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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, 9 May 2011

Janet Melrose @ The Union Gallery

This feature about Janet Melrose appeared in The Herald Arts section on Saturday May 7

Union Gallery, 
45, Broughton Street, Edinburgh 
0131 556 7707
Until May 30 
Delicate Things by Janet Melrose 
Wagtails by Janet Melrose
I first became aware of Janet Melrose’s work in 2008 when I was a judge in the now sadly defunct Scottish art award, The Aspect Prize.
What first struck me about her painting style, beautiful mark-making aside, was its simplicity. Simple lines. Simple yet striking colour. Simple composition. Seemingly simple subject matter.
The natural world was presented within four sides through the prism of an artist’s watching eye aligned with a preternaturally poetic mind. Her paintings were all hymns to the beauty of nature. Yet there was danger always lurking in the background.
As the Aspect Prize moved on from the initial exhibition stage in Paisley Museum and Art Gallery, which saw her selected as one of four artists who would prepare a body of work for a finalists’ show in London six months later, I started to be drawn into Janet Melrose’s world. 
There was something in her work which moved me profoundly. These were not paintings ‘about nature’. They were carefully considered vignettes about our place in a world which constantly shifts and changes.
In her work, there are bees hovering around vivid blooms, an injured dog seemingly cast adrift in mid-air by a sign which proclaims ‘danger’, butterflies making a beeline for blossom, birds perched on branches minding their own business and furtive foxes slinking through a wood.
The world is served up in microcosm. Scenarios are painted in through a process of layering. A matte surface starts to emerge, a mix of gesso and acrylic paint, which she says ‘suits my way of thinking’. Conventionally accepted notions of composition disappear out of her studio window into the hills surrounding her Perthshire home.
Melrose describes her paintings as being ‘accidents which have waited to happen’. “Sometimes I wonder myself why they take so long,” she laughs. “I start them and leave them for a while, then revisit them. They don’t happen overnight, that’s for sure.”
When I first met Janet, I was unaware of it at the time, but she and her husband had been through a traumatic period coping with the serious illness of their daughter. Being selected for the Aspect Prize represented a turning point after an enforced period of not painting.
Returning to the studio as her daughter started to recover, she found her eyes opened up in many ways. In narrowing her field of vision to the immediate surroundings of her walled garden by the River Earn in Crieff, the creative floodgates opened.
Thinking about that now, I can see why I found myself drawn to the way in which she was making sense of her situation, for I too was dealing with my own difficulties, watching the steady decline and fall of my mother’s health just a few years after the death of my father.
It is the way of things. Something we all have to go through. There is always a serpent lurking in Eden.
Since childhood, Melrose has been an inveterate nature-watcher, and while at Edinburgh College of Art, she studied under the artist tutor John Busby. Her admiration for Busby continues today and is clear in this new body of work.
Looking at each new work she produces, it seems as though with each painting, she has just had the dust washed from her eyes. Returning to nature for her inspiration, she has found her medium
As Melrose says herself, the overall space of the canvas and in particular, the edge of the canvas has taken on added significance. “I think of it as having a main theme and subplot both hanging in the balance and it is only after some considerable time that some of these paintings are resolved,” she explains.
In this new body of work for the buzzy Union Gallery in Edinburgh, Janet’s trademark birds, bees and dogs return, but her pared-down world is also awash with blossom and a pond becomes a backdrop for nature to take its course. A fox also makes an appearance, inspired by a poem by Ted Hughes called Thought Fox, which her late father, the artist Bill Melrose, used to read to her when she was a little girl. 
There is a simple stealthiness about Janet Melrose’s work, which creeps upon you like Hughes’ fox, ‘Brilliantly, concentratedly, Coming about its own business.’ 
For me, therein lies the beauty of this intuitive painter’s work.
Blossom on the Banking by Janet Melrose

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