A Parliament of Lines

By Lesso, Rosie | Art Monthly, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

A Parliament of Lines


Lesso, Rosie, Art Monthly


The City Art Centre Edinburgh 5 May to 8 July

In anthropologist Tim Ingold's Lines: A Brief History of 2007, line is a core component connecting all aspects of our daily lives, from walking, and writing to travelling. For Ingold, lines can be one of a series of forms: threads, cuts, cracks or creases (to name a few), many of which can be found buried in the drawings in this exhibition. Artist and curator Euan Gray has taken the delicate title 'A Parliament of Lines' as a direct quotation from Ingold, a starting point in bringing together 15 artists for whom drawing is a central component of their practice. Put simply, this exhibition is another addition to a long list of survey exhibitions on contemporary drawing that have taken place internationally in the past few decades, but what sets this show apart is its focus on Scottish or Scottish-educated artists.

Group exhibitions in Glasgow featuring the hugely successful roll call from Glasgow School of Art are now commonplace, while Dundee Contemporary Art's 'The Associates' in 2009 made the case for Duncan of Jordanstone. But this exhibition is less navel gazing in that it features artists from a variety of Scottish backgrounds, although Gray is a quiet champion for the Edinburgh voice, with many Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) graduates and tutors selected for the show, including, as an ECA alumnus, Gray himself. He also reminds us in the exhibition catalogue that ECA was founded as the first drawing school in Britain in 1760. That said, this is not an exhibition steeped in the heavy conventions or rigours of the past but is a fresh and varied collection of work from international and emerging contemporary artists.

Gray has divided the show into five fail-safe themes: the body, architecture/landscape, minimal abstraction, reproduction/ photography and sculptural investigation. The exhibition catalogue uses these groupings to create a series of visual essays, but the display itself is less structured and is all the more ambitious for it. Instead a non-linear approach leaves viewers to create their own comparisons between works.

The artists have been selected according to two factors, as Gray explains: 'an exceptional understanding of their medium', and 'their ability to create and maintain a distinct and personal vision'. This two-part description fits more succinctly with some artists than others and seems most apt in describing those who have minimalist leanings. In the 1920s and 30s the divide between Edinburgh College of Art and Glasgow School of Art was a case of abstraction versus figuration; while those stereotypes have long since been broken down there is a geometric strain of abstraction still popular with a number of Edinburgh-based artists, represented here by Alan Johnston and Callum Innes whose work is hung closely together in the space.

Johnston's work is informed by the subtle nuances of architectural details and a site-specific wall drawing has been created for the City Art Centre space where repetitive lines in blocks form whispery hazes of grey that almost merge into the wall, leaving only a passing human trace. In contrast Innes has brought together a series of coloured watercolours on paper, hard iridescent lines bleeding slowly into larger, freer blocks to create a nuanced balance between restraint and freedom. …

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