Whistler down the wind

Why is the work of James McNeill Whistler being re-appraised this autumn? Beatrice Colin dropped

off at the Hunterian Art Gallery to find out.

Anyone whom Ruskin accused of. ‘flinging a pot of paint in the public‘s face‘ is guaranteed a long-life reputation. Now the work which he so cruelly dismissed. Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket is to be included in a huge show at the Tate Gallery in London, which looks back at Whistler‘s considerable achievements. With a catalogue on all the artist‘s watercolours, pastels and drawings also soon to be published. a forthcoming edition of BBC l‘s Omnibus which details the artist's fascinating and

the Whistlerain aesthetic is currently being re- appraised.

~ “5.2.5. A” :1 7a,... i7!

; sketchbooks in lithograph. watercolour. pastel and turbulent life. and numerous Small ShOWS 0" the Way. 2 pencil span in density from intricate detail to fleeting ; impression and from squalid back street to sedate

parlour. They also show Whistler‘s fascination with

Now the chilly. frosty nights. and bloom and trail of the comers ofthe capitals of Europe and the joy of ; the young. nubile nude.

fireworks which Whistler seemingly recorded effort- free and which Ruskin so vehemently disliked. will explode into the faces of many this autumn.

The Hunterian Art Gallery has the biggest collection of Whistler‘s work outside Washington. due to the bequest of the artist‘s sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip. In their current show Hut-monies and Norturnes 75 small studies plotted throughout the artist‘s life give a new slant on his life and work. Nudes. landscapes. portraits and

‘ln' the early drawings there is a really naturalistic approach.‘ says curator Martin Hopkinson. ‘And then. in the work carried out in Venice. Amsterdam and late Pan's. you can see him develop until it‘s the art of leaving things out. Whistler was very important

in the revival ofthe lithograph. and some of his

washes and lithotints look very unlike anything else that was going on at the time.‘ Whistler didn‘t paint the same scenes as his

contemporaries. He looked for the unseen. seedier

5 side. and ignored the picture-postcard views. ‘What‘s

interesting about him is that he didn‘t wander very far to find these sights.‘ points out Hopkinson. ‘They

: were mostly within five minutes‘ walk of where he


was staying. He just took a walk round the comer from a famous sight in order to draw something

5 which was more appealing. The last thing he wanted


to be was an artist who drew banal subjects.‘

The work here also has an immediacy which has a different feel from his paintings. Indeed. Whistler believed that no work of art should look laboured but appear as if it was knocked off in a minute. ‘Although most of the paintings were done in the

' studio.‘ says Hopkinson. ‘a lot ofdrawings were not H necessarily done in front of the motif. As he was

trained in Pan's to memorise what he‘d seen. he‘d

then go back to the studio and record it. Some are


obviously done on the spot the pastels moored in a gondola off a particularly picturesque building, for

. example.‘

Although his studies are filled with turmoil and lust, they are nothing compared to the whirlwind of his real life.

in the movie, Whistler would fall in love with a Venetian prostitute. fight with the gondolier and fall in. For although his studies are filled with turmoil and undercurrents of tempered lust. they are nothing compared to the whirlwind of his real life. Whistler stories are now virtual legends. it is fascinating to read about the time he made the bailiffs act as waiters for one of his parties, for example, or his well

recorded war with Oscar Wilde.

But although Whistler lived life to the limit and

never paid the bills, his talent was one that consumed him. ‘He was very sarcastic. witty and sharp. and frequently didn't care what people thought. ' says

Hopkinson. ‘Art meant more than anything else to him. and in a way. part of the way he lived was art too.‘

Harmonies and Nocturnes is at the Hunterian Art Gallery until [7 0H.

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_ Stop making sense

There is a large courgette lying on the floor. Every once in a while it wobbles a bit. This is because an amplified ostrich call is being loudly pumped through the building. Temple of the Senses is the latest show in Glasgow’s lntennedia Gallery. It is one of the most engaging, certainly the most assertive, exhibitions that has been in the gallery for a long time.

The show aims for the participator/ viewer to interact with/be offended by all live senses, rather than just the usual one. ‘Observe’ a selection of brightly coloured coca-cola bottles


strewn on the floor. ‘Be aware’ that all your clothes are now smelling of cloves from the giant sack hanging in the foyer. ‘Experiment’ with the large bottles of water which taste as though an old wine gum has been dropped in and dissolved. ‘lleel around’ and be deafened by the ostrich. ‘Touch’ the

wobbly courgette.

When approached in the right frame of mind, the work here is exciting and enjoyable. This is primarily due to a series of frenzied sense-assaults organised to run through the length of the show. The last few you should just be able to catch. (in Thursday 22 at

7pm the artists present their work for public debate; on Saturday 24 at 7pm there will be a scientific monitoring of some poor soul being tied down and fed until bursting point. Tuesday 27 at 2pm (£5) is gallery flavour day: a chemist will be brought in to explain taste theory and afterwards theory is put into practice at the Bombay Bistro with Glasgow’s Mr Curry as kitchen host. "

At 2pm on Wednesday 28, there is a chance to encounter a Thennanon, a

that makes your hair stand up on end like Catweazel and, on Thursday 29 at 7.30pm, you can see Rhona Simpson’s performance, Pressing Flesh. The final closing party, on Friday 30 at 6pm, is the Scentorama, the purpose of which is presumably to go out with a pong. (llick Dewar)

Temple of the Senses is at lntennedia Gallery until Fri 30 Sept.

giant, glowing, crackling goldfish bowl 3