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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)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Frederic Church & Tait + Tait

'Niagara Falls, from the American Side', 1867, by Frederic Church


Scottish National Gallery
The Mound, Edinburgh
0131 624 6200
Until 8 September 2013
Admission free

Niagara Falls, from the American Side, painted in 1867, by the great American landscape artist, Frederic Church, is a real show stopper of a painting.
As an adult, I’ve stood in front of this gigantic painting at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, just as I did as a wee girl of nine-years-old looking at the real thing from the Canadian side, and marvelled at its sheer scale and power.
Church was a member of the Hudson River School, a group of American painters who started the country’s great tradition of landscape painting. For artists of Church calibre, a highly finished painting was the one thing which would guarantee critical and well as commercial acclaim. This one did, with knobs on.
Church was 40 and at the peak of his powers when he received a commission to paint a large work for the Exposition Universelle in Paris of 1867.
Ever the showman (described as Barnumesque by one critic of the day), Church decided to return to a theme, the Niagara Falls, for which he was already well-known, having painted it several times to great acclaim in the late 1850s.
A compulsive sketcher in oil paint, many on-the-spot studies made from 1856 to 1859 from both the American and Canadian sides of the Falls, are on show in this unique, quieter view, of the man often referred to as ‘the American Turner’.
These sketches include a hybrid study made in August 1858 called Niagara from the American Side, which shows how Church was using the relatively new science of photography to help him in his work.
Almost in the same way that artists now use Apps as a tool, Church painted over a small (32.7cm by 29.5cm) albumen print which he may have bought as a souvenir during his 1856 visit. 
He is clearly exploring the possibilities of tonal values, perspective and experimenting with a vivid turquoise which would find its way – a decade later, into the much-loved painting which is in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery.
This gigantic painting, now temporarily situated at the bottom of a stairwell leading up to the gallery known as the Impressionist room, having arrived home after being on loan as part of the same exhibition at The National Gallery in London, provides a grand opening welcome to the 25 smaller oil sketches by Church on show in Edinburgh from today.
The sketches talk out Church’s roving painting expeditions throughout his own country and on to the Arctic Circle, Ecuador, Jordan, Jamaica and Europe.
This large finished painting of Niagara was never shown in Paris, but when it was exhibited in London in 1868, it created a sensation. It was duly acquired by a Scots-American businessman, John S. Kennedy, who gifted it to the gallery in Edinburgh in 1868.
Astonishingly (but perhaps the reason Church is not so well known on this side of the Atlantic), it remains the only major work by Church in a European public collection.
Young Frederic Church, born to a wealthy jeweller father in Hartford, Connecticut, was a precocious talent from an early age.
His mentor, the great American landscape artist, Thomas Cole, said of him; ‘he had the finest eye for drawing in the world’ and in keeping for the great 19th century passion for the plein-air oil sketch, Church was a prolific and accomplished exponent of this art.
He told his teacher at one point, of all employments, I think it is the most delightful.’
His output was constant from the late 1840s until his death in 1900.
Michael Clarke, director of the National Gallery of Scotland, likens Church’s place in the art firmament of his day as being a bit like the way we view Sir David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries today.
“His large paintings were intended to knock you out,” he states. “It was a bit like him saying, ‘you wanna see the Arctic – I'm your man!’
“America was very bound up with its own landscape at the time. There were moral overtones to it and of course there was a desire within Church’s land to be free from Europe.”
One of the most enduring images of the Civil War was his 1861 oil sketch, Our Banner in the Sky. Depicting a blood-orange night scene in which the Union Flag is embodied by a flash of greenish star-spangled sky against a livid yellow striped sunset, this natural-born stars and stripes is attached to a lone spindly tree. The sketch affirmed his support for the Northern cause and also re-enforced Church’s deeply held religious beliefs.
A print of this image sold in its thousands and this exhibition offers the opportunity to view the original in all its glory.
Clarke also alludes to the private sorrow of Church, the family man, who escaped to Jamaica in 1865 with his wife Isabel, following the death from diphtheria of their two eldest children. “He came to Jamaica to grieve,” he explains, “and the four sketches from Jamaica on show are stunning.”
Seeing Church within the historical context of an era when America was asserting its independence amidst a background of a rapidly changing world in which old orders were being challenged, is key to viewing this vital body of work with a fresh pair of eyes.

'Mother', a collaborative work by husband & wife
Erlend & Pamela Tait
Erlend & Pamela Tait: Duologue
Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts Kelly Gallery
118 Douglas Street, Glasgow
0141 248 6386
Until May 25
The idea of working with your other half is an anathema to many of us; especially when the individuals concerned are artists. Surely the clash would be seismic?
Although they work in different rooms of the house they share in the Black Isle, Erlend and Pamela Tait, have only just begun to combine their respective talents.
Duologue is the result; a two-person exhibition of new paintings by Tait and Tait.
They describe it as ‘a visual conversation between two artists who work alongside each other’, and there is a real sense of what can only be described as togetherness in a new body of work now on show at the RGI Kelly Gallery, just off Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.
The aim when they started preparing the work was to have ten paintings by Pamela, ten by Erlend and ten by ‘Pamela Erlend’. In the end, they produced almost 40 works.
While working, the two would pass the work to and fro. “Sometimes one of us would get stuck,” says Pamela, “and then the other would take up the brush and ‘fix’ it.
“Then in was easier for the other to carry on.”
There are common themes and style. Less portraiture than images of detached heads, sometimes set in expansive landscapes or cloudy skies, these new works allude to themes of alienation and transcendence.
Erlend Tait’s drawings and paintings combine images of the human head with symbolism and pattern. 
The product of what he calls ‘a healthy diet of heavy metal, comics, science fiction and horror films, references are made to mythology, religion and the occult.
His works in this show are painted in acrylic on watercolour paper, and combine a love of anatomical representation with techniques developed over years of working in the tradition of stained glass painting and staining.
In recent years, Pamela Tait has concentrated on drawing out the state of ‘being a woman’ in her kooky but cool depiction of females heads.
This new body of work sees a change in medium and a development in theme and style, where pattern and a sense of place and purpose are of more significance than before.
Each says that working with the other has led to a different place in their own work and interestingly, it is easy to tell at a glance which one is an Erlend, which is a Pamela and which is a Pamela Erlend.

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