Tales from the Garden
Catherine Fellows discovers the botanical drawings of Beatrix Potter.
Take a cursory glance at the exquisite, luminous paintings of fungi, mosses and lichen that grace the walls of lnverleith House, and you will hardly recognise the work of Beatrix Potter. There is not a mouse in sight. And yet. if you look closer, you will recognise an extraordinary eye for the details of living things and the ability to capture their essential vitality in paint. What else is it that allows Mrs Trggywinkle. despite being trussed up in apron and petticoats, to look wild?
A Radio 4 play recently contrasted the Beatrix Potter who wrote the little books and the older Bea Heelis, who abandoned them for Herdwick sheep and a husband. Typically though, it failed to mention the botanical artist who beavered away with her agar dishes, microscope, pencil and brushes throughout her twenties and early thirties — long before one small rabbit lost his blue jacket. During this period,
Potter produced over four hundred drawings, many of which reveal how ahead of her time she was in terms of understanding the germination of fungal spores. And yet, the only recognition she received from a fellow mycologist was that of Charlie Macintosh, a Perthshire postman and erudite amateur naturalist whom she met whilst on holiday in Scotland. He sent her fresh fungi so that she could - continue her work in London, whereas the scientific establishment there, busying itself with hopelessly mangled, pickled and dried specimens, dismissed her completely.
This exhibition offers the ﬁrst opportunity to see a large selection of Potter's botanical work — it is usually kept in the dark in a library in Ambleside — but it is also righting the old wrong. Dr Roy Watling, mycologist at the Botanics, has been able to vouch for the accuracy and scientific value of the drawings. in fact, this is a perfect exhibition for a gallery which prides itselfon bridging - or rather denying — the gap between art and science. Potter's achievements in both ﬁelds are
We are now able to enjoy not only the adventures of a certain Peter Rabbit but
another, equally valuable, area of the work of this multi- talented Victorian lady.
rooted in her fascination for the natural world. Studying the radiant yellows and warm browns. layered on layer, and the mysterious cup and orb shapes of the fruiting bodies depicted in the watercolours or, alternatively, in the
An extraordinary eye for the details of living
things aid the ability to captlne their essential vitality in paid.
microscopic drawings of spores, the delicate pencil threads which straddle out across the paper, it certainly seems futile to try to detach their aesthetic appeal from the knowledge that these astonishing forms are those of living organisms.
It has been argued that if Potter had received more encouragement in her botanical work, she never would have thought to publish the story she wrote for a sick nephew one day between fungi gathering expeditions in Dunkeld. Whether or not that is true, thanks to this exhibition we are now able to enjoy not only the adventures of a certain Peter Rabbit but another, possibly equally valuable, area of the work ofthis multi~ta1ented Victorian lady.
Beatrix Potter — A Victorian Naturalist, Royal Botanic Gardens. Edinburgh until I August.
The Centre for Contemporary Art’s current exhibition, Coalition, is one of the tow Mayiest shows to have an international flavour. In the words of the CCA this is ‘a temporary co- existence ol distinct artistic voices’, and although the result has a sense of unity about it, it seems that this international coalition had, in the mating, an element of collision.
To say that the Chinese visitors were demanding is no exaggeration. liuang Yong Ping’s original proposal was for real lions to till the cages which partially obstruct the entrances to the galleries and Yang .lie Chang wanted his vast network oi electric cable to be live. Apparently they can do this sort oi thing in China, but here expediency prevailed and the final solution, while retaining a feeling oi threat, is less aggressive. The lntemational gateways (or gallery doorways) are marked ‘EC liatlonals’ and ‘iithers’, and are guarded by lions which make their presence fell through their none too delicate aroma - the cages contain the, before and alter, signs oi a lion’s meal generously supplied by Glasgow Zoo. The current in die Chang’s dramatic cables is kept to the barest minimum by the transiormers, whose presence suggests that the potentially high
voltage is controlled. llonetheless this work remains aggressive in a way that makes the Scottish contribution seem the zen side of reticent. Where the Chinese dominate and obstruct space, Roderick Buchanan and Callum lnnes’s gentler work clings politely to the walls and uses an appropriately Scottish wryness to articulate the ieelings and differences thrown up by such a foreign collaboration. Buchanan’s imprint ot a bookcase takes the truism ‘Vlhen you cannot be uderstood there can be no misunderstanding.’ as its title. This implies the extent to which another culture’s resources of knowledge are
- inevitany inaccessible, and resonates
with suggestions oi book burning and censorship. Callum lnnes’s high plaster wall is divided by an uncomfortably oil-tilt vertical step. It has all the purity and calm oi the minimal with a disruptive spike. Coalition is full oi black and whites, both real and ideological, suggesting that there are some boundaries both cultural and personal which cannot and should never be crossed. it seems to have concluded that diiierence and ioreignness, despite being potentially violent, is worth preserving so that coalition does not become coalescence and the world turn grey. (Anne liamlyn) Coalition is at the Centre for Contemporary Arts until 12 June.
Exhibitions are listed by city, then alphabetically by venue. Shows will be listed, provided that details reach our ottices at least ten days before publication. Art and Exhibition Listings compiled by Beatrice Colin.
I ART EXPOSURE GALLERY 38 Bath Street, 353 2361. Mon—Sat 10.30am-6pm. Bryan Evans Until Fri 28 May. The first major solo show for this award-winning artist whose work depicts Glasgow tenements and rain-soaked streets. See review.
June Summer Show Tue 1-30 Jun. New paintings by gallery artists.
I ART GALLERY 8: MUSEUM, KELVINRROVE 357 3929. Mon—Sat 10am—5pm; Sun 11am-5pm. Ca’;. [D]. Voluntary guides are available free of charge to conduct parties or individuals round the main galleries. Ask at the enquiry desk. A World of iiiiierence Until 20 Jun. Originally collected as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Oxfam in 1992, a selection of photographs highlighting the various projects the organisation is involved with worldwide. The Threads of life Until 13 Jun. An exploration of textile traditions and techniques from Africa. Asia, Central America and Europe. The show includes a wide variety of woven, printed and embroidered textiles. Butterﬂies - Who Cares? Until 20 Jun. Butterflies are becoming an endangered species. Find out why, and what is being done by conservationists to prevent their decline in this illustrated show.
I BARCLAY LEIIIE FIRE ART 203 Bath Street, 226 5413. Mon-Fri 10am—5pm; Sun 10am-1pm.
The Jessie M. King Archive provides information on all aspects of the popular Scottish artist.
imagining Still Until Sat 22 May. Powerful and often disturbing paintings by Joseph Urie.
TORI/20th Throughout June. Paintings, sculptures and ceramics from two centuries.
I ROGER BILLCLIFFE FINE ART 134 Blythswood Street, 332 4027. Mon—Fri 9.30am—5.30pm.
Cordon Mitchell: llot So Still life Until Sat 29 May. Surreal and amusing still lifes.
Peter Michael’s Glasgow Until Sat 29 May. Studies of the city‘s most famous buildings.
I BORRSIOE GALLERY 190 Dukes Road. 613 3663. Wed-Sat 10am—5pm; Sun noon—4pm.
Scottish Landscape Until Sat 29 May. Scenes from cities and the countryside. I BORRELL COLLECTION Pollokshaws Road, 649 7151. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 11am—5pm. Cafe. [D].
The collection of Edwardian tycoon William Burrell, including furniture, paintings, ceramics and glass, housed in an elegant purpose-built gallery. Recorded descriptions and thermoforrns available for the benefit of visually impaired visitors.
A Force for Renewal: The Tapestries oi Jean Lurcat Until 27 Jun. Working between 1930 and 1960, this painter revitalised the ancient art of tapestry weaving. This is a selection of huge, colourful pieces depicting a range of subject matter including the signs of the zodiac and themes explored by contemporary poets.
I CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS 346—354 Sauchiehall Street. 332 7521. Tue—Sat Ham—5.30pm. Cafe. [D].
The List 21 May—3 June 1993 55