Four Women Artists: The Changing Landscape of Scottish Contemporary Art

The Scottish Gallery: Run Ended

‘Four Women Artists’, an exhibition at the Scottish Gallery, successfully shows the talent and variety in the works of a little discussed group: contemporary Scottish women artists. Elizabeth Blackadder, Victoria Crowe, Alison McGill and Emily Sutton are the four women whose works were chosen. These four artists span a considerable length of time, but more than that, they span diverse themes and styles. The lack of a common stylistic or thematic thread uniting them, although one would like to find something Scottish to link them, is precisely the strength of the exhibition, for one is not confronted with an imposed message but the cool reality of contemporary female art.

Elizabeth Blackadder, the oldest, has the most unique style: purposefully underdeveloped, like children’s drawings with their bright colours and blurred boundaries. Other works of hers seem unfinished: ‘Crabs and Lobsters’, for instance, is a painting of various crustaceans, some fully coloured, others only half-sketched. They lie on the otherwise blank page without interacting. Her ability lies in her focusing on individual objects while simplifying them until they lose their individuality.

Victoria Crowe, born 14 years later in 1945, marks a change in style. Often embossed in gold, many of her paintings are inspired by the Tuscan landscape. What singles her out most is the symbolism in her paintings. In ‘The Truth Comes Full Circle,’ a background of heavy, deeply coloured stripes, is covered with various objects: prints of leaves, the sketch of an angel’s face in stone, and lightly, a rough circle of metal strings, mysteriously unexplained.  

Alison McGill is a change once again. Born in 1974, she is a nature painter, the most Scottish of them all, focusing on scenes of her country’s landscape, from rolling hills, to soft seashores. There are a series of paintings by her that are simply stripes, the type and tone of the colours and the strength of the waves determining the scene evoked.

Emily Sutton, the youngest, is appropriately on a lower floor in a room of her own. Sutton is not only a painter but an illustrator, and her style is predominantly based on this. Her drawings of garden rooms, studios and doll-houses are crowded with minute objects, lying on tables and chairs, all reduced to their basic forms.

Coming away from the exhibit, the viewer has no sense of some generalized state of Scottish women artists. Only snapshots are seen, but this seems to suggest how little this group of artists can be reduced to one mere theme or tendency. One will leave with a sense of the strength and variety in the art of Scottish women, a sense of their ability to be their own individual artists even while being part of this group.

Image: Victoria Crowe (Ruskin Library)

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