Posts tagged ‘Aberdeen Art Gallery’

March 30, 2015

High Jinks at Aberdeen Art Gallery

They were queuing down Schoolhill to get into the high jinks at Aberdeen Art Gallery this weekend despite there being no exhibition.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

One hundred and thirty years down the line and the gallery is finally getting a major extension and refurbishment. It is not without controversy for the rooftop addition seems oddly out of kilter with the grand, sombre pink Corrennie and white Kemnay granite solidity of the weel kent facade on Schoolhill.

Aberdeen granite

The unique granite columns in a rainbow of colours, most from local quarries, topped with gilded Doric capitals are a reminder of an industry that will forever be associated with Aberdeen and the northeast of Scotland, and that the gallery was first established to promote local industry and craft.

But this blog is not about architecture. That is a dreary enough topic in the realm of Aberdeen City lately but a meandering, though short reminiscence of what the gallery has meant for me for I’ll miss it over the next couple of years.

It used to sit next door to Gray’s Art School. Not that the gallery has moved but the art school has, and while attending Saturday morning classes there as a youngster I suppose I was first introduced to the gallery.

It was a very different place from how it looks today. For example the once much loved sculpture court, filled with figures I think copies of ancient classical statues, was a source of infinite fascination for kids, and probably adults. I spent hours drawing one or other of them. I think we had names for one or two but can’t remember what those were. Can’t recall either when it was decided the sculptures were too out-of-date and were relegated to the knackers yard but they were sorely missed. Their departure opened up a large hall for temporary exhibitions but I never felt the same about them as I did about the maze of ghostly figures that invited you in to wander around and up to them to stretch out a tentative hand to trace the smooth plaster of a beautifully formed limb or take their icy cold fingers in yours.

Then came the 1970s and the space was populated with abstract sculptures equally tactile and hugely attractive for wee bairns for some of them would not be out of place in a children’s playground.

I always had more conservative tastes as far as the gallery’s collections were concerned. My favourite pictures were upstairs in the green room where a cluster of tiny portraits were exhibited on vertical display boards that you could open up. Several were by the Aberdeen artist George Reid and the translucency of his skin tones are breathtaking; on a par with Ramsay’s.

Titian's First Study in Colour

It too disappeared, into storage as the gallery changed. What did stay in that room was the hugely popular William Dyce picture, Titian’s First Essay in Colouring. The colours, appropriately enough are sumptuous and it is one of those paintings you can spend a long time staring into for its detail and magic. Aberdonian Dyce was part of the pre-Raphaelite circle and while the gallery has several by the better-known of the movement’s artists, it is the Dyce that I prefer. Here in the green room was Millais’s portrait of a young girl, Bright Eyes, with its striking resemblance to my daughter so that it became a must-see whenever we were in the gallery.

bright eyes

Henri La Thangue’s Ploughboy was another of my favourites and possibly one reason I took so much to the French realists who painted artisans, peasants and labourers with near spiritual reverence.Ploughboy Guthrie


Jules Bastien-Lepage’s painting of a child Going to School is simply charming. An everyday scene from a French village the sparsity of the background means it is the elaborate headgear worn by the child as well as its sweet face which are the captivating elements within it.

And the Goose Girl or as it’s not known, To Pastures New. This wonderful study by James Guthrie is such an striking image and the colours so subtle and perfect and quiet and ideally pastoral.

goose girl

Train Landscape by Eric Ravilious I used to find oddly captivating in an understated way.


As a teenager I visited the red and green rooms less often preferring to look at the Leger still life and Paul Nash’s trees in a landscape. nash

The shapes fascinated me. George Braque too was one of my introductions to cubism. But a visit was never complete without a peek at Landseer’s Highland Flood for few could resist reading this vast picture like a book brimmed with tragedy and drama.


There were the chairs. Fittingly the gallery chairs were very different from any we had at home. Very designery and modern (though in fact by the time I was going into the gallery they were old designs), black leather and chrome: squashy soft seats that invited visitors to sit and stare into the fountain, once it was added and which used to have a Barbara Hepworth piece at its centre.

I never took to the café which replaced the old teashop with its cake stands filled with sandwiches and fancies. There was something quintessentially sophisticated and worthy about the old place which the cafe never achieved, always found it a noisy, uncomfortable space with far less attractive food than most other places nearby and not a patch on any other museum I’ve visited.

One upon a time Aberdeen did have a museum dedicated to, well, Aberdeen. Housed in the dunks of the Cowdray Hall it was a long narrow space, all dark varnished wood and, as I remember though I expect misremember, filled with dusty glass cases you had to peer into and were filled with all kinds of this and that to enthral young minds.

In the modern era I quite like Julian Opie’s Sara Walking for its rhythmic almost hypnotic quality. Almost. opie

My favourite of the most recent acquisitions is the figure of a Chinese girl holding flowers aloft as a salute. Can’t remember what it’s called or who the artist is but there’s something highly attractive, in a literal sense, to this piece.


There were no such attractions on show this weekend. The hundreds who waited patiently to get in were the attraction in a sense, putting their mark on its walls, it is their building after all and joining in the fun and games, and cake eating on offer. By any standards it was a huge success. When it re-opens in 2017 I hope there will be something similar, to entice back the regulars and coax in some who are still daunted by the exterior grandeur of the place to persuade them art galleries and museums are or should really be about them and be palaces of fun and education.

Don’t know if the old closing bell will survive the revamp. Maybe it will. The old wooden revolving doors went several years ago, thought to be a deterrent to potential visitors. Dyce (Aberdeen International) Airport doesn’t appear to have that problem with its revolving door but there you go.

The marble staircase is going much to the disapproval of some. No idea what will happen to the marble.


Two years is a long time but there are other museums available, not enough, but we are in Aberdeen after all. Meanwhile you can catch and play around with some of the collections at Aberdeen Quest



June 28, 2014

The Wonderful World of Jodi Le Bigre





What struck me about this picture at first viewing was the tight composition, the subtle palette and fascinating detail which draws the eye in and around the scene. It looked Japanese; the women’s faces slightly oriental and their costumes exotic and painstakingly depicted.  A finely drawn wooden hull rises out of the water – all bulk and weight and grainy texture.  On board the women are mostly bunched up with a few outliers, one immersed in the water.

I liked the piece immediately I saw it at the Aberdeen Artists Society exhibition in Aberdeen Art Gallery so I thought I’d look at more of the artist’s work.


Jodi Le Bigre’s approach is truly fascinating. Take the oil on wood, Feathers – it is an amazing painting soft and multi-faceted and coloured from a restricted her palette. The birds’ feathers are as sensuous as any 18th century fabric in say a Ramsay painting. In a humorous aside a bird in the botton right corner gazes at its own reflection in a stone or something shiny.

Looking through her website the variety of Jodi’s approaches become apparent.  Just as she’s lived in different parts of the world – her native Canada, France, Japan and now Scotland so she’s been absorbing ideas and motifs from all manner of influences. It was in Paris that she learned printing which she’s used to great effect in Overgrowth.


In her oil, A Lonesome Place another of her fascinations is demonstrated – medieval life and imagery. Here she has created a frieze-like effect with the line of blue-faced people ranged in front of four idealised trees while in the foreground there are exotic and monster birds along with a fleshy woman exposing her leg and her ghost-like companion to her right. I’ve no idea what’s going on in the picture but it is fairly surreal and the more you look into it the spookier it becomes. The overgrown bird reminded me of Max Ernst’s fantastic and threatening species partly human.


Let’s take a closer look at Overgrowth, Jodi’s etching in black and sepia inks with touches of watercolour. The meticulous detailing that’s gone into the different costumes and effects in the water – hugely time-consuming and wholly worth it in the quality of the piece. The women share the same face, seen from different angles – pensive and guarded they consider their predicament.

If you look at the image at the start of this blog you can make out one or two strange green figures wrapped in ivy which I think allude to Jodi’s view that we become who we are by absorbing all sorts of influences from our environment  including the natural world we pass through in life.  In the picture ivy grows up around the boat, trapping it and some of the women within its tendrils – is this the overgrowth?

In Jodi’s own blog she  includes a poem by Aberdeen’s makar Sheena Blackhall on Overgrowth.

Twenty Geishas

Twenty Geishas went to sea
In a vessel of polished pine
The traders’ routes offered to fill their coffers
For sharing virtues free

The Flying Dutchman closed his sails
For the Geishas to step aboard
And what transpired it certainly fired
Their spirits which simply soared

The Marie Celeste, they encountered next
Do you wonder it’s not been found?
With kisses of honey and blandishments sunny
The steersman he ran aground

So if twenty Geishas you should see
When you’re sailing the ocean wide
Don’t let them on deck, your ship they will wreck
Keep hard on the starboard side!

melancholia I

Durer’s Melancholia I

I have always been delighted by illustrations from Grimms Fairy Tales and the like and pictorial references to medieval people, places  and things. I like shape and form and the intricate little details that captivate the eye.

My favourite artist is Albrecht Durer who lived in Nuremberg in the 15th and early 16th centuries.  Durer is the absolute master in precision and fine detailed draughtsmanship. His eye was impeccable. His sense of humour compelling. He was simply the greatest and most complete artist of his genre. His wonderful  engraving of Melancholia I may represent his own feelings of melancholia on the death of his mother. Melancholia’s face is black, signifying black bile – four humours were believed to determine the constitution of any person – sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic with the latter associated with creativity. On Melancholia’s head sits a garland of herbs suggesting suffering and headaches which Durer suffered from following his bereavement. It is one of the prints on exhibition currently at Duff House in Aberdeenshire.

Sadly not there is Durer’s painting of a Blue Roller bird.roller bird

This work shows how he meticulously captured the construction and texture of the bird’s feathers. An Italian painter once asked to see the brushes he used for depicting fur and feathers and did not believe Durer when he picked up an ordinary bristle paintbrush.


This scene of Durer’s own city of Nuremberg, a mastery in composition leads us back to Jodi Le Bigre.


La Rencontre is  a lovely example of her medieval hilltop town which could be anywhere in continental Europe. There are two figures in the foreground collecting branches presumably for fire or building. Behind them is the manmade world of stone town houses and churches and walls as in Durer’s picture the urban landscape occupies the background while around is the natural environment that supplies so much that is necessary for peoples’ existence.

Jodi recognises how we are shaped by our environments. Since coming to live in Aberdeen she has encountered the Doric. Take a look at this.


Lizzie’s Dother is a sweet, magical watercolour. Lizzie is crouched into the too-small frame provided by the artist for a woman of her bulk and so her skirts fall into creases that flow and bunch and give her form. The sweep of Lizzie’s long hair is repeated in the lines of the bundle that is her dother. And they are surrounded by lilies, symbolising innocence.

I think it reads in Doric along the bottom, She wis mindit o aa the ither quines at she’d held the same wye, which is just brilliant.


Communion belongs in a book of folk tales and shows Jodi’s undoubted talent to apply herself to so many different styles.  Here an old woman has her back to us as she communes with her geese in front of peasant houses. Notice how the woman’s headscarf echoes the orange and shape of the birds’ beaks.  Again the palette is muted and there is a sublime softness to the piece.


Marginalia is set in Aberdeen with the Citadel in the background and a Bosch-like clamour of figures occupying the foreground. The city’s iconic bird the seagull are shown harnessed as draught animals. The saved and the damned are separated by a sturdy Aberdeen hoose and oil supply vessels grace the backdrop of the north sea.


A Christmas card – Der Nikolaus – to my mind  shows Santa Claus as Robbie Coltrane.

This drawing of a procession of matryoshka dolls in a scene out the Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds. I don’t begin to understand the juxtaposition between the Russian granny dolls and the contemporary figures in the foreground but it’s fun and notice the third doll turning to gaze up at the gathering  threat of the birds flying overhead.

I suspect the inside of Jodi’s brain is fairly interesting. I’ve not come across another artist who has reduced her figures to such a bare minimum as Jodi does in her composition comprising a group of skeletons oot and aboot including the child waving to us while her or his, it’s impossible to tell, parent is trying to direct the child’s attention to a birdy in the sky.



Here a plague doctor from Renaissance Italy shares space with a walrus, an acrobat and a stilt walker. As I said, the inside of Jodi’s head must be a place of wonder.

Young and brimming with talent Jodi Le Bigre – you can find her website at

March 5, 2013

Photographs by Oliver Godow

Plan B – Side A Photographs by Oliver Godow

Pink all over 1

A small exhibition of photographs by the German artist Oliver Godow is currently on in the McBey Room at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Godow’s painting-like photographs present us with combinations of angles and colours which I would love to show examples of but unfortunately the Gallery has a policy of zero tolerance of photographing its stuff – unlike Manchester Gallery, Tate Modern, Guggenheim Bilbao – you get the picture.

The two-dimensional angular forms on the left of the door are reminiscent of early 20thC abstract paintings. Perhaps that was just me. I always relate one art form to another when it’s likely the artist wasn’t thinking of anything of the kind. Doesn’t mean to say it isn’t there of course.

Regular readers will know I like to illustrate my blogs so in lieu of images from Plan B I am including some colourful angles from the delightful Union Terrace Gardens which lie close to the Art Gallery.

Union Terrace Gardens

Godow was born in Lübeck but has lived and studied in Scotland.

Union Terrace Gardens 1mar13 yellow

These photographs were shot in Augsburg in Bavaria. Godow’s Plan B that is not Union Terrace Gardens ones.  Just thought I’d make that clear.

Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen

Godow’s works encompass a very wide subject area: documentary, urban spaces, objects or as he has here geometric shapes, texture and colour. He captures detail of all kinds of objects with his camera lens so that colour, as in his Pink all over 1 above, saturates the eye to the extent you can almost taste its sugary pink pig quality.

Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen

In this exhibition it is colour which is one of the  most striking aspects of his work.  That said his umbrella image is not one of these with its subtle soft fringe of umbrella silk cutting through the 2-dimensional surface as it carries the eye down and across the composition.

1mar13 006 utg

Apart from the Pink my favourite is his Green on Green or a title fairly close to that.

February 19, 2012

From van Gogh to Vettriano: A wander around an exhibition in Aberdeen Art Gallery

Aberdeen Art Gallery’s exhibition of work from its own and private collections.

Here we have an eclectic display of works by some world-class artists and several lesser names. It is difficult to pin down what links them other than what was available from the Gallery’s own collection and those it was able to borrow from private collectors.

Arguably one link is that the pictures are mainly reflections of the artists’ psychological states rather than any kind of narrative on their worlds. There are suggestions of realism. Clauesen is often described as such, but his gleaners and others in the show are…but I’ll come back to that.

So what to make of this miscellany of art movements and styles?

On the Gallery’s own website it describes the exhibition as including van Gogh, Pissarro, Monet, Matisse, Spencer, Nash, Freud and Kitaj which is interesting for what is omits in view of the show’s title.

Anyway I joined quite a crowd of people one afternoon to take a look for myself.

The exhibition begins with an unusual black chalk and pencil sketch on paper by van Gogh called Homme assis avec fillete. It’s an early work, striking with its formal static poses. No sense of affection only tension between the young girl and the seated old man. Without the label it might have been difficult to pin this one on van Gogh except for the man’s muckle black shoes most definitely from the palette of the Dutch post-Impressionist.

Clausen’s The Gleaners is the first of several similar subjects.  His is a romanticised interpretation of impoverished peasants and a world away from Millet’s powerful depiction which sets the standard for the theme. Clausen’s Shepherd’s Boy of 1883 lacks spontaneity and attributed dignity we can expect with this subject which might have something to do with his pieces being reworks of photographs.

Dominating this first room is local artist, Joseph Farquharson’s On a Clear Eve – a typical scene from rural Scotland and which is every bit as iconic, if you’ll excuse the over-worked term, as Vettriano’s pictures. While apparently over-sentimental his scenes are, in fact, pretty realistic representations of our countryside’s continuity with its past.

So while Farquharson appears romanticised and isn’t, Alex Main’s 1889 The Gleaners steers us into the realm of Vettriano’s fantasies with its starkly delineated costumes and figures set against a background of sun bleached corn fields. This work most definitely lacks any of the strengths and and authenticity of Millet’s Gleaners.

The McTaggart sea pictures including children in boats are interesting in that he blends straight figurative with abstract backgrounds. They remind me of Hornel.

Étretat: L’Aiguille and the Porte d’Aval of 1885 – a pastel by Monet is a stunner. A small composition of cliffs and sea. The dark rocks in the foreground stark against the blonde sea under portentous skies is a great demonstration of contrast or perhaps conflict in this little scene.  

There’s a pretty washed out Pissaro, Gelée blanche Éragny of 1895. An oil on canvas. It failed to hold my attention.

From the subtlety of Pissaro to a bold composition of oriental patterns in hot shades of red, ochre, blue and green. This 1894 oil of Japanese Dancing Girls by Hornel is very lively with its impression of constant movement. A very pretty piece with plenty to occupy the eye with its exotic dancers in their kimonos and coloured fans and as with his outdoor scenes the play of light across the canvas invigorates his compositions.

Am I the only person in Scotland who does not like or should that be appreciate Peploe? To me his Peony Roses (oil 1906) – a vase of white paeonies against a black background does nothing for a fine bunch of flowers. As for his Coffee Pot of the same year, well this is a very, very still life which is wholly underwhelming.

Let me get myself off the hook by saying how much I enjoyed Cadell’s Iona (oil). Yes I know this is a familiar enough, tame?Scottish landscape but his bold, assured brushstrokes handle the pastel blues, greens, yellows quite masterly and the pale tones are saved from being boring by vibrant red tops to the chimneys and a stark red roof.

Bernard Meninsky’s pen and ink sketch of 1918 is worth a mention and his Lovers on a Beach of 1947 in pen, ink and guache is demonstrably Picasso-esque with its monumental figures of the lovers reclining across the foreground – all legs, arms and torso leading to tiny heads. It’s quite fun but decidedly derivative.

I like the great tones in Robert Colquhoun’s The Two Sisters of 1944 (oil). Flat abstract, almost Braque-like. The colours too – ochres, burnt Sienna and darker tones. But then there’s his twist. Colquhoun gives rounded form to his faces so radically transforming the picture’s structure.

Talking of Braque, there is a small brown crayon drawing on paper of Les Pommes (1927). It’s a subtle representation of masterly simplicity.

Edward Wadsworth has created a wholly absorbing very decorative scene of translucent blue water and rusty red sailed vessels in The Cattewatter, Plymouth Sound. This tempera on board of 1923 looks as if the steps in the foreground have been cut out of cardboard, as do the pier and arching cliffs. The whole effect is quite beautiful and tranquil. 

I usually like Stanley Spencer’s work but I found being close up and personal with The Baptism (1952) strangely discomfiting. Not sure why. Christ and John the Baptist are given mask-like faces and are surrounded by children in contemporary costume. It’s big and bold and uses traditional compositional ploys to lead the viewer around the picture such as the reeds caught up in the figure of Christ. A child’s hand is painted as a shell.

Spencer’s Daughters of Jerusalem, a scene from the road to Calvary with more contemporary kids is brimmed full of the emotion we associate with this artist.

Further along I was confronted by Duncan Grant’s horrible picture of a coffee pot so kept on walking.

Portrait of Natalie Gray, an oil of 1928 by Mark Gertler is big and luscious and frieze-like and the piece chosen for the cover of the accompanying catalogue (which I didn’t buy as I know it would be relegated to my already overstuffed bookshelves all too soon – okay and I’m tight).

On to Lucien Freud’s Boy on a Sofa is in the third room. A pencil, charcoal, coloured chalk on paper work from 1944 it has a young boy staring straight ahead but not directly into the eyes of the viewer so we can stare back as long as we like and not feel any guilt. It’s cool with steely blues, greys and brown so that the child’s face is deathly pale. It’s very different from the expected images of Freud’s work not just in the subject matter but the precise handling and control he once exercised.

There are several Joan Eardley pictures in this room. Andrew with a Comic c1955 and others. I don’t get Eardley (although I do own another artist’s work based on an Eardley but as it isn’t actually Eardley …) Her Cuddling the Child immediately reminded me of Käthe Kollwitz but I prefer Kollwitz. In fact I love Kollwitz’s work – she was so accomplished and capable of conveying incredible emotion with the sparcest of working.  There is a gallery devoted to her work in Cologne which is inside a large block with shops as I recall but well worth searching out. Incredible stuff.

There is a rather nice R. B. Kitaj paste of Marynka Smoking. It really doesn’t much matter whose work I’m looking at, I always find some influence in it so if you get irritated by this then stop reading now because I’m off again. I expect it was Kitaj’s intention to have his model hold a pose straight out of Ingres. Ingres used to be a firm favourite of mine – and could be again but I haven’t looked at any of his pictures in years. This is typical although I have to say that Kitaj is no Ingres and possibly he wouldn’t disagree. Nice yellow cushion.

Howson. Well you either like him or you don’t – I think.  Howson grotesque faces are now so familiar, leering out from his oversized canvases. Medieval gargoyles or those character parts from religious pictures of 15thC Italy or do I mean 16thC? But his are kind of fatty, puttyish. It’s certainly a powerful image but I get the feeling it’s there to stop the viewer in her tracks and perhaps shock and after the shock, well what? The face of Jeremy Isaacs is the most pleasing at the centre of the picture. Was that him before he tried to stop wind turbines being erected on whichever Scottish island he had a holiday home?

By this stage my back was aching and I was hungry but Frank Auerbach’s Head of Helen Gillespie (oil 1963/4) caught my eye with its thick impasto which forces the viewer to back off to make out the sculptural form of the head of Helen Gillespie. I liked it for the craftsmanship which went into it. It’s clever. But I was definitely tiring by this point.


As I left the exhibition I notice along the balcony the Vettriano loaned to the Gallery, not the one in this exhibition which didn’t make a mention in the Gallery’s website blurb on the show. The one familiar on mugs .

Bloody hell – woman as meat.