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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, 20 February 2012

Angela Steel looks through glass darkly

Angela Steel: Knots
Compass Gallery
178 West Regent Street, Glasgow
0141-221 6370
February 23-March 17
This is an edited version of a piece I wrote for The Herald's Arts section. It appeared on 18/2/12

Angela Steel - Nursery - stained glass

Angela Steel’s painterly glass panels have more than a touch of the Angela Carter about them. Darkly magical, they are contemporary while harking back to a cut-throat medieval aesthetic which would send Hieronymus Bosch scurrying for cover. 

Although Steel has several drawings and paintings in this new solo exhibition at the Compass Gallery in Glasgow, the main talking point is a series of seven stained glass panels, titled Tangled Routs, which tells the story of an incarcerated adolescent girl.

The setting is a children’s asylum – based on a burnt-out mansion near Steel’s home in North Ayrshire – and around this oppressive place, Steel weaves a coming-of-age tale of Gothic horror set against the backdrop of the second world war.

It’s not often you see an exhibition of glass work – especially with such dark subject matter – in a commercial gallery setting, yet the long-established Compass Gallery in Glasgow has taken the risk with Steel’s work.

Perhaps she has been influenced by the new wave of austerity in all our lives, but Steel is navigating dark corners of the human psyche. Several threads of reference are repeated in this new body of work on show here, which also features her drawings and paintings.

A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art in Drawing & Painting, Steel’s’s virtuoso draughstmanship is as evident on paper as it is in glass.

Recurring themes include the horrors of concentration camps, impenetrable forests, dolls, the pioneering psychiatry of Scots-born RD Laing and deer-hunting. This has to be the first time I’ve ever seen deer penises in any artwork, let alone stained glass. 

Inspired by deer-stalking trips with a stalker friend in the Highlands, Steel has incorporated much of the imagery she encountered on the hills and in the deer larder, into her glass work.

The title of Steel’s exhibition, Knots, is a reference to RD Laing’s book of the same name which studies the darkly complex world of human relationships.

Her original idea, she says, was to do a series reflecting the seven ages of woman through to the menopause and beyond as a play on the Seven Ages of Man speech in Shakespeare’s As you Like It.

As the work took shape, her central character somehow remained in adolescence and through this girl, a restless, preternatural fear and nervous energy stalks these stunning glass panels.

When Steel describes the methods used to produce them, she talks of how a ‘paranoid’ face ‘appeared’ on etched flash glass, as if there was no controlling it. This is an artist who is clearly in love with the possibilities of glass.

There is something about the unyielding, yet beautifully glowing effects a master glass artist can tease out of this very fixed matter which lends itself to Steel’s dark subject matter.

Steel says she turned to the medium of stained glass to challenge her skills and express her personal and imaginative ideas. 

In the last few years, she has honed her skills in residencies and master classes at the world-renowned Northlands Creative Glass, in Lybster, Caithness. 

“You never stop learning about glass,” she says. “Technically, it’s both a trial and a joy. I enjoy the fact there is a process you have to work with, while at the same time never really knowing how it will emerge. 

“With painting, you have so much freedom. Working with glass, you have to follow a process, and that suits me. I still paint and draw, but it feels like a release now when I do, after working with glass.”

Angela Steel - The Realm of Paths - stained glass (the one with the deer penises...)

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