Art reviews: Life Under Lockdown | Loving Photography | Pen Reid

Two new exhibitions from art organisations linked to healthcare in Edinburgh and Dundee reflect on the pandemic, while there are some dark fairytales in Pen Reid’s show at Union Gallery, writes Susan Mansfield
What We Now See, by David McCulloch PIC: Steven CookWhat We Now See, by David McCulloch PIC: Steven Cook
What We Now See, by David McCulloch PIC: Steven Cook

Life Under Lockdown, Anne Ferguson Gallery, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh ****

Loving Photography, Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust / ***

Pen Reid, Union Gallery, Edinburgh ****

An image by Helen Gowland for Loving PhotographyAn image by Helen Gowland for Loving Photography
An image by Helen Gowland for Loving Photography
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There could be a lot of art in the next year or two processing the experience of this pandemic year. Perhaps Tonic Arts, Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation’s Arts in Health and Wellbeing programme, is getting in quick by launching its Life Under Lockdown exhibition just as (touching all that’s wooden) restrictions are starting to lift.

In June 2020, the organisation offered micro-residencies to seven artists, each from a different decade of life, inviting them to reflect on their lockdown experience. The range of responses is as broad as one would expect, but the work is also united by its thoughtfulness and, often, its generosity.

The youngest artist, 16-year-old Jodie Campbell, is a very talented painter, presenting a series of seven portraits, mainly of older people (one is her grandmother) painted during lockdown. Their faces capture a range of emotions, from reflective melancholy to an animated smile.

Twentysomething Emelia Kerr Beale, a recent graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, has chosen to work in textiles, the tactile nature of sewing and knitting offering a kind of intimacy at a time when touch feels risky. Their works - two banners and a rug - are inspired by the messages of hope and solidarity stuck in windows during the first lockdown. Virginia Hutchinson works in a tactile form, too, engraving on copper plates (copper is inherently anti-bacterial). Her drawings of hands are like stop motion photography, capturing the motion involved in blowing a kiss.

Road Fox by Pen ReidRoad Fox by Pen Reid
Road Fox by Pen Reid

Artists and collaborators Hannah Brackston and Dan Sambo became parents during lockdown and their work reflects on the installations they created for their daughter, offering stimulation at a time when she did not have access to social stimuli. Their inventive use of whatever was to hand - a cheese grater, metal kitchen containers, cherry tomatoes - suggest they had fun, while their clever photographs manage to imply noise or movement as well as capturing colours and shapes.

Olivia Irvine lost her father in the pandemic, and her frescos (she built her own plaster panels to paint on) explore that loss by painting objects her parents brought back from their earlier life in Turkey. David Rushton reflects on the nature of spaces in lockdown; forced to close his Museum of Model Art in Sanquhar during the pandemic, he made a meticulous scale model of the changed space inside.

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David McCulloch explores language, appropriating the style of hospital signage and replacing directions with new words and phrases (“Free recovery”, “See you on the other side”). He gently probes the idea of faith in a time when much is uncertain, and his ‘Walk of Faith’ - a series of vinyl floorspots like the ones we have all become used to queuing on - map an appropriately hesitant path through the show, and perhaps out of lockdown into recovery.

Meanwhile, Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust is exhibiting the results of Loving Photography, a project in which 10 people with long-term health conditions worked with artist and photographer David P. Scott, inspired by the recent online exhibition of Joseph McKenzie’s Dundee pictures from the McManus Galleries.

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We can see them falling in love with photography, experimenting with lenses and angles and lighting, colour and monochrome, taking inspiration from McKenzie and applying that in their own contemporary worlds. Shaking off the limitations of lockdown and (in some cases) of illness, they find new worlds to explore, and the best of their pictures is as good as you would expect to find in a professional show.

Each person is developing their photographic eye: Mark Pennycook captures tree silhouettes, Robert Carrie an expansive landscape with big skies like a James Morrison painting. Eilish Nairn experiments with chiaroscuro and reflections, while Alison Reeve seeks out patterns and textures, the unexpected shape of a leaf in the yellow lines painted on a road. Helen Gowland finds a staircase at the back of a tenement which would not be out of place on a Greek island. Even the mundane world is full of surprises when you take the time to look.

The notion of limitation, freedom and the unexpected runs through Pen Reid’s extraordinary show at Union Gallery. While the domestic realm is her central subject, it becomes a broad realm of exploration in the light of her sprightly imagination.

At first glance, her paintings are beautiful, full of colours and patterns with a mythical, fairy tale quality. But fairy tales are often darker than they seem, and so are these paintings. Often set at dusk, at night, or in the bewitching light of a snowfall, they are quietly unsettling, and surprisingly serious in the questions they pose.

Reid shows us interiors and exteriors, often in the same painting, mastering again and again the complex compositional challenges this throws up. We peer in (or out) through billowing lace curtains; walls are cut away to reveal rooms; hens forage in a sitting room; fronds of plant life seem to grow on a nursery wall.

Domesticated animals wander free while wild ones are tethered or confined, and some creatures (a toad sentinel, a swan wearing a crown) seem to have stepped straight out of stories. A fox sniffs inquisitively at a country road as a car disappears in the distance. A woman vacuums in a cramped interior while a crane takes flight outside. Reid’s animals are often entirely themselves, while her women are doll-like, operating on autopilot.

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‘The Domestic and the Wild’ juxtaposes a close-up view of an orderly, sun-filled garden with an American-style clapperboard house dwarfed by the twisting branches of a magnolia tree. The membrane between domestic and wild in her work is often highly permeable, though at times it appears strong and uncomfortably rigid.

Life Under Lockdown until 12 June, viewing by appointment or; Loving Photography until 29 May, see; Pen Reid until 8 May,

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