• The Raven (2016)

    The Raven (2016)

  • Modern Life is Rubbish (2016)

    Modern Life is Rubbish (2016)

  • All by my own Hand, part 1 (2015)

    All by my own Hand, part 1 (2015)

  • Merlin (2016)

    Merlin (2016)

  • You were shit in the 80's, part 2 (2015)

    You were shit in the 80's, part 2 (2015)

  • Who's Next (2016)

    Who's Next (2016)

Recent Catalogue Essays

ANDREW MCINTOSH - Richard Davey

In order to capture the full effect of a snowstorm at sea, it is said that JMW Turner had himself lashed to the mast of a ship. Like Ulysses, he wanted to experience the bewitching siren call of the natural world, to encounter both beauty and peril in one sublime moment. Whether it is true or not, this story captures the changing attitudes of Romantic artists to the natural world. They no longer saw the landscape as an incidental background, a possession to be recorded, or a site of nostalgia for a lost ‘golden’ age. Instead, wild, rugged and isolated locations were deliberately sought out as places of sublime encounter, where nature was alive with a sense of the divine. And even when they painted more picturesque subject matter, weather and lighting effects would be used to intensify the viewer’s emotional response, with the unremarkable elevated to the monumental by shafts of sunlight piercing dark, storm laden skies, or glowing sunsets melting everything into a numinous haze.

The Scottish landscape became emblematic of this Romantic vision, it’s diverse scenery the perfect embodiment of the sublime experience: storm tossed, moody and innately dramatic. For Andrew McIntosh, born and brought up in the Highlands, it was therefore almost inevitable that his first paintings should be filtered through the romantic impressions of artists such as Turner and Constable.

But, eventually, McIntosh came to see the high drama and overt emotionalism of this romantic vision as a siren call he wanted to avoid. Initially he stopped painting landscapes completely, turning instead to strange surreal men. But then he began a series of empty structures – dolls houses, industrial buildings, castles and caravans, which became reliquaries for famous works of art and precious objects. The partially exposed interiors of these strange, abandoned buildings, set in misty cold winter landscapes, drew the viewer into the painting without revealing too much of themselves. They intrigued without explaining; providing a point of visual interest that would both attract and repel, where, although the landscape was present, it was now employed as a subtle enhancer of mood rather than a dramatic subject.

But McIntosh, again became dissatisfied with the conceit. He wanted to insert something more vibrant into these secretive inner spaces – a living fresco that would animate the interior without overwhelming the sense of mysterious stillness that now characterised his paintings. The result was an internal sunset initially inspired by the 1960 film, The Sundowners. Interior rooms were no longer containers but portals to transport the viewer; the tiny, yet implicitly vast sunset breaking down the distinction between in and out, close and distant, small and large, whilst introducing intense summer heat into a scene of winter mists and cold. These sunlit landscapes, miniaturised and contained within a man-made setting, punctuated the paintings with a point of shimmering dissonance, allowing McIntosh to evoke the Romantic landscape without painting a Romantic landscape.

In his most recent paintings, however, McIntosh has allowed the landscape to come to the fore again. Although their focus may appear to be the silent, empty buildings that stand stoically at their centre, the landscape is no longer subservient. It fills our vision, shaping our encounter and trapping our gaze. McIntosh’s approach is now subtler and more low keyed, born from quiet, emotional introspection rather than overt expressionism. The bold, painterly animation of Turner and Constable replaced by the meditative contemplation of Caspar David Friedrich.

Unlike Friedrich, however, McIntosh’s landscapes are devoid of figures. Instead, the relationship between humanity and nature is represented by gatehouses, castles and industrial buildings, solid monuments to human endeavour standing amidst silent landscapes. Close toned in colour and seemingly unremarkable in detail, these vast tracts of heather, grass, sea, rock, and snow offer little for the eye to fasten onto yet are endlessly compelling.

To those used to images of the Scottish landscape that focus on visual drama, celebrating its rarity and emphasising its monumental qualities, this emphasis on the drab and unremarkable might seem strange. But McIntosh is drawn to the plain and ordinary – a Victorian lodge, a simple tower house, or an unremarkable castle set in scenery that is not immediately picturesque or inspiring – subjects that wouldn’t usually attract an artist’s attention. They are born from deep knowledge of the land, painted by an artist who wants to probe the limits of landscape painting, who knows that nature is much quieter than it is more usually portrayed, and that capturing the undramatic, ordinariness of nature, is more difficult than it may seem.

Yet McIntosh also knows that these eerily flat spaces need something remarkable to draw us in. So he has taken the secretive sunset from inside his caravans and placed them into these castles and lodges, allowing their shafts of intense golden orange light to pierce these monolithic, inanimate structures with a burst of vibrant energy. These sunsets are no longer vortices of spiritual energy overwhelming everything else. Instead, contained within granite walls, confined in caves and held between an avenue of trees, they have been restrained and restricted in their visual power. They have been transformed from vehicles of romantic drama into a cipher, allowing McIntosh to remind us of those rare moments of wonder we encounter in life, without destroying his hard won evocation of the everyday.

In the middle of McIntosh’s highly detailed paintings, these sunsets can seem artificial, an unsettling, surreal imposition into a naturalistic landscape. Their presence asks questions without offering an obvious answer. But in reality, McIntosh’s paintings are all artificial, with architecture frequently altered and settings changed, so that Duart Castle now sits amongst a sea of grass rather than water, whilst the Well of the Lecht has been transformed from a small industrial ruin into something more monumental and compelling.

McIntosh does this partly because he wants the viewer to ask questions: why this building, why this perspective, what has been changed, what added? For in leaving the answers unresolved, he can keep drawing us into these enigmatic worlds. But these alterations also allow McIntosh to represent more than the visual. They help him to evoke the full, sensory, embodied experience of standing in the landscape. Usually, painters represent what they see before them, a purely visual experience that doesn’t actually convey what it is to be there. But real experience is never monochrome and single sensory. It is embodied, filled with childhood memories and thoughts, cultural conventions and passed on traditions. Standing in or walking across the landscape we might have snatches of music playing in our head, or scenes from films, or memories of our childhood. And when we look around us, our eyes are never settled but constantly roaming, going backwards and forwards, leaping from near to far, only momentarily fixing and focusing, before moving onto the next thing that happens to catch our attention.

McIntosh subtly captures all this. Lyrics from songs or fragments of dialogue inspire his titles. Yet he always struggles to find just one, since the songs we hear in our heads and the scenes we replay in our minds are never fixed but a constantly changing soundtrack to our life shaped by our moods and experiences. Likewise, the contrast between detail and irresolution that defines these landscapes is not about naturalism or painterly conceits, but captures how we see: the constantly roaming passage of our gaze, darting backwards and forwards, jumping from near and far, moving seamlessly from unresolved areas of colour to intricate areas of detail such as a blade of grass or individual stones.

And if the texture of McIntosh’s paintings suggests the nature of seeing, then his alterations to ‘reality’ are not just painterly devices to create visual interest or to resolve a compositional problem, they allow him to suggest the filter of our memory, where what we remember is not always clear and trustworthy, but can be merged with other memories and with our dreams, so that what we think is real may not actually be so.

McIntosh’s paintings are therefore more than representations of the landscape, they are celebrations of embodiment, reminding us that we exist in the world as a selectively seeing, emotionally engaged, constantly changing human being.

 

WHERE WE BELONG - Matt H Price

Where We Belong (November 2016 for Catalogue)

The Scottish Highlands offer a suitably atmospheric, picturesque and evocative location for Mackie’s latest body of work, Where We Belong (2016). It is a place that the artist knows well, having grown up with views of hills and fields on every side of his family home in the Cairngorms. It is a landscape that he himself views not through romantic eyes, however, but rather in terms of more practical concerns – how long will it take to walk through to the other side of the valley before nightfall; how marshy are the moorlands and must they be circumnavigated or can they be traversed on foot; how perilous is the icy snow that covers the scree that spills down the hillsides. It is a treacherous place for the ill-prepared rambler or dewy-eyed sightseer, and even presents dangers for the locals if they let down their guard for a moment against the harsh daily challenges of living in such a place.

In Merlin (2016), the artist depicts a burnt-out, dilapidated small stone dwelling – it looks like it might be very old, slashed and burned by Vikings or a rival clan, perhaps, but it turns out it is not so ancient as it might appear. Its owner had thrown some ashes from his hearth out of the back door before going out for the evening, only to return home to discover his home burnt to the ground. With few options open to him, he bought a caravan which he parked alongside the back wall of the house, and moved into that. Mackie captures the heart-breaking scene at dusk on a foggy evening, the low-lying dark grey mist hanging over the cottage as if clouds of smoke from the fire. Part of the caravan has been cut away, exposing the interior. We don’t see the owner inside, making do in his potentially long-term temporary accommodation; instead we see something quite unexpected – a glorious golden sunset over a very different kind of landscape: one that looks decidedly reminiscent of the American Midwest. The warm orange glow, which, from a distance or on first glance might appear like a lamp or bright candle, implies a warmth and cosiness that is otherwise entirely absent in the scene. The indoor sunset, like a 70s photographic mural, is incongruous to say the least, verging on the surreal or metaphysical. Mackie has filled a spatial void with an open-ended metaphor, a signifier that is open to our imaginations, to our interpretation. Here, in the pitiable shadow of the charred shell of the man’s home, there is something unusual, something special taking place, the precise nature of which we can’t quite guess – an element of mystery and magic that is captured in the work’s title.

The caravan is a motif that spans, and indeed defines, the whole body of work, appearing in a variety of beautiful, sometimes dramatic, sometimes haunting Highland environments, and always surrounded by a thick grey mist. These aren’t the caravans of your average holidaymaker, however, as they all seem to have seen better days. Undoubtedly some caravan enthusiasts would be able to discern which models they might be, from which manufacturer, which country and year, but to the layman they look like they probably date between the 1960s and 1980s, and are a far cry from contemporary state-of-the-art caravan design. Each conveys a sense of nostalgia through their modernist retro shapes and colours – colours which interact surprisingly harmoniously with the eerily subdued palettes of the landscapes surrounding them – though to be holidaymaking in any of these today would be glamping without the glamour. They are all of the kind that is towed by another vehicle, and all look like they might have been abandoned – though perhaps only recently so, as while they are battered and worn, they are not overgrown in the way that nature has a tendency to do to man-made things when left to its own devices.

The caravans are so picturesquely positioned that one might go so far as to suggest that they have been deliberately left in these places, as if with a clear intention in mind. It would not be inconceivable that such caravans could be used as ad-hoc shelters by grouse or pheasant hunters, birdwatchers, hillwalkers or other special-interest groups who spend long periods of time in the landscape, but this just doesn’t quite ring true here. There is something quietly disturbing about the presence of these caravans, poised somewhere between melancholy and malfeasance. The series of paintings is highly cinematic or televisual in nature, as if carefully contrived scenes or sets, and the viewer might struggle to resist looking to impose filmic narratives on each work – narratives that might involve thriller-style wrong-doing such as abduction or murder, but could equally take us into the realms of horror, science-fiction and the paranormal. Mackie’s accomplished painterly realism only serves to enhance this blurring of the real world and fiction.

And of course, we must face the elephant in the room here – just as in Merlin, the caravans in each of the other paintings in the series also have half of their sides cut away to reveal otherworldly scenes within them. Each unexpected scene is a sunset over a landscape, the sun glowing in the sky from bright white to hazy yellow, golden orange to umber-tinged red, evocative of great Romantic landscape paintings by the likes of Turner, Claude, Lieste or, more pertinently, Hudson River School painters such as Bierstadt, Cole or Church. The scenes are depicted as if flat on the interior back wall of the caravan, but the most curious thing – and the painterly device that really takes these works towards the metaphysical – is that the suns inside the caravans are casting light onto the floors of the caravans and even, sometimes, onto the ground outside. These interior scenes, while they look like painted landscapes, cannot be painted or printed images like wallpaper or murals – they must surely either be screens or projections of some kind, with light coming through them, or the artist is implying that they are actually real, like apparitions of, or portals from, another time and place.

While most viewers would be forgiven for not having registered the following piece of information, eagle-eyed aficionados of American Westerns might have spotted that a number of the interior sunsets are actually scenes from well-known movies from this genre, including From Dusk till Dawn (1996), The Searchers (1956), and Django Unchained (2013), giving some credence to the idea that we are looking at digital screens of some kind. This might suggest there is some high-tech equipment inside these shabby old caravans, though pondering this for a moment longer, the scenario is perhaps not all that dissimilar to all those Westerns playing on Scottish television sets in houses, caravans and mobile homes for the past half a century. But, and assuming that these sunsets are intended more as metaphor than literal optical phenomena, it might make sense to conceive of Mackie’s paintings as depictions of an exotic imaginary, and maybe even one sitting – with a postmodern twist – inside yet another exotic imaginary. For most of us who do not live in such beautiful landscapes – whether glens in the Scottish Highlands or the homesteads of the American Midwest – they are both places onto which we can project fantasies of escapism from urban and suburban modern life, albeit of very different kinds. In this way, the caravans become metaphors, talismans or time machines, even, for unfulfilled dreams of travel and adventure, of journeying to picturesque panoramas of other people’s worlds. The caravans were once somebody’s attempt to experience such landscapes first hand, to live within these landscapes, if only for a while. Sad, neglected and worn out, the caravans are now humble visions of everyday hopes and ambitions that once seemed real or were achievable for a time, or maybe that never really came to be. The warm, glowing, enticing apparitions from another place suggest that hope has not entirely gone, though, and as Mackie’s title reassuringly implies, even if we might dream of elsewhere, we are perhaps already where we’re meant to be.

SPARKS FLY - Dr Alison Bracker

You Were Shit in the 80’s (March 2015 for Catalogue)

‘He has been here, and fired a gun.’ – John Constable on JMW Turner, 1832

One of the art world’s great rivalries came to a head at London’s Royal Academy in 1832. JMW Turner visited the galleries on its annual Varnishing Day, when exhibiting artists put finishing touches to their work. After seeing how the vivid hues of one of John Constable’s paintings overshadowed Turner’s Helvoetsluys hanging adjacent, the latter picked up a brush and, in full view of the gathered artists, placed a daub of red paint in his own work, animating his maritime scene to such an extent that Constable’s painting suddenly paled in comparison. In so doing, he brought the professional antagonism between the two painters into the public sphere, setting the stage for ensuing artists who now air their rivalries via global media.

Turner ‘fired a gun’ in the form of a daub of paint. Contemporary artists have done so through words uttered to the press. In a remarkable series of new paintings, the Scottish artist Mackie revisits both the words and images related to some of the more infamous art world squabbles that have followed in Turner and Constable’s wake, including those between David Hockney and Damien Hirst, and Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Indeed, the title of two of the new paintings, as well as that of the exhibition itself – You Were Shit in the ‘80s – derives from Freud’s description of Bacon’s work of that decade as ‘ghastly,’ a sentiment Bacon in turn shared for Freud’s later work.

Mackie’s latest paintings restage the trivial rivalries and immense cultural status of these artists and others, including James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who publicly argued with not one, but three of his contemporaries: John Ruskin, John Everett Millais, and Oscar Wilde. However, they do so in arenas far removed from the pages of the tabloid newspapers, compelling us to look anew at the representation and effect of friction. Mackie relocates a renowned work by each artist – and thus, symbolically, their attendant feuds – to secluded and desolate buildings, continuing the ‘Abandoned Dollhouse’ theme he began in 2013. In You Were Shit in the ‘80s, Part 1 (Lucian Freud), he removes a panel from the back of a dilapidated Victorian building in Toxteth to reveal one of Freud’s largest paintings of a female nude, Standing by the Rags (1988-9), which normally resides in London’s Tate Britain. Surrounded by broken-paned windows and soot-stained bricks, Freud’s nude peers out of the meticulously delineated structure onto a field of overgrown weeds. Yet while a sense of isolation pervades the scene, the museum-like display and illumination of Freud’s painting implies the presence of another: the artist’s rival, the viewer of Mackie’s painting, or both.

In fact, …Part 1’s companion piece, You Were Shit in the ‘80s, Part 2 (Francis Bacon) suggests a dialogue between the two works. In …Part 2, Mackie plucks Francis Bacon’s Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988) from the Tate collection and re-houses it in a disused asylum for men near Glasgow. The artist, who began drawing at an early age and sketched incessantly throughout his childhood to achieve perfect scale, demonstrates superb draughtsmanship in his depiction of a bleak, uninhabited building with boarded-up windows. A missing panel unveils Bacon’s triptych, each section spot-lit as if formally exhibited. Although the locations represented within You Were Shit in the ‘80s parts 1 and 2 are over 200 miles apart, Mackie suggests congruence between the two paintings through his palette, his rendering of the buildings, and the similarity of the fields they overlook. We may even imagine the two paintings within the paintings facing each other from across the field. Mackie accentuates the conflict inherent in such a scenario by not only highlighting the friction between the two artists, but also the discord between the foreboding structures and the land they inhabit, and between their deteriorated state and the prized artworks they contain.

In contrast, the artworks that animate All by My Own Hand, Part 1 (David Hockney) and All by My Own Hand, Part 2 (Damien Hirst) occupy very different spaces. Moreover, they seem destined never to meet, as if in recognition of the one-sided nature of the spat to which they allude. In 2012, David Hockney advertised his solo exhibition at the Royal Academy with the claim, ‘All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally,’ a dig at Damien HIrst and his extensive use of assistants. Hirst, however, never responded publicly to Hockney’s criticism.

All by My Own Hand, Part 1 recreates Hockney’s Portrait of Nick Wilder (1966) on the upper floor of Lancaster Services’ Grade II-listed Pennine Tower, its image of a sun-drenched Californian swimming pool echoed by the sunlight hitting the side of Mackie’s tower. The area around the service station is deserted, yet the lawn is well manicured, denoting care rather than abandonment. Hirst’s celebrated The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), on the other hand, stands forgotten in an anonymous country barn. Unlike the Bacon and Freud paintings in You Were Shit in the ‘80s, neither of the works in All by My Own Hand receive special lighting or display; neither seems to presume an audience. Nevertheless, Mackie’s imaginative use of architecture, exquisite handling of paint, and re-staging of canonical works of art throughout You Were Shit in the ‘80s entice viewers to look again at the sparks that fire artists at their best and, perhaps, at their worst.