Art review: Jac Leirner, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Jac Leirner, Leveled Spirit, 2017. PIC Ruth Clark
Jac Leirner, Leveled Spirit, 2017. PIC Ruth Clark
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From cigarette papers to mountains, by way of a subtly different take on landscape

Jac Leirner: Add It Up ****

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

What looks like a textured abstract painting extends all the way along the back wall of the downstairs gallery in the Fruitmarket. Only when one gets closer can one see that it’s copper wire, about two miles of it, densely threaded in a vertical pattern. At one end, there is a plug and a socket. At the other, a lightbulb.

Little Light, by Brazilian artist Jac Leirner, has something in common with a lot of art being produced at the moment: it depicts a long journey from source to completion, which in some ways feels like an unnecessary one, yet – to paraphrase Stevenson – it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Also, like much of Leirner’s work, it has a charming ordinariness, a winning vulnerability. She hasn’t shown often in the UK (she was in the Fruitmarket’s Possibilities of the Object show in 2014), and this survey show of more than two decades’ work has an immediacy which is accessible and appealing. She draws on the detritus of everyday life: cigarette papers, used banknotes, objects picked up in hardware stores, yet her work has a formal rigour which makes it much more than an assemblage of ordinary things.

Leirner describes herself as having “the head of a painter” and the more time one spends with her work, the more this becomes clear. Examples of her watercolours, which she rarely exhibits, are included too: beautiful exercises in shapes and colours which recall the work of early 20th century abstractionists (her parents’ Brazilian modernism is an influence on her work).

These paintings give us a prism through which to see the rest of her work. So the meticulous arrangement of coloured cords – thinnest at the top, thickest at the bottom, or the spirit levels arranged according to the spectrum start to look like abstract paintings. Crossing Colours, the sculptures made with interlocking slats of wood not unlike flat-pack furniture, explore similar themes in three dimensions.

At the same time, there is a personal, personable quality to this work which is often absent in abstraction. Leirner is a recent ex-smoker, and the paraphernalia of smoking appears throughout the show. Skin, made from 2,448 cigarette papers, has the quality of abstract minimalism. Coloured works made from cigarette paper packages have a cheeky pop art vibe. Cigarette butts are strung on to wires to make hanging sculptures. Ashtrays “collected” from areoplanes are dislayed like museum pieces. Her works are strongest when the values of abstraction sit alongside the quirky homespun nature of the materials, when the conceptual playfulness and the painter’s sensibility come together.

*Until 22 October