:— Northern Exposure

Caroline Ednie looks at the work of Phoebe Anne Traquair, an artist of the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement.

Over the last few years there has been a wave of serious and scholarly interest in previously little-known and neglected 19th century Bn'tish artists. Even the most minor of these have often been accorded one-man shows and become the subjects of a deluge of published material. Whether this is due to the genuine men't ofthe individuals involved or whether it represents a moment of suspension before the batteries are recharged for the new century. a last gasp of the past. so to speak. remains to be seen. it is within this prevailing climate. however. that the life and work of Phoebe Anna Traquair has been resurrected in the current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Like many of her artistic contemporaries, Phoebe Anna Traquair has languished in the vaults of obscurity. another victim of the vicious see-saw of 20th century taste. As a significant exponent of the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement. however. she was an artist of considerable skills and embodied the movement's vision of the artist. not as aloof from society and the recipient ofdivine inspiration. but as a craftsman whose purpose was to enrich society with honesty and truthfulness in design and manufacture.

Virtual Reality

Even before the have mixed technology with entertainment - chemical high, computerised music and video graphics - technology had slipped into the bloodstream of popular culture like arnyl nitrate. Yet far from being a cold and lnexpressive medium, technology, like any tool, is now being used with admirable skill by a growing number. Virtual Intervention features six artists who all use computers to generate their work, to refer to the radical changes in the modern world.

Korean artist llam June Pa'lk’s pieces loom like two bizarre sentinels at one end of the gallery. ‘Vlrap Around the World Man’ is a pile of old radiograms

Traquair was a craftswoman of unquestionable accomplishment and ii veritable all-rounder in the Edinbuth Arts and Crafts major league.

Perhaps best known for her murals {Of the Song School of St Mary‘s Catthiriii and the Catholic Apostolic Church. both in Edinburgh. Traquair was 211le ii painter. embroiderer, illustrator. illuminator and book binder of some repute. Among the highlights of the exhibition is The Progress ofthe Soul. ll suite of four large scale embroiderieii based on a work by Walter Pater and representing the salvation of the human soul through redemption. Embodied in these pieces. and prevalent throughout her work. is the Ruskinian view of an as an expression of morality. a Pre- Raphaelite attention to detail and the Arts and Crafts penchant for

reels which cut so fast they blur into a colourful techno haze, suggesting mute global stupor.

Amy Jenkins uses photography of still lifes against video monitors to

iconographic eclecticism particularly of the Medieval variety.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, illuminated manuscripts. though technically brilliant, form disappointing pastiches on the style of Fra Angelico and Medieval ltalian texts. Similarly. paintings such as Love, The Comforter oj‘ng/it are slavishly indebted to William Blake in more than subject matter. A revelation. however. is Traquair‘s jewellery pieces. The artist seems to have worked best on this intimate scale. and the process of enamelling complements her detailed technique and colour repertoire to wonderful effect. Particularly striking examples are ‘The Mermaid' and ‘Out ofthe Deep‘. both charming in their simplicity.

Overall. the current exhibition of

Arny Jenkins reflects on the nature of beauty

single pieces of jigsaw are placed in front of filmed images of people and places to create an emotional and personal response to inadequacy and the human condition.

A piece of enamelled jewellery

Phoebe Anna Traquair’s work comes as a welcome exposure. lf, however. we evaluate her achievements in a wider historical context and make a short journey to the west coast to view other artists working under the au5pices of the Scottish Arts and Crafts, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald to name but two. we have to recognise her glaring limitations. Traquair‘s work is noble in its gestures and never less than charming but. when compared to the work of Mackintosh and his Glasgow contemporaries. her work is prosaic and parochial.

Phoebe Anna Traquair at the National Portrait Gallery. Queen Street until 7 Not:

every choice’ combines archival sepia images of forest with computer generated doughnut shapes. Here the finite nature of the earth’s natural resources are highlighted and juxtaposed with the synthetic.

Gavin Evans’ ‘llis’, previewed earlier this year in Glasgow, is concerned with society’s continual distortion of information. Evans has collaborated with ten writers with an international reputation to create computer- 1 generated photographic images with related text. Questioning, amongst other topics, racism, sexism, and . capitalism, the work is sornetlmes

didactic but nevertheless compelling.

Most captivating is Dutch artist Alex Venneulen’s work. like stills from a , surreal lir Strangelove-type film, these 1' black and white photographs arnalgamate actors with weird sets. A balding man in a check jacket creeps 1 out of a tunnel made of triangular frames and a laughing postman ' surrounded by clouds suggest some kind of celestial limbo. A real trip?

stacked up into a vaguely human create images where reality and Equally personal is the work by (Beatrice Colin) m. 81" 0| loll 01 a globe. The fiction reflect each other. Mutilated Manual, a partnership from Texas. Virtual intervention is at Stills until 4 some! iilar looped images; nonsense dolls, plastic babies in bottles and Work like ‘So much is riding on your Sept. £1.50 (50p). J

The List l3—l9 August 1993 71