Three Scottish Contemparies
It may not be a movement, but who cares?
If you want to find freshness and vitality in modern
painting, look north.
Operating almost beneath the radar screen of the
London critics- as with many aspects of Scottish
life and culture- it would seem that contemporary
painters here have been quietly developing a language
and stye that is attractively distinguishable from
their southern counterparts.
To choose a small handful of artists to represent
this spirit was always going to be an arbitrary
and invidious task. For the three represented here,
at least another 30 have claims for inclusion.
The selection is not wholly arbitrary though.
That many of the works embody something definably
'Scottish' is one criterion - from the haunting
poetry of Wendy Sutherland's Highland landscapes,
via Edinburgh-based Damian Callan's vigorous and
expressive figure work, to the engagingly original
wool and embroidery assemblages of Moy Mackay in
Technical innovation is
also a common thread: an invention often born
of necessity, according to Wendy Sutherland. "New technologies are
essential when living so remotely," says Sutherland,
whose home is situated well to the north of Inverness. "I
cannot imagine having the relationships, or the
shows with galleries, if it was not for the email
communications and the flying around of jpegs in
the cyber ether ."
Another unitary factor
seems to be the fact that so many of the up-and-coming
Scottish artists studied in Scotland itself.
All three artists featured here studied at Scottish
art schools, which hitherto may have escaped
the depredations and lack of resources of their
English counterparts. Moy Mackay, who now lives
and works in the Tweed Valley on the Scottish
Borders, recalls that as a student, when comparing
notes with English friends (she did a foundation
course in Manchester), she found that the facilities
and course at Glasgow were significantly better
than those available to her English peers. She
also recalls a strong work ethic in the Scottish
schools - "everyone just worked so hard".
English born Damian Callan
agrees that in recent years art teaching has
been of a higher standard in Scotland . "Fifteen
years ago I went to Edinburgh's Art College,
where I achieved quite rigorous drawing experience.
There was always a model to draw. In England,
most drawing and painting has been thrown out."
Callan, whose vibrant and
compelling figure work has brought wide recognition,
teaches sell-out drawing and life classes at
the Leith School of Art, Edinburgh, in his spare
time. Ironically, he fears that the Scottish
schools may be going the same way as so many
in England, and has started to run classes form
his own studio base. The courses are, he says, "strongly based on the fundamentals-
learning to draw and observe".
Defining the unique qualities of current Scottish
painting is somewhat more difficult because it
is so varied. Someone well qualified to comment
is Gavin Bonnar of Chameleon Arts, a kind of bespoke
virtual gallery and all-round service facility
for many Scottish artists. "I do agree that
there is something distinctive about contemporary
Scottish works, which are definitely inspired by
the landscape, climate and light, " says Bonnar.
One important indication
of the vitality of the Sottish scene is the thriving
market in art sales, whether of the prints or
originals. Scots have always liked buying their
own art and Bonnar started Chameleon about ten
years ago when he was still at college. "I
saw a lot of really talented artists around me
who worked hard all year for their degree show.
This was their one chance to exhibit their best
work to the public, art buyers and potential
employers, but it only lasted two weeks or less
and the graduates packed up and went their separate
ways. I felt this was such a waste and thought
about how useful and beneficial it would be for
the artists and the public if the art college
was open to business. People would commission
paintings, furniture... all in one place."
Today, Chameleon enables
artists to show their portfolio on the site for
a yearly subscription of £20 (£50 for the initial set-up
and the first year's hosting.) The site has grown
to include photographs, digital artists, fashion
and jewellery. As one example, says Bonnar, Chameleon
sells an average of £700-worth of hand-signed
prints per month on behalf of well-known artist
Wendy Sutherland confesses
she's unsure whether the exciting development
in Scotland art constitutes a movement as such.
What does seem to flurishing, are more regionally
based groupings such as Visual Arts Sutherland,
with which she is connected. She says that although "we
get together to rarely for it to have a major
impact on the artistic lives of the individuals
involved, none the less it has over 30 members
in Sutherland. So there is obviously a need for
some kind of validation that we are not alone
in creating work-even though it is a very isolating
practice especially when living so remotely."
There is of course a long
tradition of artist communities setting up in
self-imposed isolation from the distractions
of modern life. The current Scottish revival-if
it can be called such-feels far from insular,
however. As Wendy Sutherland says:"There
are definitely many talented people up here,
published artists with international reputations
such as Lotte Glob and Sue Jane Taylor. "
At a time when the English scene seems to be going
through one of its periodic fits of sef-doubt and
uncertanity,, it's good to report that at least
one part of the Union is getting on quietly and
confidently with the business of making and selling
quality works of art.
Born: Brora, Sutherland, 1975
Education: BA Hons & MFA, Edinburgh College
Innovative, widely exhibited landscape artist drawing
inspiration from her surroundings in the Scottish
It would be hard to find a painter more imbued
with a sense of what makes the Highlands and Islands
so different from any other place in the world.
After graduating from Edinburgh, Wendy took the
bold step of making the area the base for her career.
"The house I stay
in has been in my family for over four generations.
When my dad inherited it form my grandparents
and could not live in it himself, because of
where he worked, it gave me the opportunity to
live here rent-free. This took the pressure off
and allowed me to be a full-time painter- something
I'd always wanted.
"moving onto this
house was like returning home, a natural step
in my life; I lived in this village until the
age of 11, and after that time spent many holidays
here with my grandparents. I have
been back here for four years now and there and
there is quite an artist's community.
"My memories are an important source for my work. However, it is when
these impressions are translated through the language of paint and other mixed
media that my images become something more that traditional Scottish landscape
"The process by which these images are made is very important to me. This
ranges from physically throwing paint and pigment onto the canvas, to delicately
drawing and rendering images. Although the figure is abandoned in my work,
I consider it to be very much about a human relationship to the landscape.
"Photoshop and digital photography are useful tools for developing ideas
and compositions. I need to be hans-on and open to the images changing and
leading me down in their own path- often away from the original concept or
idea in my head"
Born: London, 1960
Education: Edinburgh College of Art
Popular figurative painter- in demand for commissioned
work and life-drawing tuition.
Damian Callan is exceptional in many ways. Born
in England, he moved to Edinburgh when he married
and went to art school there at the unusually late
age of 30. He had intended to study biology, but
while working at the Garvald Centre specialising
in creative opportunities for adults with disabilities,
he found himself doing more creative work. He then
decided to study art formally.
With his characteristic
dynamic brushstrokes and blurred outline, it's
hard to believe that he found painting "a real struggle" . Although
he has drawn since childhood, he didn't achieve
the desired breakthrough until relatively recently
when he was observing the wave machine at his local
swimming pool. He started by taking photographs
from a viewing window and then painting quickly
using rollers to get a sense of movement- "catching
the thing before it flies", as he puts it.
Up until now there have
been two main discernible stands in his work:
his paintings of swimmers and athletes; and atmospheric
studies of family holidays in Argyll featuring
his four children. He is now working on bringing
these two strands together- "taking
single figures (of children) and putting them against
almost an abstract background and concentrating
on movement" he adds: "I try to make
my pictures as dramatic as possible, full of movement
and strong, contrasting light. I enjoy painting
athletes and swimmers in motion, because this requires
an energetic technique: the charcoal or paint hitting
the paper or canvas at speed."
Born: Edinburgh, 1966. Education: BA Hons, Glasgow
School of Art
Pioneering artist who has developed a technique
of using hand-dyed merino wool with felting and
embroidery techniques to produce rich textural
images finishes under glass.
After graduating from Glasgow, Moy moved to the
Scottish Borders area of the Tweed , where she
now lives and works. She paints the landscape,
livestock and flowers here, using dyed fleece and
Her technique is to replace
paint as a medium with sheep's dyed wool. "I
did printed textiles at art school. About five
years ago, I wanted to go back into painting
but I couldn't quite get the effect I wanted,
so I thought I'd try this."
It's a remark of typical modesty. What 'this'
consists of is the selection of finest quality
merino fibres, which are built up to create the
picture; soap and hot water are then applied. By
means of rubbing and rolling, the fibers are joined
together. The work is embellished with hand and
Although the results are
strikingly rich in colour and texture, she only
really achieved success when she framed them
and out the under glass. "That's
what made them look like paintings."
Her work is now in great demand. Each creation
is unique, though she will happily try to do one
similar to a work on her website. So far she has
limited print copies to a one-off venture with
Macdonald Fine Art, which is producing some high-quality
giclee versions of her work.