This year’s Fine Art installations on the fifth floor include paintings, collages, bronzes, etchings, and videos. All are exhibited with professional flair, although some were not fully set up on press day. Subjects are as ‘simple’ as the perfect symmetry of the apple, clear geometric angles in primary colours, and as subtle as the reflection of ceramic glazes in accompanying paintings. Unfortunately, few of the exhibits had artists’ statements on them and no artists were present when I visited.
While every exhibit is worthy in this fine collection, a few sparked, in my mind, a little brighter. Cal McCutcheon shocks the eye and the gut with his cross-media sculptures, painting, and animations. He says in his statement that he draws on aspects of aboriginal and traditional cultures and weaves them with the art of Goya and Bosch. The result is a world peopled with nightmarish figures. There is a richness here which draws the eye despite its horrific qualities.
In another room, Chloe Lorimer has also based her paintings and prints on ancient art. Although, here the images are less threatening with swirls of contrasting colours and organic forms filling the canvases. The stories they tell are just out of consciousness’s grasp—familiar, but inscrutable. In many, the subject raises hands as if listening or displaying power. In one painting, the figure seems to tether an animal floating overhead like a parade balloon. The images are rooted in Celtic tradition, but I also saw signs of Potlatch art in the sideways stares of the animals.
All doors into the rooms are ajar until I find one firmly shut. I try it anyway and it opens onto dimness dotted with golden light shining through and onto Raymond Byrne’s stirring sculptures and reliefs. These pieces are made of polished woods, monkey puzzle branches, bronze, and resins. The room glows. His statement explains his desire to communicate the tenuousness of our state of flux from birth through death. A 3D printed foetus is suspended in amber resin in the heart of a Leylandii round. Final Toll seems to sum up Byrne’s philosophy: the bronze bell upon which bronze ivy climbs reads ‘Life Starts with Nature and Returns to Nature.’
In Jack Slicer’s installation, identical films are projected on three walls. A tall stool invites the viewer to tarry and contemplate these images which are created from landscapes mirrored four times on themselves. In the course of a few minutes each mirrored image collapses to the centre creating near kaleidoscopic effects. With water and sky prominent in the landscapes these suggest what Gulliver might have seen from the floating land of Laputa. Striking and soothing, this meditative piece is an oasis in halls filled with intellectually demanding pieces.
Another compelling installation is Natalia Pelosi’s exploration of the emotions of estranged daughterhood. Persephone’s spirit seems to float amongst the curvaceous glass and mirrors, the prints, the collages, and the slices of something resembling placenta.
Finally, there’s Lucy Smith’s piece, meant to reflect the Tay and her life on its banks. Smith’s inspiration comes partly from the great tree of Balmerino Abbey and its lesser trees. Everything here contains multiple meanings. Pieces of wood pinned to the wall look as much like oars as like tree trunks. On the floor, three emotive shapes could be the waves of the Tay as she sweeps downstream. A finely polished wood curve holds us in Balmerino, while one of bronze and one of laminated wood carry the mind across the Tay to the higher tech world of Dundee. All the while, brass hand bells play on a recording which might be monks calling the humble to worship or the Tay herself playing with the winds. Lovely!
This is only a small sample of the pleasures and challenges for senses and the mind that await at this year’s Fine Arts section of the Degree show.