SARA BARKER: THE THINGS THAT ARE SOLID, ABSORBED AND STILL
Mary Mary, Glasgow
Star rating: * * *
SUE TOMPKINS: EXPRESSIONS
The Modern Institute, Glasgow
Star rating; * * * *
Patricia Fleming Projects, Glasgow
Star rating: * * *
For a city that often seems so robust, Glasgow is also terribly fragile. Visiting the contemporary art gallery Mary, Mary this week I was struck by the view out of the window. The sandstone facade of a neighbouring building in Dixon Street, which has its shoulder to the blustery Clyde, seemed so porous it might blow away.
My thoughts weren’t entirely unprompted, for the gallery is showing the work of Sara Barker, who specialises in teetering fragility and in art works that blur the difference between inside and out, solid and liquid.
Barker, an artist known primarily as a sculptor, has a background in art history and subsequently studied painting. Her first ever outdoor work, Patterns, was on show at Jupiter Artland this summer as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and she has a forthcoming commission at Baltic in Newcastle and a planned solo show at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket in 2016. Her art is reedy and wafer thin. It is provisional but not without presence. Her recent works, constructed from brass and steel rods, painted slivers of canvas, plywood and aluminium, form labyrinthine structures that recall working architectural models. Or they might be the kind of elaborate plumbing that makes up the human nervous or vascular systems. They sprout from the walls like weeds from old masonry or cling and crawl like skeletal insects.
As an artist Barker studiously avoids fine finish – some works are notably crude, but her ambitions are soaring. One new piece, entitled The things that are fluid, changeable and unpredictable, echoes her outdoor work in its use of glass panels to deceive the eye about what is constructed and what reflected. Another work, All that is solid, absorbed and still, sits nestled amongst jesmonite pillars which are treated to look like old concrete. Barker works in a studio next to the gallery and you sense the city outside her window.
As if by magic, a few streets away, on the wettest Friday night of the year the artist and performer Sue Tompkins seemed to halt the dreichest of Glasgow weather. Her latest spoken word performance, Letherin Through the Grille, was accompanied by persistent percussion on the roof lights of the former Merchant City workshop that serves as the Modern Institute’s Aird’s Lane gallery. It might have been a metaphor, for making art can be heavy weather. But when Tompkins’ looping and rhythmic vocal repetitions reached the word rain itself, the weather magically held its breath, only to start again within moments.
Even in a storm Tompkins is a uniquely sunny performer. Her texts bring together street poetry, surrealist conjunctions of words, snatches of dialogue and visual images, but it’s the breathy staccato rhythms and her ability to smile as she steps to her beat that make those words come alive.
In the best of her new and rather startling paintings on show at the gallery, those qualities shine through. Young Wheat sees these words scrawled onto a canvas with sheave-shaped slashes, slathered in golden paint under a boiling orange sun. For those, including myself, used to Tompkins’s austere typewritten text works and collages, her new series of acrylics requires an adjustment to shifts in scale and sensibility. Some of it I loved, some made me almost cringe in the face of their energy. Her palette is raucous with dark purple and green and a heavy use of black. And her textures are wild and free: acrylic is worked with the hands, poured and spilled and in drying has blistered and cracked. The slashed canvases seem not so much violent as liberating, reminding you of eyelids blinking open, or letterboxes peered through.
Words are everywhere: pushed together unexpectedly, scrawled and dripped on surfaces. Against a background of luminous pink the artist has written her name: Sue Me. It’s both a statement of identity and the archetypal challenge. So? Sue me.
Words too, are Kevin Hutcheson’s stock in trade in a series of new works at Patricia Fleming Projects, a newish small gallery in a corner studio in South Block, the studio complex in Glasgow’s Osborne Street.
Fleming, whose venture this is, has spent some 20 years as a doer in the art world, setting up artists’ initiatives like Fly, later to become Market Gallery and Fuse, the studio scheme which once housed some of Glasgow’s most prominent names.
Hutcheson who trained at Duncan of Jordanstone and Chelsea is known for painstaking drawings and collages and his current show is a precise and canny skewering of words and things in the digital age. He uses near obsolete newsprint and acrylic paint, but his art seems to capture the simple dilemmas of living through the shiny optimism and secret paranoia of the social media age.
Classified, for example, simply sees the words unlimited and selected placed next to each other in a collision of marketing speak. I love Logging Off, the words Digital and Comedown accompanied by some loose splodges of coloured pigment. It seems to capture that moment when you tear yourself away from the shiny screen into the humdrum real world.
Delicate, quiet and placed with almost excruciating precision, Street consists simply of the word Hope, repeated again and again in a chain of different newsprint typefaces. Hope Street, once one of Glasgow’s most beautiful 19th century thoroughfares, has in the last decade or two become one of its most miserable public spaces.
The street itself is a dark-walled canyon that reeks of burger bars and bus fumes. Alexander Greek Thomson’s Egyptian Halls are still a wreck and under wraps, though each month seems to suggest a last-gasp breakthrough to rescue and redevelop the landmark building.
Hutcheson’s collage, elliptical as it is, suggests both the irony and the aspiration of a street named Hope. Out of fragile circumstances and the most delicate of possibilities all three of these Glasgow artists make stuff that feels fresh – and fresh out of the city around them.
• Sarah Barker until 26 October; Sue Tompkins until 2 November; Kevin Hutcheson until 12 October.