Heroes and Hummingb
Too little time, too much to see? Beatrice Colin saw a selection of Mayfest shows which featured the work of Peter Howson, Bryan Evans, William Blake and Jemima Blackburn.
A legend in his own teabreak. Peter Howson is probably most famous as the Glasgow Boy who sold a piece of work to Madonna for her art collection. Yet recently, his huge lumbering ngures depicting the Glesga hardman in all his inebriated, ham-listed glory have become too predictable in a city now tired of its inherited self-image turned caricature. But a collection of his work from the 1980s. currently on show at the William Hardie Gallery. pins down the initial spark that rocketed Howson to international attention and also reveals the essence of his talent.
From Noble Dosser. a huge charcoal drawing which was included in New Image: Glasgow. at the Third Eye Centre in 1985. to later oils such as Govan Team. Howson has always aimed to capture the agony of the human condition felt by the working man. Graceful they are not — vacant eyes. rolled-pork necks and lolling toothless mouths belong to fighting. sweating. puking gargoyles. Looking punch drunk, their vigour and innate dynamism is instinctive rather than intellectual.
In this collection of over 30 pieces. however, a sense of Howson's own energy and urgency comes across. Acid sharp citrus shades. deep greens and coal blacks are plotted with lines which almost shimmer to create works with an invigorating and restless quality.
Two hundred years earlier. William Blake jostled with the grand themes in a series of engravings of various biblical and literary scenes. in the Huntetian Art Gallery’s exhibition. put together from the university’s collection by students. plates include fifteen from the book. Europe. A Prophecy (I794) . These are of relief etchings colour printed with added watercolour. scenes from the Book of Job. and a depiction of the Canterbury Pilgrims. Most striking of all are seventeen tiny wood engravings wnich illustrate Virgil‘s Eclogues. No bigger than a couple of postage stamps. each scene is a perfect yet minute envrronment.
Little To. the Sailor (18”) by William BUG
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Blake‘s ﬂuted ﬁgures. strong linear sense and precise, almost decorative compositions had a huge inﬂuence on a group of artists who called themselves ‘The Ancients’. and this show also includes some of their work. All are impressive. but none quite compete with Blake's own ﬂuid style and gargantuan imagination.
A vast retrospective of the work of Scottish Victorian artist Jemima Blackburn is being hosted by The Collins Gallery. The show. ‘Birds. Beasts and Brushstrokes‘. is celebration of this almost forgotten artist who was nevertheless one of the few women of her era who made a living as a painter. Although a friend and contemporary of Millais and the Pre- Raphaelites. Blackburn's work is on a much more modest scale. She worked every day and recorded travels around Scotland. her honeymoon. voyages to the Middle East and Switzerland and the antics of her children.
In watercolour and pencil. this show is a meticulous pictorial diary of middle-class life of the period. Scenes are depicted in colourful detail. always with a certain civilised and often humorous approach. Her talent as an illustrator of the natural world is also evident in her accomplished studies of birds, such as cuckoos. pufﬁns and ducks. With well over IOO pieces. this exhibition reveals not only her skill as an artist but is also a fascinating account of Victorian life.
Down the road at the Art Exposure Gallery. sun uncharacteristically streamed through the window. but in Bryan Evans‘s current show. Glasgow is always hazy and blurred with rain. His subjects are tenement closes. men in macintoshes looking in shop windows and umbrellas in Kelvingrove Park. in this series of watercolours and prints. Evans explores the damp. tiled face of the city where every surface throws back the colours of the trafﬁc lights or of dim lights in upstairs rooms. Looking into the stairwells where silhouetted ﬁgures stumble down steps. his
work captures a sense of anticipation and gritty ambience.
Peter Howson at the William Hardie Gallery until Sat 29 May; Blake and his Contemporaries at The Hunterian Art Gallery until 26 Jun; Bird. Beasts and Brushstrokes at Collins Gallery until 5 Jun, and Bryan Evans at Art Exposure until Sat 29 May. See listings for further details.