Review of SSA 2010, The Times, Giles Sutherland

The Times

Review of the SSA 113th Annual Exhibition

Royal Scottish Academy

by Giles Sutherland
Published: The Times 15th March 2010
star rating (four) ****

The society’s stated aim, ‘to represent the more adventurous spirits in art,’ has obtained for well over a century. Here, despite reduced exhibiting space and the lack of a coherent curatorial theme, it continues to do so.

The SSA has always had an international element – in the past Munch, Klee and de Staël shared space with home-grown talent. In line with this outward-looking policy the society has invited twelve graphic artists and printmakers from the Wroc?aw Academy of Fine Art in Poland.

Poland has long and enviable tradition in the graphic arts and this strong legacy can be seen in the work of Jacek Szewczyk, Andrzej Basaj and Anna Janusz-Strzyz², amongst others. The grouping of the work as a coherent visual ensemble demonstrates both its thematic diversity and it common cultural roots. Pawel Frackiewicz’s ‘The Bull’ and Przemyslaw Tyszkiewicz’s ‘Abyss’ seem to expose the dark underbelly of the Polish psyche so evident elsewhere, for example, in the country’s tradition of poster-making for cinema and theatre.

As well as internationalism another mainstay of the society’s approach is to give equal status to the work of emerging artists. Their work can be seen alongside the more established names such as Joyce Gunn Cairns, Philip Reeves, Silvia von Hartmann and June Carey. Recent graduates including Ben Fielding, Jonathan Richards, Craig Shepherd and Eilidh Thomson provide evidence, if any were needed, that the nation’s art schools are rich in diversity and fresh thinking.

There’s a wide range of media here but painting and drawing in particular have a strong showing — from newly-qualified Georgia Murray’s fantasy mountain landscape to Matthew Draper’s pastel, ‘Atlantic’. In the tradition of Turner and McTaggart, Draper seems to have positioned himself within the sea, not merely observing, but experiencing, what he records. The result is a subtle yet powerful work, combining delicacy and high emotion.

Elsewhere, sculptors Justin Butcher, Elaine Allison, Liz Skulina and Fiona Hutchison show great flair. Alistair Clark, Gayle Nelson and Duncan Robertson all use photography in different ways to convey as strong set of meanings. Robertson, in particular, places himself in an art historical tradition of self-portraiture by referring to Caravaggio’s self-portrait as Bacchus. It’s a witty, skilful use of the lens where apparent simplicity belies depth and complexity.

Although the society shares its space this year with the The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour and Visual Arts Scotland, the judicious selection has produced a slimmed down, highly professional hang of variety, depth and experience.