Work in progress
At just 30 years of age Edinburgh artist Callum Innes has won the rare accolade of a solo show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. He talked to Miranda France about the difficult business of changing artistic style.
The business of attracting large audiences to see the work of young, contemporary artists is hard.
Academics don’t help. Take one sentence from
Rainer Crone’s weighty appraisal in the catalogue which accompanied Callum Innes‘s recent show at London‘s ICA: ‘When the grid is pictorially deployed not merely as a formal device, but rather as a poly-hierarchic value ofdifference featuring some aspects above others within the overall
pictorial organisation, it affords a way ofgoing
beyond the appearances ofsurface phenomena.‘ ‘ This has to be the least enticing recommendation for an artist I have ever read (and there’s been
some fierce competition). Curators must either like this sort of
I unforgiveable artspeak or pay no attention to it at
all; either way, some of Callum Innes’s recent work has won a showing at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (along with a selection of post-war British art from the collection of Ken Powell). This is rare praise — it is unusual for the SNGMA to devote a solo show to the work ofone so young (30), so local (Edinburgh) and so comparatively unknown.
His pictures are not ’easy‘ (though they are easier than Rainer Crone). You might think of him as a minimalist or an abstract artist in which case he would explain why you are wrong. There is a
; sense of control in his work, he argues, that has
nothing to do with abstract art, blended with a freedom from the straight lines and symbols of minimalism.
Innes’s intention is to create images which seem naturally to have evolved. The entire body of work
; points towards simplicity: Innes nearly always
works with olive green, for example, and his
' creation is actually a process of subtraction: he
takes off more than he puts on, using turpentine to
dissolve the oil and create ‘natural’ marks.
The end result has a tension and a dynamism but
there is no narrative to it. Innes feels strongly that
a composition should give hints, but not answers.
‘If you walk up to a piece that tells you everything, it stays with you for an hour. I think a picture . should continue to work at different levels all the
time, depending on the situation, the light, your mood.’ Even so, there are perhaps two useful keys to understanding his compositions. The first is that he is a great lover of landscape, light and natural forms. The other is the title of one painting, Quotations — in a way all his paintings are clues to a larger picture.
Innes‘s own move away from figurative painting came after art school, when he started to feel that he had developed as much as his ﬁgurative lexicon would allow. ‘1 had difﬁculties. I was always arriving at the same conclusions and following the same mythology. I’d always paint a hand the same way, or solve the painting in the same manner. There was only so long that I could carry on doing that, so I had to change.’
Part of the frustration sprang from a feeling that, although his art school teachers had helped to explore his technique, they had never asked him to consider why he painted. There is, he feels, too strong a tendency to encourage students towards ﬁgurative art in Scotland, perhaps partly thanks to the success in the last ten years of Glasgow Boys Currie, Howson et al.
Innes responded to his artist’s block by methodically changing his approach — though not, he says, his philosophy. ‘Every item in that mythology was pared down and abstracted to a
Callum Innes with Formed
certain point — a head became an oval and so on — then there came a breaking point which I had to go beyond.’ Innes had gone through his transition in Amsterdam, on a Scottish Arts Council grant, and far away from the critical eyes of friends who were too familiar with his old work. When he came back, he had one show ofthe transitional work and then changed for good. ‘It was criticised, but it’s better to be criticised once than to get continuous criticism later on. Now I know that I’m painting for the right reasons.’
It has to be said that Callum Innes’s paintings are shown to their very best advantage in the spacious rooms of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Too bad we don’t get the chance to see more
contemporary Scottish artists in this setting. The
SNGMA is perhaps unique in Scotland in that it can rely on a large number of people constantly flowing through its doors and down to the cafe
.5 where some of the most exquisite cakes in the east are a constant attraction. The gallery might do a
' better job of tempting this captive culinary
, audience into its exhibition space if it offered
regular show like these.
Callum lnnes’s recent works are at the Scottish
National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh until 3
0N FOLLOWING PAGES: PETER HOWSON O BOUDIN AT TROUVILLE O POIESIS
ill November — 3 December 1992 55