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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)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The New Glasgow Spook School?

From left, The Experiment by Heather Nevay and Pearl Plated by Helen Flockhart

This (unedited) exhibition profile was published in The Herald's Arts supplement on Saturday (19/6/10)

I love the way art brings you full circle sometimes. I was a few years below Helen Flockhart, who is one of the artists profiled below. I've met Helen a few times since I've been covering the art scene and she has remained true to her complex vison of the world all her working life.

The same can be said of her husband Peter Thomson, also exhibiting in Edinburgh with her and Heather Nevay. Heather's work is as shocking as it is beautiful. None more so than the one pictured here...


Spectators: Heather Nevay, Helen Flockhart, Peter Thomson
The Open Eye Gallery
34 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh
0131 557 1020
Until July 6

When I was but a slip of a girl and beguiled by the idea of being an artist, I used to spend long hours hanging about the art rooms of Kilmarnock Academy’s ‘old tech’ building - which has long since been developed as luxury apartments.
A couple of years above me, was a quiet and beautiful red-haired girl with skin like alabaster. Our teacher Jim Wylie, now retired and a painter of note himself, used to tell us that Helen Flockhart was good. Very good. She was going places. Looking at her work, I believed him.
Looking at her work a few decades on, his faith in this star pupil was well placed. Helen Flockhart is now one of Scotland’s finest painters, as is her husband, Peter Thomson. Both emerged from the hothouse that was Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) painting department in the 1980s, and both regularly exhibit in London where their work is sought after by a growing band of collectors.
Last November, the couple were invited to exhibit at the RSA’s annual exhibition by guest curator John Byrne, who was fulsome in his praise of both when I interviewed him around that time for The Sunday Herald.
Flockhart and Thomson are both figurative painters and although their work is very different, there is a certain similarity in the otherworldliness of the scenes they create. “I can’t see it myself,” says Flockhart, “ but people have said it so it must be there.”
A couple of years ago, the couple exhibited for the first time alongside Heather Nevay at Glasgow‘s Mansfield Park Gallery. Nevay was at GSA at the same time, but studied textiles, an influence which is clear in the richly textured world she creates on canvas.
Now the trio, jokingly dubbed The New Glasgow Spook School, are holding a second group exhibition at The Open Eye gallery in Edinburgh.
For fans of Nevay, who can’t get enough of her highly-detailed, boldly glowing narrative paintings of children on the cusp of adolescence, it is an opportunity to gawp in confusion and wonder at the odd and unsettling parallel universe which she has created.
If you are new to her work - just go and gawp in wonder and confusion anyway! It’s worth it.
What binds all three artists together is the level of precision and skill which they all bring to their paintings.
Peter Thomson’s work always has several components jostling for our attention, be it mass crowds at a football match with ghostly faces or figures in a gallery.
There is always a sense of being on the outside of yourself looking in in his scenes. You’d be tempted to describe his work as surreal, but strangely, there is nothing surreal about it.
Thomson admits to an ongoing fascination with what he calls ‘alternative realities’.
He goes on to explain: “While attempting to comprehend these possibilities, I’m also excited by the pictorial treasures that the worlds mythologies have to offer, as I believe virtually all figurative artists initially or eventually are. And of course it’s also about how these ancient themes enhance our understanding of contemporary life.”
Flockhart’s figures seem to glow with the beauty and energy of 16th century portraits but there is still a contemporary feeling to the overall scene.
Describing how she works, she explains: “The pictures emerge from an instinctive process which is initially quite abstract, beginning as tiny, almost geometric studies on paper in which the relationship between shapes and the space which they inhabit is pushed around.”
From this very precise starting point, her work evolves as she works away at the oil painting in question. In portraiture, she admits she trying to pin down ‘the relationship between myself and the outside world’.
In the piece which graces the invite card for Spectators, Flockhart’s subject is a still beautiful red-haired woman in her middle years wearing a green dress and possessed of skin like alabaster. She is swaddled by the darkness of a repeating pattern in the background and she glows unnervingly against this background as she stares into the middle distance.
Perhaps all painters do paint themselves into the picture but as Francis Bacon said: “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”

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