Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Artist Uncovered: Elspeth Lamb RSA

The eight prints by Elspeth Lamb in the AiH Collection span three decades and altogether encapsulate the internationally renowned printmaker’s diverse repertoire of silkscreen, collage, lithograph, screenprinting and papermaking.
The titles March Hare, Miracle Fish and Milagro give us an inkling of Lamb’s predilection for fairy tales and enchantment and this is indeed confirmed unmistakably by the allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the cover image of her website and by the artist’s long blond hair that echoes the famous golden locks. Motifs from Lewis Carroll’s classic novel recur in Lamb’s iconography, not only the hare but also the ubiquitous ellipse, sometime egg, sometime mirror. 
Spinner screenprint, 103x113.8cm
AiH Collection

These references to Alice seem most appropriate when you consider that it is the privilege of artists to cross over two worlds, the mundane and the extraordinary and to take the viewers through the looking glass into the land of dreams. And as in Alice’s story, there is a certain frisson of danger in Lamb’s make-believe art with appellations like ‘chimera’, ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ and ‘cantrip’, the Scots word for magical spell.
Printmaking is steeped in rituals and processes. But for printmakers, the exacting nature of their methods is not limiting but opens up an ever-increasing array of possibilities the more skilled they become.
Milagro lithograph, 125x92cm
AiH Collection

Elspeth Lamb is an expert in her art form which she taught for over twenty years at Edinburgh College of Art, latterly as Head of the Printmaking department. Then in 1999 she left college to embrace a freelance career, a momentous decision that allowed her to divide her time from then on between her own practice and teaching through workshops.
Travels had always been important to her work and she was now able to spend even more time abroad at the invitation of art institutions. Japan held a particular fascination for her and in 2000 she got the opportunity to immerse herself in its culture when she was selected for an international residency programme. She spent ten weeks in the village of Nagasawa and turned the tables on herself by becoming the pupil of master craftsmen to study moku hanga, a water-based method of woodblock printing that produces stunningly vivid and transparent colours. 
March Hare screenprint, 71x41cm
AiH Collection

She returned to Japan two years later to learn traditional papermaking as part of her research for a book she had been commissioned to write which was subsequently published in 2006 under the title Papermaking for Printmakers.  Lamb called upon a number of experts to work with her on this very detailed handbook and in her introduction she explains eloquently the seduction and rationale of papermaking that she describes as “a tactile revolt against the limitations of the flat, one-dimensional print”. 
Physically challenging and time consuming, it is also enormously rewarding because the artists can add to the pulp specially chosen elements that evoke places and emotions through touch and smell as well as visually. The end result is two artworks in one, the paper and the print which complement each other perfectly, layers upon layers.
Miracle Fish screenprint, 70x40cm
AiH Collection

Inspired by her two visits to Japan, Lamb produced in 2006 an artist’s book Nagasawa Cantrips. In this limited edition of ten, the artist has conjured up the best of her skills to bring together traditional and modern printing methods, Western and Eastern thinking and her favourite themes. March Hare and Miracle Fish are two of a few prints that were produced separately and that can be enjoyed today by the patients, staff and visitors of the healthcare setting they enhance.

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

For further information: 
Papermaking for Printmakers by Elspeth Lamb, pub. A&C Black, London

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Artist Uncovered: Duncan Pettigrew 1973-1993

"Love your art"

In many ways Duncan Pettigrew was a typical adolescent full of youthful enthusiasm and confidence. Art was his passion and although his most productive period only spanned a couple of years, he left behind enough works to fill up several gallery spaces. 
Self-portrait (with hat) oil, 100x76cm 
(aged 16 when at Edinburgh Academy)
image courtesy of J and M Pettigrew

His numerous self-portraits show a young man looking straight at the viewer, not with arrogance but with the assurance that befitted the accomplished draughtsman that he was. The word ‘extraordinary’ comes to mind when describing the extent and range of his talent. John Brown who taught him in fifth and sixth year at Edinburgh Academy in Edinburgh and himself a renowned artist was impressed by his technical ability at such a young age.
The wealth of details in his works reveal to us his sharp observation skills and his delight in putting together carefully conceived and balanced compositions livened up with boldly contrasting light and dark tones for dramatic effect.
Self-portrait (with trophy)  oil, 110x76cm
(aged 17 when at Edinburgh Academy, 
inspired by the award of the Burness Trophy for Painting)
image courtesy of J and M Pettigrew

Duncan may have inherited his aptitude from his artistic parents but his competence was entirely his own and earned through fervent practice. He was constantly drawing and his sketchbooks show how he learnt about the way things connect and relate to one another:  the front door to their house, the large cheese plant sprawling up the banister, the florid wallpaper in a holiday home abroad. 
This fusion of eagerness and talent gave rise to the prodigious pace that defined his working process. His father recalls that in the time it took him to do half a drawing, Duncan would do four or five.
Sack Series No 1 pastel, 53x41cm
(still life in LSA studio)
AiH Collection

He had been accepted by Glasgow School of Art when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. After his first stay in hospital, he surprised everyone by producing seven large self-portraits within a week, each one named after the day it was completed. This series of charcoal drawings shows his keen sense of humour as in Sunday where he drew himself wrapped up in toilet paper, the one thing that was close at hand and in abundant supply. His art became his way of thumbing his nose at his illness.
While in hospital he received a visit from John Bellany who was a friend of his mother from art college. Bellany gave him a large compendium of Picasso’s works with the hand-written dedication “Love your Art”. 
Duncan spent the following year at Leith School of Art (LSA). In this nurturing environment and with renewed strength, he was able to enjoy this most creative time to the full and never wasted one moment. Typically the four studies in the Sack Series currently with Art in Healthcare were executed as a single studio assignment. 
Sack Series no 3 pencil, 53x41cm
(still life in LSA studio)
AiH Collection

LSA principal Philip Archer who taught him, remembers clearly not only his talent but also his strength of character and clarity of thinking beyond his years and of course his sense of humour. He recalls that Duncan worked hard and wanted to be pushed hard but at the same time that he did not take himself too seriously and held on to his achievements lightly. 
In 1994 Philip Archer and the Pettigrew family put together a show to celebrate Duncan’s artworks that filled the walls of LSA. A book entitled Love your Art accompanied the exhibition and helped raise money for the Leukaemia and Bone Marrow Transplant Fund at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. 
Self-portrait (Sunday) charcoal, 130x75cm
image courtesy of J and M Pettigrew

Duncan’s talent and fortitude inspired all those who came across him and this extract from a poem by Dylan Thomas that Philip Archer appended to his foreword to Love your art is a particularly fitting tribute to this remarkable artist:
                                         “Do not go gentle into that goodnight,
                                          Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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

With thanks to Jennifer and Maurice Pettigrew and to Philip Archer.
With thanks to Soosan Danesh for photographing the self-portraits above.

Love your art is available for borrowing from Edinburgh libraries.

Related link
Leith School of Art

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Artist Uncovered: Paul Martin

Of beeswax and metaphysics

Earlier this year, Art in Healthcare were delighted to welcome in their Collection two paintings by Paul Martin, one of the leading exponents of encaustic art today. In this process the artist mixes pure pigments with melted beeswax over many layers often resulting in dreamlike paintings with a matt and subtle finish.

 Repapering  oil, encaustic,149x180cm
AiH Collection

Encaustic is about experimenting with natural ingredients and can be traced back to antiquity. This suits Paul Martin very well for here is an artist who is profoundly inspired by nature and favours continuity and authenticity over shock of the new.
The two paintings, ‘Repapering’ and ‘The Sculptor in his Studio’ which both date back to the 1980s, are figurative works with similar tones and aesthetics. Their titles evoke ordinary activities but the unrealistic and staged feel of their compositions suggest metaphors instead. They tease the viewers with a myriad of questions.

The Sculptor’s Studio  oil, encaustic,146x192cm
AiH Collection

In Repapering, why is the father’s head out of sight? What is the mother doing in the background? What is the flowery pattern on the ripped wallpaper telling us? Is the child playing with a mirror? Is it a mirror? What is a mirror? 

In The Sculptor’s Studio, what is this broken circle the artist is holding in his right hand? Is it a tool? Is it an allusion to the mirror in the other painting? Are the square and triangular patterns on the floor some mathematical puzzles? Who are the sculpted figures? 

4 , 'Inscapes' series
image courtesy of the artist

By setting these paintings like theatrical tableaux the artist wishes to open up these fundamental questions. And of course there are no right or wrong answers, just wide ranging possibilities. For instance in Repapering, some viewers might see a resemblance between the sculptor and Socrates, the founder of Western philosophy and between the bust being created and Socrates’ ‘spiritual son’, Immanuel Kant. And is it purely coincidental that Socrates is credited with a particular method of enquiry known as Socratic Circles?

Crossing the Yellow River (detail, right panel) oil, encaustic, 215x157cm
image courtesy of the artist

Paul Martin’s disposition for debate was honed through discussions with his tutors and peers first at the Birmingham School of Art, a strong advocate of Abstract Expressionism, and later at the Royal Academy, a calculated choice that brought him back to figurative drawing.  Then teaching came naturally to him as something that “he could not not do” but he kept up his own painting practice in parallel with his teaching career through the years and found that this dual focus benefited both his work and his students.

Song Upon Song Upon Song varnishes, gesso, ink on paper, 201x78x62cm
image courtesy of the artist

The sixty-seven works in his recent exhibition 'When Men and Mountains Meet' at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh were painted over the last seven years. The style has changed since the 1980s. Now vigorous and expressionist marks fill up large canvasses sometime inhabited by outlined figures whose beautiful faces peer quizzically beyond the canvas. The painted surface is more gritty and organic but it is still sealed with wax which, says Martin, “metaphysically bonds” us all together with nature.

Race oil, encaustic, mixed media
image courtesy of the artist

The artist stresses that the concerns are the same today as twenty five years ago. The exhibition also acknowledges his reading of ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ by Rainer Maria Rilke that has taken his investigation into the nature of nature into new directions. References to bird songs and flowing arias remind us that humanity should respect nature which is to be enjoyed by all living organisms.

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

With thanks to Paul Martin

For further information:
Paul Martin's website:
Paul Martin's exhibition 'When Men and Mountains Meet'!exhibition/cnnt
Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
Warburton Gallery!when-men-and-mountains-meet/c12l0

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.