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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 janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 21 December 2009

My friend Rita Madhok (Darlinda) PLUS Herald Galleries page, 19/12/09

Left, One woman whirlwind, Alexandra 'Sandie' Gardner

Right, The Masquerader by Garry Harper at The Art Bar, Brunswick Street until mid-January 2010

My lead in Saturday's Galleries section in The Herald was about a small exhibition being held in Glasgow's Merchant City, which has been dubbed the Salon des Refuses by its 'curator', Alexandra (or Sandie as she is universally known) Gardner.

Sandie emailed me to let me know she had hung an interesting wee exhibition and I should come to have a look at it. I loved the spirit of the exhibition and knew exactly what Sandie was driving at in hanging it on the walls of Art Bar in Glasgow's Merchant City.

Sandie calls a palette knife a palette knife and is a superb draughtswoman. Her interiors and figurative paintings are moody and utterly magnificent. She is currently working on a new series of paintings based on David McVicar's recent landmark production of La traviata byScottish Opera.

I first met Sandie a good few years ago through our mutual friend, the late and very much lamented Rita Madhok, known throughout Scotland simply as Darlinda. The two women met because both suffered from kidney problems.

Their friendship deepened towards the end of Rita's life when Sandie gave Rita painting lessons. Sandie has had two kidney transplants and claims that an angel lets her hold the brush.

Certainly a higher force is at work. I think sometimes art has the power to transcend illness and give the holder of the brush the bloody-minded will power to keep going.

I have a painting in my study which Rita gave me and it hangs on my study wall, a constant reminder of her lasting influence on my life.

Rita's horoscope page in The Sunday Mail was a national institution and Rita herself was an unofficial national treasure. She died 14 years ago, having suffered from diabetes for many years. One of the side effects of early onset diabetes is kidney failure.

By the time I knew her, she had had a kidney transplant and lived every day as though it was her last. She was an inspirational person and become almost a surrogate mother to me when I was a young reporter at The Sunday Mail.

Her charity, Darlinda‘s Charity for Renal Research (www.darlindascharity.co.uk) continues to this day and has raised £700,000 to date to help experts searching for better ways of looking after renal patients. Rita also wanted to focus on the comfort of patients and give them a better experience.

I often think Rita would have been tickled beyond belief that I am now writing about art. We used to go on trips down to the sets of EastEnders and Casualty where she would do readings for the cast members and I would report back in the paper.

We liked working together, so often found ourselves in funny situations. People always used to ask if she was 'for real' and all I can tell you that there were things she told people about their lives which she could not have known about.

I think some people are just extra-sensitive to mood and incredibly intuitive, which takes them a stage further into the realms of extra-sensory perseption.

She had a way of driving people towards things which really consumed them. It took me a long time, Rita, but I got there in the end.

PROFILE: Salon des Refusés at Art Bar

Art Bar
The Old Sheriff Court Building, 105 Brunswick Street, Glasgow
0141 552 1810
Mon-Sat, 11am-12am, Sunday, 12.30pm-12am
Until mid-January

For many a long year, acclaimed Glasgow painter Alexandra ‘Sandie’ Gardner was responsible lecturing several generations of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters in their first year at Glasgow School of Art. From 1968 to 1988, they came and they went and in this role, Gardner came across some of the better known names in the contemporary Scottish art world.

When she was lecturing, artists such as the so-called ‘New Glasgow Boys’ of Howson, Currie, Conroy, Campbell and Wiszniewski, as well as ‘New Glasgow Girls’ like Helen Flockhart and Alison Watt, all benefited from Gardner’s no-nonsense tutelage, wrapped up in a genuine excitement when she came across work which, for her, pressed all the right buttons.

‘Because everyone had to do drawing and painting in first year,’ you had all the jewellery makers, textile designers and so on,’ she recalls. ‘I loved seeing fresh approaches to drawing and painting.’

Today, more than 20 years after leaving Glasgow School of Art behind and two kidney transplants later, at the age of 64, Gardner has more energy than artists half her age and continues to draw and paint like a woman possessed, often in the rather public surroundings of the Art Bar in Glasgow’s Merchant City.

In the last couple of years, Gardner has become a fixture in this cosy little café (formerly ArtDeCaf). ‘I like coming here because I’m no use as a hermit,’ she jokes. ‘For me, it’s a little bit like getting up and coming to your work. I paint away here and people come up and talk to me, throwing in their tuppence worth about what I’m working on. I still have my studio at home, but this has become a wee home from home for me.’

Probably because she can’t help herself, Gardner has also become something of a mentor to various would-be artists whom she has met during her ‘shifts’ in the Art Bar. ‘The teacher in me can’t help giving out advice,’ she says. ‘People come up and ask me about the techniques I’m using and they ask about their own work. I’m always interested to find out what people are doing.’

Inspired by this connection with a whole new set of would-be artists of all ages, many of whom have confided in her their disappointment about the fact they’ve been rejected from art institutions such as the Royal Glasgow Institute (RGI) and Paisley Art Institute (PAI), Gardner suggested to new Art Bar owner, Alex Rettie, that she put together an exhibition of work by some of these unknown artists, together with some of her own paintings and prints, as well as work by a few invited close friends.

The resulting exhibition has been jokingly dubbed, the Salon des Refusés by Gardner, in reference to renegade exhibition staged in Paris in 1863 by artists who had been refused entry to the official Paris Salon.
‘I can’t explain the excitement I felt I saw when I saw the paintings come in,’ she explains. ‘Word got round quickly around the community of artists who frequent the Art Bar about ‘Sandie Gardner’s exhibition’ and the work just started to appear from nowhere. It’s a really mixed bunch.

‘They have no idea , generally speaking, about how to present their work, label it, frame it and so on, but the overall passion, drive and self-belief is amazing. They’ve been hurt by the rejection, but are still determined to keep at it and that’s what I find so exciting.

‘If I had to single out a handful, David Currie, Fiona Wilson and Karolina Ciepielak are particularly worth noting.
‘David Currie’s little icon pieces, with their carefully selected collaged elements and broken glass, are outstanding. There’s a naïveté to his work which reminds me a little if the Susan Boyle story, strangely enough.

‘Then there’s Karolina Ciepielak’s big pencil and pen and ink wash work, The Street. It’s loosely inspired by a scene she came across in Buchanan Street. Karolina is a waitress in Pulcinella, a restaurant near my flat and she trained as interior designer in her native Poland.

‘Fiona Wilson’s oil paintings are based on Burlesque shows and she has a really strong sense of movement and mark-making in her work. Garry Harper’s work is very powerful too.

‘Each one has their own story as well as their own story of rejection, but all artists have to go through that. I’ve been on the RGI council and also had my work rejected by RGI too. I’ve seen it from both sides of the fence.

Sometimes there are reasons for being rejected which are not connected to the actual work.’

It’s clear that Gardner, who is in the midst of working on various large scale pieces based on David McVicar’s critically-acclaimed La Traviata for Scottish Opera, has been energised by curating this small exhibition.

‘This show is a breath of fresh air which is totally removed from the institutes and the acceptance that they bring,’ she states. ‘There are a few golden oldies in the mix. I have work on display, alongside Ronnie Smith, Ed Hunter and Evelyn Buchanan, but I like to think we’ve still got the same open attitude that some of these younger artists have who are at the start of their artistic journeys.’


Tate Britain
Millbank, London
020 7887 8687
Daily, 10am-5.50pm (Closed 24-26 December)
Adults, £8 (Concessions, £6, Family ticket, £20)
Until Jan 3

In all the news coverage relating to his recent Turner prize win, the fact that Richard Wright’s gold leaf fresco is due to be painted over when the Turner prize exhibition ends on January 3 is the part which seems to have captured the imagination of a wider audience.
According to Glasgow-based Wright, ‘The sense of loss is all part of the work.’ To an extent, if we think about all the great works of art we come across in public collections, there is a sense of loss the moment you step away from it and get on with your life.
Some artworks remain in our heads though for years to come and this is just one of the intangible elements at play in Wright’s delicately handcrafted work.
Barring a Christmas miracle, I’m not going to be one of the thousands who will be able to say that they saw Wright’s untitled fresco in the flesh, but if you happen to be in London over the course of the next two weeks, it is definitely worth taking time out to visit the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain.
The critics have been divided in their reaction to the work of Wright and the three runners-up, Lucy Skaer, Enrico David and Roger Hiorns, but the Turner always causes a stramash, no matter who is on the shortlist and who wins.
It’s always good to be able to see for yourself and make your own mind up, and this is the approach which most people appear to take when they visit an exhibition like this one. Clearing your mind of pre-conceptions and trying not to read the convoluted ‘art-speak’ on the labels accompanying the work on display is always a good start in my humble opinion. After that, all you have to go with is your eye and your heart.

The Dean Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Belford Road, Edinburgh
0131 624 6314
Until Feb 21

The end of the year is nigh, so art awards are tumbling out of the woodwork at a fair degree of noughts. The hugely popular BP Portrait Award Exhibition is organised by The National Portrait Gallery in London each year and attracts entrants from all around the world, all vying to win a first prize of £25,000 (the same amount which is given to The Turner prize winner).
This year, a record 1,901 entries were received and for just the third time in its 30 year history, the resulting exhibition has gone on show in Edinburgh, at the Dean Gallery.
For the last 20 years, the prize has been sponsored by BP, with its stated aim to promote the best in contemporary portrait painting, by encouraging artists to focus upon and develop the theme of portraiture in their work.
This year, the first prize was awarded to Peter Monkman, a 44-year-old art teacher from Surrey, for a haunting portrait of his daughter Anna, titled Changeling 2.

Other highlights include Dan Llewelyn Hall’s striking portrait of Harry Patch, who, until his death in July, at the age of 111, was the last surviving British soldier to have fought in the trenches during World War I.
Edinburgh artist James Metcalfe’s thoughtful, though topless, portrait of Gregor Fisher, the actor celebrated for his portrayal of Rab C. Nesbitt, is also a highlight.

10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh
0131 550 3660
www.innovativecraft.co.uk and www.dovecotstudios,com
Tue-Sat, 10.30am-5.30pm
Until Jan 30

This fascinating exhibition in the award-winning Dovecot building, a joint project from IC: Innovative Craft and the National Museums of Scotland, explores the relationship between craft and photography in a highly original and compelling way.
The curators have looked at contemporary image archives at the Crafts Council, the V&A, contemporary makers’ and contemporary photographers’ studios to identify a collection of images which express contemporary approaches to making and imaging objects.
From a longlist of more than 80 images, 25 have been selected for the show with the help of a selection panel drawn from various relevant backgrounds.
Anyone interested in the process of making original art will be fascinated by looking at these images, which track the relationship between documenting and production.
The exhibition features work and portraits of artists such as leading ceramicist, Philip Eglin, through to the renowned hat designer to the stars, Stephen Jones.
According to Rose Watban, Senior Curator of Applied Art & Design at National Museums Scotland: “During our research visits we found ourselves becoming slightly obsessed by photographs, deliberating whether black and white photographs produced by traditional printing methods were more compelling, both as documents and objects, than the digital prints of today. Each step of the way the craft, as well as the art, of photography has become clearer. Working on this show has certainly changed the way I look at the images around me.”

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