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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, 31 October 2011

The Force & Form of Memory

This is an unedited version of a feature I wrote for The Herald galleries section on 29/10/11  

The Force and Form of Memory
Compass Gallery, 178 West Regent Street, Glasgow
0141 221 6370
Until November 19 (then touring)

Headless Forward by Alasdair Wallace
If they are being honest, all artists build the force and form of memories into every single thing they create, be it in music, on canvas, in a structure, in print or on the stage.

We’re all made up of bundles of memories, which seem to start crowding as we grow older until there isn’t enough room for any more. 

Memories are an open secret which belong to an individual yet can be interpreted in so many ways. 

That they are meat and drink to all artists has been proved by the response to a call by Compass Gallery director Jill Gerber to create work for The Force and Form of Memory, a touring art exhibition which she has put together in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, a charity that supports individuals, families and carers of those suffering from dementia. 

In this exhibition, which has literally grown arms and legs since it was first envisaged nine months ago, there are now 76 participating artists at all stages of their careers, from new graduates such as Roland Fraser and Hew Morrison through to stellar names such as Alan Davie and Ken Currie. In between, there are artists working at the top of their game, drawn like moths to a flame to this inspiring brief

“I was originally approached by Alzheimer Scotland to help organise an auction to raise funds for them,” says Gerber, who now runs the gallery her father, Cyril Gerber originally started in 1969 when such ventures were as scarce as hens’ teeth.

“I suggested it would be better for everyone,” she says, “if I put together an exhibition which responded to the theme of memory and then the Compass and Alzheimer Scotland shared the commission while supporting the artists, which is what the Compass has been about since my father started it up.

“I approached artists about it and the response has been overwhelming. It’s almost as though the artists – and the gallery – have have been reinvigorated by examining such elemental subject-matter. The energy surrounding this whole project is incredible.”

On the day I drop into the gallery to have a preview of the work, much of it is still being unwrapped from boxes or bubble wrap is being peeled off eagerly to see what lies beneath. Digital images in a computer never prepare you for the real thing and there is much oo-ing and ahh-ing as the work is revealed in the flesh.

There appears to be recurring themes in much of the work, such as birds, chairs, faces, old photographs, and many, many strange and unlikely, yet fitting, materials. I particularly like the small ‘oil on hut’ paintings by Owen Boyle. 
Boyle has literally used parts of an old hut from Cardross where he played as a boy, the thick green industrial paint of which can be seen on the back. In recreating these people-less childhood scenes, he has made raw, yet delicate paintings.

Recent graduate David Woods has stepped up to the challenge with a couple of interesting works, one of which is a a charred and blackened carved oak head with its gaping hole at the top. Another new graduate, Elliot Burns, has created two works on old church floorboards.

The 3d work in this exhibition, which will tour for the next year to Hampden Football Museum, Stirling, Wick, Thurso, Greenock and Banchory, is particularly strong. It’s as though the act of making memories into tangible, touchable objects has made them more real.

Frances Pelly’s Memory Sticks are beautiful creations. Long thin sticks made with gesso, paint, ink, graphite and collage on yew, they beg to be turned over in the hand, as does Cameron Ross’ Vestige/Virtus (for Thomas Behan), a found spade with a cloud-like ceramic aeroplane floating on the shovel part.

There are some bravura painting acts, including Donald Clark’s exquisite Glass of milk with Jaffa Cakes, which summons up a childhood memory of his grandparents’ house, and also in Ken Currie’s stunning self portrait, which is the polar opposite of a vanity project in its forensic painterly detail.

Alasdair Wallace has played a blinder with his Headless Forward, which brings a new meaning to the footballing cliche of a player losing his head, while Peter Thomson has moved into another strange, yet beautiful phase of his painting career. 

Half of the Picture by Peter Thomson
By the very nature of the subject matter, there is work too numerous to mention here which people will be drawn to for very personal reasons.

For me, Henry Kondracki’s poignant little acrylic painting, My Mum’s Chair, brought a lump to my throat. In a short statement on this work, he says, ‘The total absence of a memory has left just this object. This has a poignancy for me but hopefully also holds meaning for the viewer.’

If the past is another country, book your passage to see this exhibition now because you won’t regret it.

 'My Mum's Chair' by Henry Kondracki

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