This piece on Abigail McLellan was published in The Herald's Arts, Books & Cinema section back in March this year. Abby's work is so true, it cuts through the senses.
ARTIST PROFILE: ABIGAIL MCLELLAN
Abigail McLellan: Flowers and Molecules
Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery at Charlotte Street
28 Charlotte Street, London
020 7255 2828
March 20 until April 9 2009
All true artists live inside their heads. But juggling the process of being a commercial success with producing work that satisfies both artist and consumer can end up with all the balls taking a tumble.
Glasgow-based Abigail McLellan has always been an artist with a very strong sense of purpose. Her paintings, and more recently her unique sculpture, all have a very strong decorative element and people are drawn to them initially for that reason. In her paintings, the layers of acrylic colour are astringent and beguiling. Her subject matter, be it person or plant, is primal and honest. Although she returns time and time again to the same themes, her work – as demonstrated by her latest solo exhibition at Rebecca Hossack’s gallery in London – seems to be getting stronger.
Therein lies an extraordinary triumph of the creative mind over bodily weakness. For nine years ago, at the age of just 30, McLellan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Unfortunately, in her case, the disease has proved particularly aggressive and she is now in a wheelchair, with her speech being the latest function to be affected.
Despite her entire nervous system being battered by the disease, which can affect people in different ways and at different rates, her creative mind is undimmed and still firing on all cylinders.
With the help of her partner, the painter Alasdair Wallace, whom she has known since they both attended Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s, McLellan works every day in her studio at the WASPS artists’ community in Dennistoun, Glasgow.
The couple have adjoining studios and McLellan’s space is a minefield of visual stimulation, from the piles of 1970s craft magazines and swathes of brightly coloured fabric lying around, to a row of unfinished canvases revealing her fascination with flowers – or ‘blobs on sticks’ as Wallace jokingly refers to them.
A variety of sculptures she has been developing over the last few years sit on the shelf below these canvases. McLellan has long been fascinated by sea fans – brightly coloured coral that wave with the tides underwater yet stiffen when removed from the ocean.
Having worked on the models for these sea fans for a while, she has recently got to the stage at which she was happy to have them cast in bronze. Another departure is having them made into stunningly delicate glass pieces.
Alongside these, by complete contrast, are a couple of her ‘molecule’ sculptures; simple yet arresting works, which consist of wooden sticks and brightly coloured painted balls.
According to McLellan, all her sculptural work relates directly to her paintings and vice versa.
As her ability to do finely detailed work has diminished, she seems to have delved deeper into the primal make-up of the plant life that sustains our planet. It is quite simply, the stuff of life and ironically, as her own body turns in on itself, McLellan’s mind is like these sea fans underwater – flexible and beautiful.
If an artist’s role in life is to help us to understand the intricate complexities of what it is to be human, then Abigail McLellan’s work, which on first glance appears to be simplistic, gets straight to the point.
Stand in front of an Abigail McLellan piece of art for long enough and your mind starts to reassemble itself. You find yourself thinking clearly. Tell the artist this and she laughs. “That’s not how I feel when I’m doing it,” she replies slowly. ‘Anything but!”
- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)