|Rigoletto Residency (fully opened)|
This feature appeared in The Herald Arts supplement on 9/6/1
Helen Wilson: A Portrait of Scottish Opera
Open Eye Gallery
34 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh
0131 558 9872
Until June 19
Behind the making of any great art, be it opera, dance, theatre, film, sculpture, or painting, there lies mystery. The creative process is never prescriptive, but it in an organisation such as Scottish Opera, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, so many elements fuse together to make a performance, that when you see the finished product, it’s as though the blood, sweat and tears of getting it to the stage never existed.
Not many people are given carte blanche to observe behind the scenes of a body such as Scottish Opera, but at the end of last year, artist Helen Wilson was given an ‘access all areas’ pass to do just that – and the results have now gone on show in Edinburgh’s Open Eye Gallery.
Wilson is an artist who loves to observe and she does it quietly and with aplomb, mainly in oil paint – but not exclusively.
Recently, the Glasgow-based artist has been exploring etching as a medium, and creating ‘sets’, which are a fusion of painting, drawing and construction.
For this exhibition titled simply A Portrait of Scottish Opera, Wilson tells the stories of the people who come together to create the ensemble that is The Company.
An expert in silently touching on the tiny nuances which most people miss – be it in a person or a pair of shoes – Helen Wilson’s portraits are always tender. Never obvious. This intimate portrayal shows many faces and factors; a wardrobe mistress ironing, a ‘gentleman of the chorus’, looking tired, a flautist in the pit, head of costumes, John Liddell, in his apron, working at a table, and even a pair of well-worn gloves looking for a pair of hands.
A wordsmith as well as a painter, Wilson’s titles are a joy. Personal favourites in this exhibition include Sun Enchanted Evening II (below), a pair of shiny shoes belonging to a Rigoletto performer beside a copy of the Sun newspaper and There’s a Chip Shop in Space, a beautifully painted poke of chips garlanded by stars.
Her large (48 X 72 inches) work, Rigoletto Residency (fully opened), plays with the idea of the painting as paint box meets stage set, never allowing the viewer to forget the fact that that each is an artificial construct.
Inspired by Joni Mitchell’s lyric ‘I am a lonely painter. I live in a box of paints’ from A Case of You, this particular artist has let her imagination roam in this inspired paint box of tricks.
Fittingly, Wilson has now given this work to Scottish Opera as a thank-you for granting her access to all areas of the company at the tail end of 2011.
While there, she observed rehearsals and attended performances of Rigoletto, Hansel and Gretel, Seven Deadly Sins, Intermezzo, Marriage of Figaro and Douglas Irvine’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel Clockwork.
The Paisley-born artist’s behind-the-scenes foray into opera follows on from a Portrait of Scottish Ballet. Her daughter, Jenny, is a professional dancer and this involvement in the world of dance has led to a fascination with depicting the world of the performing arts.
Wilson explains: “The linchpin for this Scottish Opera exhibition was Kally Lloyd-Jones of Company Chordelia. As well as having her own dance theatre company, Kally has worked regularly with Scottish Opera, directing and choreographing.
“We’ve become very good friends, and my last Open Eye show featured work I did when I was behind the scenes with Company Chordelia, when they were working on a production of Les Amoureux.
“The then director of planning at Scottish Opera, Jenny Slack, bought one of the paintings from that exhibition and I broached the subject of a possible Portrait of Scottish Opera exhibition with her.
“The idea was met with enthusiasm from the beginning, and when it transpired that Scottish Opera’s 50th birthday was on the horizon, it seemed only right to have the exhibition coincide with that.
“Everyone at the company was incredibly helpful. And trusting. I tried to make my presence felt as little as possible. I wasn't around for long periods of time. I did a lot of coming and going, depending on what was happening, and relied on my camera to record most of the visual information I needed. It was a fantastic experience for me, and my understanding of, and respect for the art form has most definitely increased.”
One can’t help but search around for a musical term to describe the work of Helen Wilson for this particular exhibition, and in doing so, I discovered the Italian word Maestro is not gender-specific.
With this in mind, Wilson is a Maestro at the top of her game. Her art speaks to the viewer in a way which defies mere words. There are works in this exhibition which veer away from painting, but still speak in a clear visual language.
Her art is about feeling, technique and a deep empathy and fascination for how creativity happens. If you are serious about painting and observing how a quiet Maestro goes about her business, then go see this body of work before it is scattered to the wind in 10 days time. You won’t regret it.
|Sun Enchanted Evening II|