in the exhibition allude to specific historical moments – the Reign of Terror in 1794 and the Ventose, the sixth month in the new calendar adopted in 1792. The spade refers specifically to the 10th day of that month and conjures up a layering of multiple evocative ideas. Finlay’s use of objects such as spades and gravestones are a wonder. Gelling seamlessly into the natural world, they are beautiful pieces of art that offer moments of reflection on all around us.
Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Twilight Remembers at Ingleby Gallery. Own photograph.
Later in the week, I found time to go to the Edinburgh College of Art where, alongside the postgraduate degree show, there is a video work, Apes as Family by Rachel Mayeri and also an exhibition responding to the cast collection at the college. Although I personally didn’t think much of all the works in Cast Contemporaries,the method of display is great as the works have been shown in a cluttered curatorial arrangement, all mixed up with the actual casts. Cast Contemporaries explores contrasting responses to the fate of the plaster cast collections in art schools which is particularly appropriate as ECA has one of the most important cast collections in the UK. These casts are a feature of everyday life here and the exhibition considers them as catalysts for future visual arts experimentation.
Cast Contemporaries. Image via http://fields.eca.ac.uk/.
There was still so much to see that it was lucky I had a while longer…
Tim Rollins & K.O.S.: The Black Spot and Working Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963-93 are at Talbot Rice Gallery until 22nd October 2012, www.ed.ac.uk/about/museums-galleries/talbot-rice. John Bellany at 70 is at Open Eye Gallery until 4th September 2012, www.openeyegallery.co.uk. Jock McFadyen: The Ability to Cling…. is at Bourne Fine Art until 15th September 2012, www.bournefineart.com. Duncan Shanks: Across a Painted Sky is at the Scottish Gallery until 5th September 2012, www.scottish-gallery.co.uk. Ian Hamilton Finlay: Twilight Remembers is at Ingleby Gallery until 27th October 2012, www.inglebygallery.com. Rachel Mayeri: Primate Cinema: Apes as Family and Cast Contemporaries are at the Edinburgh College of Art until 2nd September 2012, www.eca.ac.uk.