Thursday, 20 December 2012

Artist Uncovered: Reinhard Behrens

The assemblage quietly catches your attention. As you get closer you begin to marvel at the expert drawing, at the 3D effect that raises the objects off the paper. Then you puzzle over the surreal juxtaposition of an old wooden spoon, the gnarled sole of a shoe, an undefined scrap of metal but also a carrot and an onion, all laid out formally below a quasi photographic drawing of an old house, standing empty in a barren landscape. You wonder at the story hinted at, you also wonder at the time and dedication invested by the artist on such mundane objects.

Carrots Onions and Rust coloured pencil 54x75cm
Art in Healthcare collection

This drawing and the other pencil and pastel works by Reinhard Behrens in the Art in Healthcare collection illustrate the artist’s talent as a storyteller, his predilection for commonplace rejects that his consummate drawing skills transform into works of art. They also refer to the German born artist’s early training as an archaeological draughtsman acquired during an excavation in Turkey one summer while studying at Hamburg College of Art. This trip far away from home was going to bring about the most defining moment in his life.

The Smith Sterling etching 89x70cm

Art in Healthcare collection

He tells us the story in his website, how while recovering from a sunstroke, he happened to notice in a local newspaper the account of a collision in the Bosphorus strait between a cargo ship and a submarine. The only word he could read on the page was the name of that ship NABOLAND. The submarine reminded him of the toy he had found on the North Sea coast the year before. On that feverish day, the coincidence of these events helped him evolve an extraordinary plan.  He would put all his artistic skills towards piecing together the existence of Naboland, the land of his imagination, through detailed accounts and documentation. This was 1975 and he is still pursuing this quest today.

Lochnagar pencil and pastel 74x104cm
Art in Healthcare collection

Behrens’ realistic style of drawing was inspired by one of his tutors in Hamburg, Rudolph Hausner, a prominent member of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. This group, formed in the aftermath of WWII, used the techniques of the Old Masters to achieve lifelike resemblance. Contrary to Surrealist painters like René Magritte or Salvador Dalí, they did not privilege the irrational but rather sought to merge it with conscious imagery by adding fantastic elements into their paintings. The results are dreamlike scenes that evoke convincing alternative realities. They thought of their paintings not as escape from reality but more as therapeutic means that allow you to forget for a while the conflicts you experience and to return to reality feeling stronger for it.

Lochnagar II pencil and pastel 69x99cm
Art in Healthcare collection

In 1979 Behrens came to study at Edinburgh College of Art on a one-year scholarship. He spent some of that time eagerly exploring Scotland and joined the Mountaineering club in order to climb the Highland peaks in winter to get a feel of what Scott's Polar expeditions might have been like. And although his English was not fluent yet, he was nonetheless charmed by the local wit. He would bring these Romantic endeavours, Man against Nature, explorations of uncharted territories, and the humour back into his studio where they would fuse into his imaginary worlds populated by a plethora of discarded objects picked along the way, bones, feathers and other precious detritus, and of course by the yellow submarine, the magic talisman which made these travels possible.
San Gimignano, Nowhere to land  acrylic and oil  171x122cm
image courtesy of R Behrens

After settling down in Scotland in the early eighties, Behrens travelled around Europe and to Nepal and became also fascinated by the desert, possibly as a relief from the monochrome snow, all the time pushing further the boundaries of Naboland with his illusionistic paintings, drawings and installations into which he invests the same obsessive attention to details. His installations purport to be replicas of the huts or sledges used during polar explorations and amaze visitors not only by their air of authenticity but also by their uncanny reduced scale.

Hunters in the Snow (after Breugel) acrylic and oil 122x171cm
image courtesy of R Behrens

Similarly the insertion of the yellow submarine, made airborne when it suits the topography, in his breathtaking copies of Old Masters force the viewers to double take. Is this not what we expect of artists, to shake us out of our ‘normality’, to make us contemplate other possibilities? Behrens uses ambivalence, humour and gentle satire to great effect. He even reinvented the origins of golf in an installation exhibited in St Andrews itself, the alleged birthplace of the game. The catalogue, a work of art in its own right, is supposed to reveal the rules but the text is mostly illegible, although written in English, due to the tight German blackletter handwriting the artist used throughout!
‘The Origins of Golfing’ exhibition catalogue
image courtesy of R Behrens and Fife Contemporary Art and Craft

Behrens has lived in Pittenweem on the southern coast of Fife since 1986. He has been lecturing at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design since 1995. Last summer I visited his house which he opens to the public during the town’s annual Arts Festival. I was able to admire his paintings and drawings – as well as those of the other talented members of his family - and was delighted to find that his front room is dedicated to an installation reproducing the interior of the submarine. This is in fact the film set for a stop motion animation that has been occupying much of Behrens' time lately. This short film 'Naboland News' pretends to be a recently discovered news reel of the submarine's travels. It involves penguins, desert scenes and the Himalayas. The film will not be released for another couple of years but you can have a preview by going to

In the meantime, the film set - installation allows you an insight into the living conditions of early 20c explorers. The lighting alternates between lit areas and shadows and every tin, jar, old photograph and scrap of fabric looks absolutely genuine. The more you look the more you become enthralled and forget about what is going on outside.
Thank you Reinhard Behrens for sharing your world-s with us!

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

Thank you to Reinhard Behrens for his information and for the permission to use his images
and to Diana Sykes and Susan Davis of Fife Contemporary Art and Craft for providing me with the catalogue cover for 'The Origins of Golfing'.

Naboland - the art of Reinhard Behrens
Fife Contemporary Art and Craft
The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism
RF Scott
Pittenweem Arts Festival 2013

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Art in Healthcare Reaches Out

If you think that Art in Healthcare (AIH) is only about displaying their collection of artworks on walls in hospitals and care centres, then you will be interested to learn that, as part of a pilot programme, Amelia Calvert, AiH Outreach Manager, has been organising a series of artist-led workshops in a variety of settings around Edinburgh for people of all ages and needs.

One of the artists, painter Leo du Feu, led two workshops at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. He explains in his own blog that he was asked by AiH to select one of about 600 artworks currently available from their collection on which to base his workshops aimed at children aged between 3 and 11. A keen birdwatcher himself, he chose a stylised lithograph of a bird by Colin Thoms, a great choice which was bound to appeal to children. And indeed they responded wonderfully well as we can see from the images of collaged pictures that illustrate Leo’s blog, using different media and techniques and sometimes in collaboration with another child. Their lively pictures speak for themselves of the fun the children had. 

Colin Thoms  Bird, Tree and Red Sun lithograph 49x65cm
AiH collection

AiH repeated this process with other artists and with various organisations around Edinburgh such as the Libertus Day Centre, St Crispins School and Contact the Elderly. The latter group was kindly given permission by the National Gallery of Scotland to meet within their premises and were able to view some of their paintings as well as those from the AiH collection. The feedback from participants and organisations has been overwhelmingly positive. Staff commented on the unusual focus and engagement of all the participants, how they enjoyed creating the artwork and the different techniques offered to them, often revealing very individual responses. All felt that they would have liked more sessions and some thought that the participants would benefit even more if the sessions were particularly suited to their needs. On that last point there is also the argument to consider that perhaps part of the participants’ enjoyment was down to the input of ‘fresh energy’, in Amelia’s words, into the setting by an external practitioner.

Rainbow Owl by Joy, age 11 
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

It takes a particular set of skills to lead art sessions in healthcare settings. The artists selected by AiH for the pilot scheme are not only all practising artists but they also have had prior experience of running such groups. They have already proved their ability to engage with people and to create a relaxing environment that brings out the participants’ creativity. In short and again in Amelia’s words, they are ‘great with people’. As artists they know what different techniques can do and which ones are best suited to the participants’ age and abilities and with their interpersonal skills and their aptitude at dealing with emotions through art, they know how to help the participants express their feelings visually, focusing on the process rather than the end product.

Colourful Bird background by Keegan, age 4
bird and leaves by Jessie, age 6
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

This six months pilot programme was made possible with government funding.  AiH would like to take it further with longer term sessions of workshops and more sustained interaction between the artists and the participants but as with everything else, it is a matter of securing the necessary funding. This programme has been an important learning experience for all involved: for the participants and their carers, for the AiH managers who, incidentally, are all practising artists themselves, and also for the artists. They now have the know-how to build on its success. They have been recently given funding from Age Scotland for another set of workshops. Let us hope there will be many more to follow. You can keep up to date with their Outreach Projects by following AiH on Facebook.

Blackbird by Finn, age 5
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

When the programme ends in January, AiH will be bringing together many of the artworks created during the workshops in an exhibition that will reunite them with the original works from the AiH collection that inspired them.  This promises to brighten up our dark winter days.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh


Thank you

to Amelia Calvert, Art in Healthcare Outreach Manager, for providing me with the information on the current programme and vision for the future

and to Leo du Feu for giving me access to his blog. The results of his workshop at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children can be seen here:  If you wish to hear of Leo's future exhibitions or to discuss workshops you can email him at

Links  The British Association of Art Therapists Leo du Feu’s website Age Scotland 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Artist Uncovered: David Michie OBE, RSA, FRSA

David Michie hardly needs ‘uncovering’. His successful career as an artist and educator spans some sixty years, he has works in international collections, is affiliated to the major British art associations and credited with many distinctions and awards.  I am slightly intimidated at the thought of meeting him but this feeling is soon dispelled, the master is also a charming man.

When entering his studio, I cannot help but remark how tidy it is with rows of paintings neatly stacked against the walls. He assures me this is quite unusual and due to a recent cataloguing exercise he carried out with the help of his daughter. I also notice the many paints and brushes on the table next to the easel.  

David Michie’s studio
image M F Pugh

Perhaps this allusion to order prompts David Michie to start by saying that he has never had what we call today a career path, he simply reacts to what he sees. His inspiration comes from chance observations made for instance while relaxing with family and friends. The cyclists who rode past him at the cafe terrace in Spain reminded him of Assyrian statuary with their taut facial expressions and elongated helmets, the cloud of shimmering damselflies he came across during a family picnic and the contrast between man-made linearity and the undulation of plants he observed while strolling through his friends’ garden, not just any friends but John Houston and Elizabeth Blackadder, all spawned new series of works. 

He has always carried a small sketchbook in his pocket to draw and write down his observations on the spot during his many travels abroad or while walking around Edinburgh. These notebooks are stacked on a small table and are classified in such a way that he can immediately retrieve the drawing that illustrates the point he is making. As he leafs through the pages, his favourite motifs emerge: insects, orchids, plants, cyclists, skateboarders, dancing couples all beautifully drawn with linear pen strokes.

Flower Border etching, 70x79cm
Art in Healthcare collection

When describing these motifs, David Michie’s passion for colours and spectacle shines.  He spent the first six years of his life in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, an exclusive resort on the French riviera where the young David revelled in the Mediterranean sun and joie de vivre. The Michie family’s stay in the south of France between 1925 and 1934 when they returned home to the Scottish Borders, has all the ingredients of a novel: an American millionaire, a palatial villa in need of upgrading, a talented architect and artist in residence (his father James Michie), and the abrupt ending when the millions disappeared in the Wall Street Crash. But for a few years the three Michie boys (David and his two older brothers Alastair and Lindsay) led an idyllic free-roaming existence on the estate, looked after by their mother who would become later the celebrated painter Anne Redpath.  We can imagine the inquisitive little boy discovering the natural world around him, the lyrical sensitivity of later years taking shape in the artistic ambience fostered by his parents.

Poppy Heads screenprint, 44x57cm
Art in Healthcare collection

He also recalls the excitement that the arrival of street entertainers to St Jean created in the household, how he enjoyed their acrobatics and the carnival atmosphere and how years later, during the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, he would follow the bands from the High Street down to the Grassmarket with the same enjoyment, capturing the moment in his notebook. He once went to see the Argentinian dance company ‘Tango Pasión’ when they came to Edinburgh and, even in the dark, managed to make annotations that he used later to compose his witty paintings of dancing couples.

The Dance Hall, Afternoon oil on board, 20x20cm
image courtesy of The Scottish Gallery

These direct notes are indispensable to the realisation of his creative process. David Michie describes his art as “a poetic response to what I have experienced” after the famous quote from William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquillity”. When back in the seclusion of his studio the painter’s emotions go through their final transformation into artworks that he describes as “a marriage of his inspiration and the painting composition that have to be authentic in the language of painting”.

This summer, the Scottish Gallery curated an exhibition entitled ‘The Michie Family’ which brought together works by his mother Anne Redpath, his father James, his brother Alastair and some of his own paintings. When I ask if this retrospective brought any surprises, David Michie confides that he had never thought of his relatives and himself as part of a quartet before as they all came to painting from different directions. I wondered if the reunion of the works might have revealed some shared trait, the way blood relations that have been separated all their lives turn out to display similar mannerisms. After pointing out that any resemblance between the four comes from the particular thinking of the time that is common among contemporaries, he reflects that perhaps there is a certain shared temperament between them and a structure that comes from training and discipline.

Damselfly on a Leaf oil on canvas, 38x38cm
image courtesy of The Scottish Gallery

The minutes fly quickly in the company of David Michie but after over an hour, it is nearly time for me to leave. We talk about the work of Art in Healthcare and look at his works in the collection. He reminds me how things have changed since the time when hospital walls were kept bare to avoid dust.

As to the artworks we can expect to see in the future, he showed me a series of prints made from recently rediscovered copper plates he etched in the 1980s during a visit to Belgrade where he felt completely disorientated because all the street signs were in Cyrillic. This cultural shock had the effect of sharpening further still his sense of observation. The plates were cleaned up and the prints are as fresh today as when they were new. I am spellbound as he flips over print after print of wonderful black and white streetscapes, displaying his characteristic wit. This show should not be missed when the time comes.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

... in addition, I spoke to David Michie since our meeting and he mentioned what a pity it was that we had not talked about the French cineasts Marcel Carné (‘Les Enfants du Paradis’) and Jacques Tati (the Mr Hulot series) and the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who all had a great influence on him. Well, there is enough material here for another blog...


With thanks to David Michie

thank you also to Elizabeth Wemyss of The Scottish Gallery for the use of their images.


The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh
‘The Michie Family’ exhibition catalogue in The Scottish Gallery website:
Alastair Michie
David Michie 
William Wordsworth 
The dance company Tango Pasión
Jacques Tati

Patrick Bourne, 'Anne Redpath 1895-1965', Atelier Books Edinburgh

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A National Portrait

The Public Catalogue Foundation

By mid-December this year, the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) will have uploaded the last remaining painting of approximately 210,000, by some 45,000 painters and spanning 800 years to complete this colossal project started in 2003. During that time the PCF have been tracking down, photographing and cataloguing all oil, acrylic and tempera paintings held in the public domain across the UK. The inclusiveness of this project on a national scale is unique. Unlike other online resources, the PCF catalogue includes all artworks, the great ones and the lesser ones. As many as 80% of these paintings are normally out of sight and most of them have never been photographed before.

To make this huge database available online the PCF sought the partnership of the BBC which created the website ‘Your Paintings’ where everyone can access it freely since its launch in 2011.

'Boats and Houses' by Leon Morrocco
NHS Lothian collection

The chronicle of the PCF work over the last nine years is as remarkable as its final achievement.

The story goes that its existence was born out of frustration. While visiting a county gallery, art enthusiast Frederick Hohler was told that no catalogue existed of their entire collection, so he simply decided to do something about it. The PCF was launched as a not-for-profit charity funded mostly by private grants and donations with less than 15% coming from the public sector. Its total cost on completion will be just under £6m. Its systematic search for paintings region by region has covered not only art galleries and museums but also a lighthouse, fire stations, libraries, community centres, and of course hospitals and care homes which is how Art in Healthcare (AiH) became involved.

As one of AiH volunteers I was able to catch a glimpse of the process involved and of the dedication of those working on the project when I answered a call to go and help Elspeth Mackenzie, their collection manager, on a photo shoot for the PCF in a couple of hospitals in Edinburgh. There I met the local PCF team, Laura Walters, the coordinator and Andy Phillipson, the fine art photographer.

Laura Walters and Andy Phillipson working on site. 
Image courtesy of Iona Shepherd.

Laura, a researcher and art historian and one of 50 PCF regional coordinators, had the task of making the initial contact with the collections. As well as collecting and assessing all data, she planned the cataloguing exercise according to the artworks location. She describes the process as ‘remarkably straightforward’, a statement which does credit to her organisational skills and unflappable calm. The fun part for Laura was visiting so many different places from the residence of the First Minister of Scotland to Edinburgh Zoo, she explains: “One of my favourite locations was Brodie Castle in the Highlands. It is part of the National Trust for Scotland, and it seemed that around every corner was another masterpiece. It took 7 or 8 days in total to catalogue the painting collection there, and it was a real treat to see everything on offer.”

At the photo shoot, the volunteers were divided into two groups, one would accompany Elspeth along corridors and wards to fetch the paintings that could physically be carried to the makeshift photographic studio and the other would assist Laura and Andy with the photographic process.

Paintings in public spaces have to be glazed for protection. This creates a reflected glare which can be prevented by two people holding a length of black cloth at strategic angles determined by the photographer often perched on a chair or a table. When paintings are too large to be taken down, they have to be photographed in situ. The challenge that this presents in busy public places makes Andy even more determined to get it right:

“It always gives me extra satisfaction to get a good photograph of an awkwardly positioned artwork and one particular piece stood out when Laura and I were shooting at a treatment centre in Edinburgh. It became evident quite quickly that the only way to get the shot was to stand outside of the building and have the doors electronically held open whilst I shot back through them and onto the wall using a 400mm lens. I remember only having a few centimetres spare to get a clear shot and also a few minutes before the heavens opened and so felt extremely lucky to get the perfect photograph.”

'Testing the Breeze' by Dorothy Stirling
NHS Lothian collection

Back in his office, Andy would process the raw digital images into catalogue-ready files and forward them to Laura who would finalise the paintings data before passing them on to the PCF headquarters in London. 
Because of its inclusive nature, the PCF catalogue represents an invaluable tool for the free use of individuals and educators such as Stuart Bennett, the head of the School of Art at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA): “The PCF initiative is an excellent resource for all those involved in education or interested in the work in public collections. ECA are working proactively using collections as a way of extending understanding through curation and practice."

With only a few weeks left, the PCF team in London are pulling out all the stops to meet their deadline as well as organising the tagging programme where members of the public are invited to tag paintings on the ‘Your Paintings’ website, to conclude this most democratic and revealing portrait of the UK, of its regions and institutions.

'Red Ginger, Jamaica' by Margaret Mitchell
Art in Healthcare collection

The website ‘Your Paintings’ is compelling. It will sharpen your awareness for artworks that might otherwise be taken for granted. In the words of Andy Phillipson: “The breadth and size of the Art in Healthcare collection through hospital wards, rooms, corridors and care homes is quite staggering and I can’t imagine how these places would look without it.”

What will the PCF do after December?  First they will be completing the publication of the 40 regional printed catalogues while maintaining and enriching the website and then, it is rumoured that, funding permitting, they will be turning their attention to sculptures. We look forward to that.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh.

With many thanks to the following people for their time, contributions and information:

Alice Payne and Laura Marriott from the PCF London head office
Laura Walters and Andy Phillipson from the PCF in Scotland
Stuart Bennett from the School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art

Links to websites:

The Public Catalogue Foundation
The PCF tagging programme

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Artist Uncovered: Alison Auldjo

When I met up with artist and gallery owner Alison Auldjo, she told me that she considers herself lucky and it is easy to see why. She set up the UNIONgallery in Broughton Street, a creative and buzzing niche of Edinburgh, with her husband Rob Dawkins at a time when few would have been brave enough to do so. She brought together an impressive group of artists and three years later, she can claim a string of successful shows to her credit. 

But this kind of achievement takes more than luck, it takes hard work, dedication and passion. She works closely with the artists, she considers them more like partners than clients and she is passionate about art, she confided that she could not show something that she does not like.

The same qualities are also true of her own practice. Her oil landscapes are strong compositions inspired by Scottish sceneries typically in earthy autumn colours such as ‘Across the Water’ which is in the Art in Healthcare collection. The broad horizontal bands of strong colours take the eye step by step up to the sinuous hills in the distance where the vast tranquillity of the sky calms down the scene below.

‘Across the Water’, oil on card, 41 x 48 cm, Art in Healthcare

This duality of mood is a recurring feature in Auldjo’s work where she frequently offsets areas of intense emotions with wide expanses of stillness. In ‘Open Spaces’, the fiery tones and energy of the brush strokes in the distance and around the barren trees on the right are counterbalanced by the milky tones of the pond in the foreground and by the flat blue-grey sky.

‘Open Spaces’, oil on canvas, 82 x 82 cm, courtesy of the artist

Although her landscapes depict actual places in Scotland, often the undulating Lowlands around Bonnybridge where she grew up, they deal with more than just topography. Her style is expressionist and, with contrasting components, she reveals through her paintings conflicting inner thoughts of elation, doubt or contentment and, a desire for ‘breathing space’. Some of her compositions are inhabited by animals such as birds and hares which, she explains, represent escape and survival. She believes in safety in numbers which, incidentally, happens to be the title of one of her paintings where two birds fly upwards in unison. This motto also typifies Auldjo’s vision for the aptly named UNIONgallery.

Auldjo pushes these universal themes further still by giving some of her animals an indeterminate and primeval appearance, such as the four-legged beast which features in ‘Into the Wilderness’. This poignant creature reached its final manifestation through many transformations and gives the painting the dream-like quality of symbolist landscapes, poised as it is on the edge of darkness.

‘Into the Wilderness’, oil on canvas, 93 x 78 cm, courtesy of the artist

Alison has now sold all the paintings from her solo show ‘Gone to Earth’ a year ago and is already thinking of her next show in 2014. She is planning once again to throw caution to the wind and despite the widely held view that in times of difficult economic climate, you should use a bright palette, she will follow her inclination which serves her so well and do the opposite. We look forward to it.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist


With thanks to Alison Auldjo for her information, the use of the images and for the tour of the gallery.


About Alison Auldjo’s painting in the Art in Healthcare collection

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Art in Healthcare’s quick response to QR codes

You will have seen them in magazines, on bank statements, food, clothes labels and business cards. The black and white square QR codes are appearing everywhere. You might find their two-dimensional pixilated look intriguing in a way that the linear one-dimensional bar codes have now ceased to be and you might be wondering at their purpose.
QR (Quick Response) codes started as a tracking device in the automobile industry and today can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone equipped with a camera and a code reader, a free downloadable app for smartphones. All you need to do is click the barcode reader app, point your phone at the QR code and that's it - immediately the encoded information appears on your screen. There is no need to key in a long website address and you can do it all while on the move. You can even create your own code and download it on printed materials or online.

Here's a short video explaining how to use a QR code.

Art in Healthcare was prompt to recognise the benefits of this technology for their art collection displayed in hospitals and care homes and earlier this year, they initiated a large task that involved several of their staff and a dozen volunteers. Artworks and artists were researched and the information was uploaded to the artworks' webpages selected for the new Royal Victoria building at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. There are more than 50 artists with artwork in the Royal Victoria including Elizabeth Blackadder, Alan Davie and John Houston.

Abi Allsopp, the AiH Media Manager, explains: “When a label is scanned by smartphone, a webpage for that specific artwork is opened and the viewer can find out all sorts of information including descriptions and details about the work they're looking at, the life and work of the artist who painted it, and other pieces which are similar to it. The project at the Royal Victoria building was generously sponsored by Laing O’Rouke building contractors and match funded by Arts & Business Scotland. Since starting the project in June we've had almost 100 page views per month.”

The number of views mentioned by Abi confirms the opinion generally held that QR codes are more than just a passing phase. The benefits to the patients, staff and visitors are obvious, the QR codes enrich the experience of the artworks and of the moment by opening a whole world of ideas and information in just a few seconds.
If you have not tried it yet, why don’t you have a go with the two QR codes below.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer 
and visual artist based in Edinburgh

Artist: Chris Bushe

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Artist Uncovered: Henry Kondracki

Born, bred and based in Edinburgh, the city features prominently in Henry Kondracki’s work, often depicted in dark and wintry nights. But his paintings are not dystopian visions of the modern metropolis. On the contrary, they are lyrical cityscapes, full of poetry and emotions where his brushstrokes playfully distort the lines of buildings to conquer their daunting mass while at the same time remaining true to their identity and features as in this view of the east end of Princes Street entitled ‘The Wellington Statue’.

‘The Wellington Statue’, oil on canvas, 133 x 150 cm, courtesy of The Scottish Gallery

Here we can see how the artist has offset the pervasive greyness with many touches of bright colours and placed the focus on the people’s resilience as they go about their daily lives despite the inclement weather.

Henry Kondracki trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in the 1980s. He has won many prizes throughout his career and is represented in many collections and galleries. Art in Healthcare has four of his works.

In ‘Autumn on Arthur’s Seat’ the city is seen from above and occupies most of the composition but, in complete contrast with ‘The Wellington Statue’, it is bathed in golden colours. A small figure is seating in the foreground, facing away from us towards the familiar landmarks in the distance, in harmony with nature, the city and the sky.

‘Autumn on Arthur’s Seat’, watercolour, 77 x 94 cm

In ‘Miles and His Kite’ we recognise Kondracki’s theme of the solitary figure connected physically and spiritually with nature. This powerful Expressionist painting is set on an idyllic and deserted sandy beach and the artist has imbued the diminutive figure with the same determination displayed by his city dwellers as Giles takes control of his kite by the mere suggestion of a string.

‘Miles and His Kite’, oil on canvas, 141 x 153 cm

I went to see this painting in the Royal Victoria Building at the Western General Hospital. It has pride of place in the common room where patients eat and relax and it felt right that it should hang next to a glass wall with panoramic views towards the Firth of Forth. I enjoyed its depth and intensity. All Kondracki’s paintings are drawn out first and these marks soon disappear under many layers of paint that he applies with meticulous brushstrokes until he feels the work is done.

The two remaining works in the collection are both monochrome prints which illustrate the artist’s mastery of line and sense of humour.

‘Shipwrecked’, screenprint, 63 x 81 cm

In the course of our conversation, Henry pointed out that the fishing line in ‘Shipwrecked’ and the string of the kite represent continuity and connect not only the earth, sky and water but also time, nature, history, all the great issues which guide our transient lives.

He also explained that he is always aware of the dichotomy permanence vs. impermanence and that although his works suspend a moment in time, that this moment will last an eternity or at least several generations and will be on somebody’s wall for all that time. This is why the thought is never far from his mind, except when he is absorbed in the work, that his paintings should be as joyful, uplifting and healing as possible.

The elderly patient in the Royal Victoria common room certainly seemed to think so.

Further information: 

The Scottish Gallery will be showing Henry Kondracki’s 'Works on Paper' from 8 October till 3 November 2012.

The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh is currently showing a breathtaking selection of Expressionist and Symbolist painters in the 'Van Gogh to Kandinsky' exhibition until 14 October.


With many thanks to Henry Kondracki for his time and for sharing his thoughts during our telephone conversation.

Thank you also to The Scottish Gallery for the use of 'The Wellington Statue' image.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Carterhaugh and Forest Pitch, A Tale of Two Ba' Games

In the middle of the Olympic Games, I went to see ‘Playing for Scotland. The Making of Modern Sport’, the exhibition of sporting paintings, photographs and memorabilia now showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. I counted twenty four different sports in total, some of them hundreds of years old and many still practised today. Football is particularly well documented. I learned that it all started with the ancient tradition of the village ba’ game which incidentally is still played today in certain Scottish towns, when whole communities or parishes got involved behind two opposite sides, the ‘uppies’ vs. the ‘doonies’. 
One particular ba’ game still stands out today from the rest. We are reminded of it by a small etching by James Stephanoff entitled ‘Lifting the Banner of the House of Buccleuch at the Great Foot-Ball Match on Carterhaugh’. The epic encounter between Selkirk and Yarrow took place in December 1815. Volunteers from other parishes joined the two sides until their combined numbers reached the hundreds and all marched to the site of the game to the sound of the pipes. The military feel was reinforced by the display of the Buccleuch Banner, a relic of past wars. The Duke of Buccleuch in person supported the Yarrow side while Selkirk was championed by its Sherriff, none other than Sir Walter Scott whose literary works spread his positive portrayal of Scottish identity across the world.  Scott was greatly instrumental in the organisation of the contest.
Not surprisingly, the arts were part of the proceedings and the 2000 spectators were handed out verses by Scott and James Hogg, the poet and novelist. The pitch was over one mile long with the Ettrick Water and the River Yarrow for goal lines. Selkirk wore twigs of fir and Yarrow, sprigs of heather. The game lasted more than four hours and remarkably, humour and good behaviour were maintained throughout even though betting money was at stake. Eventually it ended nil-nil, such was the athletic fitness of the men.
Almost two hundred years later, another football event is currently being organised in the Borders with the patronage of the arts. ‘Forest Pitch’ is the creation of Edinburgh-based artist Craig Coulthard and was selected to represent Scotland in the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The project which is supported by Creative Scotland, involved felling spruce in a commercial plantation in the Borders to make the pitch. The trees were then recycled into changing rooms, goal posts, seating and fencing. 

Craig Coulthard in front of the pitch
picture by Angie Catlin, courtesy of 'Forest Pitch'

Two matches are to take place bringing together four amateur teams, two male and two female with many of the players having recently arrived to Scotland from various parts of the world and all will be wearing strips designed by schoolchildren. After the event, the pitch will be planted with native trees as a lasting reminder.

Forest Pitch strips with their young designers
picture by Angie Catlin, courtesy of 'Forest Pitch'

Coulthard’s inspiration evolved from his memories of playing football as a boy in a forest in Germany where he grew up. He has been closely involved with the games and the players but will not be taking part in the matches and, as a keen amateur footballer, finds it difficult to resist kicking the ball when watching the practice sessions. He explains that although he was aware of Scott and Hogg neither men nor their work have a direct influence on his work and that the Carterhaugh Ba’ just happened to be a wonderful coincidence. I see in what similarities there are between the two, a heartening sign of the continuity of the Scottish spirit and identity. 
The Cultural Olympiad got under way in 2008 and like the Olympic Games it has involved and inspired millions across the UK. ‘Forest Pitch’ is a celebration of Scotland’s cultural diversity, its passion for ball games and the spirit of amateur sport.  It also shows that when the arts and sports come together, anything is possible!

For information:
The ‘Forest Pitch’ games will take place on August 25 and tickets are available from the ‘Forest Pitch’ website.
The Buccleuch Estates at Bowhill are considering a re-enactment of the Carterhaugh Ba’ game in 2015 to mark its bicentenary.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Craig Coulthard for his information and images and to Matthew Shelley of ‘Forest Pitch’ for his images.

The National Galleries of Scotland, ‘Playing for Scotland’ exhibition
Craig Coulthard
‘Forest Pitch’
Buccleuch Estates at Bowhill