Poetic Response

By DuncanMacmillan | The Scotsman, May 12, 2018 | Go to article overview

Poetic Response


DuncanMacmillan, The Scotsman


Since the RSA abandoned open submission for its principal exhibition, the form of this annual event has been a combination of a curated exhibition, including invited artists both from within and without the Academy, and one open to all academicians. It doesn't sound like a formula for coherence and indeed over the last few years it has sometimes not been easy to see the logic. This year, however, Calum Colvin as convenor of the 192nd annual exhibition has made this rather cumbrous idea work admirably. (Note that he is officially the show's convenor, not its curator, a wonderful escape from that sadly overused word. You can apparently get a sandwich curated in New York these days.) His theme is art and poetry and it runs through the show like a line of coloured thread lightly stitched through a piece of fabric. He was stimulated to choose it, he says, by conversations around his own portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid, a work he actually created in the gallery during the Academy's recent Ages of Wonder exhibition and which, a priori, blends art with poetry. That portrait is here. A composite of painting, assemblage and photography, the poet's image is intercut with images of books by and about him, letters in his hand and other memorabilia, all set in an artist's studio. The man, his poetry and the art that sets out to represent him all intersect indivisibly.

Developing the theme, on the opposite wall is a group of Alexander Moffat's portrait drawings of the poets MacDiarmid gathered round him or inspired. But as Colvin's own picture of MacDiarmid makes clear, you cannot deal with the interaction of painting and poetry, a significant part of Scotland's recent cultural history, only by painting the poets. Consequently he has also not only invited artists, but also poets to collaborate with them and others among the academicians, or to write in response to their work. There will also be readings and related events during the exhibition. Collaborating in this way, artist Derrick Guild and poet Robert Crawford, for instance, have produced several works together. WIFIWIFE, sets out those two words repeated without spaces 30 times each in a square block of ten lines. Two exquisitely painted eyes and part of a face borrowed from historic female portraits hang framed alongside. The point seems to be that if wife and wifi can really be confused, we have not exactly achieved emancipation in the home.

The photographer Robin Gillanders is an invited artist. He has contributed a set of enigmatic still-life photographs to complement a poem by Henry Gough-Coooper. In another single work, however, A Fragment of the Old Ash... he introduces a figure central to this theme. The old ash was almost the only mature tree that stood in the place that became Little Sparta when Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife first moved there. Not long after the poet-artist's death the ash blew down. The picture is an eloquent memorial.

A rather beautiful film of oranges bobbing in a fast running stream is a collaboration between invited artists Pernille Spence and Zoe Irvine and poet Raman Mundair, whose related poem is presented alongside. Rab Wilson has written a poem in Lallans about Seer by Annie Cattrell. This is the maquette for a public sculpture in Inverness which will evidently be composed of two jagged pieces of white marble. The sculpture is apparently a tribute to the Bran Seer though I am not sure he would have understood much Lallans.

All this and much else sits very comfortably in the frame provided by the work of the wider Academy and one or two other invited artists. …

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