Sue Wilson finds in Eileen Lawrence’s paintings a penetrating exploration of the symbols which link the material and the spiritual
While the materialist excesses of the late 20th century have generated a widespread resurgence of interest in older, holistic modes of thought about the spiritual dimensions ofour relationship with the natural world. few artists have approached such issues with the rigorous. though respectful, curiosity of Scots painter Eileen Lawrence. Intuitive yet highly disciplined. her work examines how natural and religious symbols operate in the modern world. exploring the interplay between contemporary consciousness and the vestigial folk-memories which linger in our collective unconscious.
A few recurrent images— feathers. shells, eggs. branches. leaves— feature throughout as central symbols. In the earlier works. muted watercolours and inks. often on handmade paper. are employed to translate Lawrence‘s response to natural phenomena. In ‘Mica reﬂecting the light ofa quarter moon. Damp night air softens the sound ofgeese flying over Loch Sunart‘. delicately rendered feathers, bands ofdark wash and
specks ofglinting graphite distil the experience into emblematic components. Elsewhere. notably in the tall. narrow paintings Lawrence calls ‘prayer sticks‘. these motifs are employed as visual incantations or foci for meditation. The exhibition traces later developments in style and technique. in particular the move into oils. the expansion ofseale and the explosion ofcolour which followed a visit to the Mediterranean in the mido8lls. but a thematic continuity is clearly evident.
None of the works yield meaning readily. and it can be a frustrating struggle to decode Lawrence‘s visual language. Some motifs— birds for souls in flight. eggs for fertility- are fairly readily intelligible. but others (branches to represent people. for instance) are considerably less so. Lawrence‘s work. however. operates primarily through suggestion and resonance; many of the paintings explore the way that certain natural objects. once
‘ Eileen Lawrence: Sol Sombra
endowed with specific symbolic connotations. retain a strange power to fascinate, striking ghost-like chords in our unconscious even if, in our rationalist world. we’re not entirely sure why.
Sol Sombra, inspired by a visit to a Spanish bullring. focuses on another aspect of the instinctive or atavistic. The experience is reduced to near-abstraction -— arid, burning colours. a black line tracing the proud curve of bull‘s back, barbed lances and a spreading layer of vivid blood-red — as if by stripping it down to skeletal essentials Lawrence can approach the mystery of what it is about this ritual slaughter that continues to satisfy something in the human psyche (some human psyches, at least). Or perhaps not; perhaps all we are left with is an inscrutably powerful conjunction of form and sensation.
Eileen Lawrence: Paintings 1977~1992 is a! the Fruitmarket Gallery. Edinburgh, until 1706!.
:- Label of love
Swamped by the image boom, photography is losing its intellectual punch. Every day we inhale a stream of extraordinary pictures in the same way as we eat popcorn — with unthinking relish. This small exhibition is a chance to take stock.
Most people lind labels irresistible. They help to unravel an otherwise arcane story, or else tix a photograph in time and space. Sometimes they reverse our original perception ot the work. Like a compass, labels give bearings that extinguish the unknown and theretore pre-empt our senses. Why chase a hunch when an objective truth is there tor the taking?
Harry Kerr cuts us adritt with his unrevealing labels. The photograph at live decaying stick-like tools, each capped with a knob, is telling. lt labelled with a large number BC and a long Egyptian name, the piece would be cruelly boring. Instead, the unhelplul Artetacts (Various) pricks the curiosity. Where and when do they come trom? Are they all from the same era, the same people? What were these tools used tor?
It’s the kind at exhibition which is
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often called ‘challenging’. You have to invest thought in rough-edged, ill-lit photographs ot a clittside in the Colorado desert. At a glance, Undaled Colorado 1, 2 and 3 look like an amateur test roll. But then you begin to wonder how Kerr chose the angles and time at day. Does the clitt have some historical signillcance? Were the photographs with human shadows taken trom this same clitt? Does it matter?
Stone Stories evoke the most vivid
' It's the kind at exhibition which is otten called 'ch
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MI," allenging' tangle with perception. Under cave-like lighting, Kerr shows us a jumble of unidentified wall paintings. A buttan and a man on horseback stand out; other animals and plants and footprints are squashed indiscernibly together. There is a story in there somewhere, but the artist or artists were disinclined to spell it out on a label. Much like Kerr, really. (Carl Honoré)
Sense amd Science is at Street Level until 24 Oct.
I On Mon 12 Octthe revamped Steelyard Square in Bathgate reopens, four years after a national design competition was launched to improve the centre of the West Lothian town. Art in Partnership — which seeks to re-establish the old practice by which artists would work alongside architects on urban projects — put architects Peter McGowan Associates in touch with artists Sibylle von Halem, Lynn Clarke and Robert llutcheson. each of whom worked on some feature ofthe square.
V IN PRINT
I Making Ways: The Visual Artist's Guide to Surviving and Thriving ed David Butler (AN Publications, £11.99). Make a living from art? It can be done, and all but the most naive . of artists would concede i that marketing—terrible unartistie concept that it is - is the key to success. The third edition ofthis indispensable guide covers all the commercial aspects of exhibiting and selling art — raising sponsorship for shows and wooing the press; applying for residencies and studios; training, health and safety and copyright laws. The long list of contacts at the back may prove the most useful element in a generally excellent manual. Telephone 091 567 3589 for copies.
White Fence, 1986 I Desire: and Diagulaec: Five Latin American Photographer: ed Amanda Hopkinson (Serpent’s Tail, £10.99). Coincidentally all ﬁve are women. Their feeling that the ‘discovery' of Latin America 500 years ago brought its share of misery to the continent is shared. Here are unimagined images of Latin America: the cultured cafes and book shops of Buenos Aires jostle against surreal Chilean circus scenes, while Paganism and the Spanish legacy fuse in Guatemala‘s religious life. Most extraordinary are Iturbide's pictures of Mexican street gangs in Los Angeles.
The List9-220ctober 199251