Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Oct 22, 2017
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    From Clutha to Tatha…

    Richard Carr wonders if we could be witnessing 'the rebirth of symbolism' in an exhibition on in Newport, on the banks of the silvery Tath

    THE EXHIBITION Allusion: Clutha to Tatha (From the Clyde to the Tay) at the Tatha Gallery in Newport-on-Tay, Fife shows work by artists, most of whom are either Royal Academicians and/or members of the Royal Glasgow Institute. And although the exhibition has a geographical identity as its title, it also contains work that is often verging on the surreal. In fact, one visitor to the exhibition perceptively described the work as 'the rebirth of symbolism,' a reference to the artistic movement that flowered in France at the beginning of the 20th century.

    One painting that seems to demonstrate these characteristics is Alice McMurrough's Lift Me Up, in which she uses soft oil colours to show Alice, dressed in pale pinks and yellow and brown striped stockings, next to the White Rabbit, who is seated on a plushly upholstered Victorian armchair.

    Of course, there is plenty about Alice in Wonderland that is surreal, while much of the dialogue is a witty comment on Oxford's love of logic and philosophy.

    Since surrealism could also be described as dealing with other worlds (besides dreams), Ade Adesina's three woodcuts showing floating globes toped by lighthouses, crosses, radar cones and other objects above swirling, sand-like shapes all in muted blacks and greys meets the classification well, as does Helen Flockhart's Lights Off Now (oil on canvas) in which a gloomy young couple sit on a sofa with an overhanging lamp above which are rows and rows of eyes in a composition full of dull, browns and greens. Are they wondering what to do next?

    Surrealistic paintings are often full of strange and sometimes isolated objects, and these too are in the exhibition. Gordon Mitchell's Sleight of Hand (oil on canvas) shows a black and brown wooden hand with joined fingers (is it in an artist's studio?) above which is an arc of small, white balls on a green/blue ground. All are strangely static. And static too is the stack of yellow lemons on a pale ground in his painting (also oil), Lemon Squash. But perhaps the most beguiling is Neil MacPherson's Slaters in Love (oil), showing two multi-legged insects (are they kissing) in an exotic environment in reds, browns and greens.

    The exhibition is also full of rather mysterious personages. Among these are June Carey's watercolours (one with ink), Tree of Thorns and A Vision Lost, A Love So Dear. The former shows the torso of an Egyptian man with a halo of thorns behind him and sphinxes on either side, and the latter a double-headed male with red hair and arms crossed over his torso, one hand holding a small pink flower. He (or they!) is surrounded by a net-like decoration of snakes, hearts and leaves that includes the sun and sky.

    If these two portraits are full of mystery and ancient symbolism, then Ronnie Forbes's Blue Lady by the Window (acrylic on linen) demonstrates his usual fractured technique that includes changes in perspective, and a playful use of colour and silhouette. He might even be classified as a post-modern cubist!

    But there is also work that poses no mystery, but delight in their execution. Among these are John Dunbar's watercolours, Scoop and Watering Cans, both rendered in pale colours and immaculately drawn forms, and Adrian Wiszniewski's Weavers 11 in which, using gouache on paper, he shows two young men seated on either side of a loom surrounded by an all-embracing decoration of brightly coloured forms.

    Also true to form – and in a way having little to do with the theme of the exhibition – is Reinhard Behrens's pastel and paper on card showing a snow-bound landscape above a collection of miscellaneous objects including a drilled piece of wood, a feather, spoon and thin piece of carved ivory, and a page from a catalogue of Eskimo garments and celebrating Dundee's whaling ships and the RRS Discovery. As usual, the drawing is immaculate and the colouring a soft mixture of greys, browns, blues and off-white.

    Allusion: Clutha to Tatha represents the gallery's third year of operation following its establishment by Helen Glasford, its director, and the owner of the Newport Restaurant in whose building it resides. Set up with advice from a number of artists including Richard Demarco, Arthur Watson, Alan Robb and Ronnie Forbes, plus members of the Newport Circle that includes Frances Walker, its aim is to push the aesthetic of the east coast of Scotland, though clearly it is not limited to this. And, as its airy and spacious rooms show, it does so by a beautiful 'hang' (as curators would say) of the work on show.

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