This is an unedited version of a story I wrote about Philip Braham's forthcoming exhibition at The Union Gallery in Edinburgh.
|Antonine Hill, oil on canvas, by Philip Braham|
Well worth a visit...
STILL. New Paintings by Philip Braham
45 Broughton Street, Edinburgh
0131 556 7707
From Aug 5 - Sep 5
In a frantic, frenetic world in which we are able to over-communicate through countless media, the quality of stillness is one to which many of us are increasingly drawn.
In the imagery which surrounds our daily lives, we have grown used to cleanly edited, sharpened lines. Slick, as opposed to still.
In this powerful new body of work, Philip Braham returns to figurative painting for the first time in over 16 years. This follows on from a working trip last year to Yemen, which reignited his interest in placing figures back into his landscapes.
In Braham’s work, there is a photographic sharpness, which is underpinned by a pin-sharp painter’s eye. All this is wrapped up in an intensity and philosophical narrative which offers the viewer the double-edged sword of reeling in a memory and unnerving them to the marrow.
Braham has always been drawn to the back-story which makes a landscape the place we find in the course of a day’s march. He is drawn to dark, still places, which hum with energy of past deeds.
Forests have always fascinated Braham and in this often collection of beautifully executed paintings, his first solo show in five years, we see figures cast adrift in their murky depths. Or we see people-less scenes which glow with a dark energy.
We see stark foregrounds, deep waters, autumn leaves piled high with stumps sticking out like the bones of a cadaver, trees with branches leering out of mist and mirk. We see demons. Or we don’t.
This is the stuff of Braham’s intensely personal vision. Recently in an Oxfam bookshop, I picked up a copy of a book produced to accompany The Vigorous Imagination. This 1987 exhibition was held in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh International Festival and featured the work of up-and-coming Scottish artists, including Braham, Gwen Hardie, Steven Campbell, Peter Howson, David Mach and Sam Ainslie, to name but a few.
Knowing that I was writing about him this week, I looked up Braham’s entry in the book and found that for this exhibition, the Duncan of Jordanstone graduate (and now lecturer) had presented a series called Battleground, based on the impact made on him by a sunlit clearing in a forest near Edinburgh.
The site also happens to be the place where the Battle of Pinkie took place in 1547. This bloody battle resulted in the death of some 6000 Scots and around 500 English troops and Braham’s monotypes – much looser than the tightly executed paintings which he has produced for this exhibition – conjure up something of the darkness which still hovers in the air around this site.
This underlying energy in a landscape is still fascinating Braham to this day.
Last year, he received critical acclaim with his publication, Suicide Notes, and with his photographic work, Falling Shadows in Arcadia, which was exhibited at the RSA during the Edinburgh Art Festival 2010. These hauntingly beautiful images showed places where dark acts - suicide and ‘dogging’ – took place.
In his new work, in paintings such as Antonine Hill and Bluebell Wood, he places figures at the heart of the action, although some works, such as The Hermitage offers up a figure-less scene which shivers with tension.
Union Gallery director Alison Auldjo was the model for Bluebell Wood and appears in a wintery, mist-shrouded wood, seemingly lost and hugging her white dressing gown tightly around her chest.
“The first time I saw the painting, it actually scared me,” she recalls. “A sensation I've never experienced from a painting. I'm sure some of its partly because I'm in the painting and look so ill at ease, but I think it goes deeper than that.
“I also had an odd reaction to Antonine Hill. Philip thinks the girl in the painting looks like his daughter when she was growing up. We have a client who's interested in the work who says the girl looks like he's daughter when she was growing up.
“According to Philip, the painting is also loosely based on a recurring nightmare his younger brother used to have. As kids we grew up in Bonnybridge and used to go to the Antonine Wall to play. It’s spooky and strange place and sure enough, my brother went through an episode of nightmares after playing there!”
Dom Smith, from the University of Dundee’s department of philosophy has written the foreword to the exhibition catalogue and in it, he remarks upon an ‘ends of the earth’ quality to his colleague’s new work.
“What might be more important in them is what they invite vision to do: to float, to diffuse itself, to become gaseous and atmospheric, as if the mists that languorously drift in both were to act as channels for bearing vision from one to the other.”
In this exciting new body of paintings, Braham forces us to look beyond the surface of an image in a way that photography doesn’t. Even in his figure-less landscapes, we place ourselves inside the scene, or other people, be they family, friend or foe.
Braham might have been regarded by the organisers of Edinburgh Art festival as too ‘high profile’ to be included in the official line-up this year, but this show in the centrally-located Union Gallery is well worth placing on your art radar.
|Bluebell Woods, oil on canvas, by Philip Braham|
This painting features Alison from the Union Gallery as the model
|The Hermitage, oil on canvas, by Philip Braham|