Art Reviews

Iain Hetherington

Iain Hetherington’s advance press release for his solo show at the Glasgow Project Room was a tissue of facetious allusions. Describing his latest works as ‘portraits’, he undercut the humanist associations of that category with a punning reference to the language of market research. The works, he insisted ‘are not portraits in the traditional sense of “a good likeness” etc, but are instead misrepresentations of notional audiences, target audiences of the fictional type demanded by official cultural policy.’

The cynical tone is familiar from fanzines that the artist continues to produce in collaboration with Alex Pollard such as Mainstream and Radical Vans and Carriages – lampoons of the art world and New Labour social policies. But Hetherington’s paintings and wall-mounted assemblages could scarcely be described as institutional in style. The use of scrap materials related to studio practice such as nails, canvas, and bare wood stretchers – gives them an acetic somewhat rustic quality, punctuated here and there by zany elements like joke-shop eyes. A visceral absorption in Synthetic Cubism is also very evident. The forms are ostensibly prosaic, with rough-cut edges, and an incidental punk-like ornamentation of staples and hanging fixtures. Their beauty, where it arises, comes from a sense of balance in their compositions (which prove on close inspection to be quite graceful), a delicate manipulation of paint, and an ability to realise multi-layered statements through the most economical of means. Read more →

Nick Evans

The Glasgow-based sculptor Nick Evans’ recent solo show at Sorcha Dallas involved an unusual foray by that artist into – almost – total abstraction. Though the ‘Primitivist’ aesthetic of classical modernism had been strongly present in Evans’ past sculptures, his older works also incorporated conspicuous figurative elements (referencing Cubist-style nudes, for example).  Evans often evoked these narrative symbols in a way that suggested difficult genres of ‘politically conscious art’. Evans has been especially drawn to those predecessors who- in a resistance of merely polemical illustration- remained attentive to the formal aspects of their practice, and who acknowledged the discursive limits of visual art as an ironic structure within which to sharpen their critical purpose. Examples of this kind of approach might include Goya, Manet and – more recently – the collaborative practitioners of Art and Language. At least one of Evans’ titles at Sorcha Dallas evoked that wry, esoteric – yet darkly imaginative – tradition.

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Carol Rama

In Terry Zwigoff’s film Ghost world (2001), the art teacher applauds an unctuous girl student making works from her own blood, whilst rubbishing the witty intricate drawings of the heroine. This parody of reversed dogma – a sort of compulsory avant gardism- is furthered in the fake video art she shows to the class -a female voice chanting ‘father/mirror, father/mirror’ over a montage of dolls heads and flushing toilets. Carol Rama’s stance of anguished candidness occupies a similarly parodic and jaded arena for a post-millennial audience. In the wake of Tracy Emin’s tabloid notoriety and Louise Bourgeois’ fully institutionalised spiders, mirrors and towers, it seems quite ubiquitous for female artists to be airing their psychological dirty laundry in public; far less cataclysmic than in 1940’s Turin where Rama’s first exhibition was closed down by the police.

Yet the Baltic retrospective – 87-year-old Rama’s first ever British solo show- proved that an anguished confessional subject-matter had not lost its scabrous power to enchant, perhaps because its’ mordant manifestations in this instance pre-empted any cynical response. Rama who has been making works since the early 1930’s, began – like the Thora Birch character in Ghost World by drawing through her own anxieties, producing lewd scrawls of lascivious but somewhat violently incommoded figures including grinning priapic male harpies and snake-tongued femme-fatales. These works entitled Appassionatas, beautifully tinted in watercolour and rendered in a deceptively fey style, established an enduring repertoire of amputees and strange fetishes, which recurred in the increasingly sculptural from of the bricolages of the1960’s, made from glass eyes and claws embedded in pools and splashes of paint. Read more →