Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Inspired by an Anna King painting at the Kelvingrove in Glasgow

While I was in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow I came across ‘The River Runs Through It’ exhibition which was set up to raise money for the new Riverside Museum down by the Clydeside area. It invited the work of several of Scotland’s most established painters as well as some recent graduates and (fund)raised the notion that once the artist sold their painting half the fee went to the Riverside Museum Appeal. Great idea.

Anna with some of her work
As I had never heard of any of the artists, names meant nothing to me, it was all down to their work to jump off the canvas and scream ‘Buy Me!‘ The exhibition apparently had been inspired by visits to the site and the paintings on show were each individual artist’s interpretation of the riverscape at the time. 

For me one painting stood out and I was impressed by the raw simplicity of the work of Anna King. It was very understated and muted compared to the other works on display but it spoke most to me about the decay of Glasgow’s rich industrial past. This whole area was now a museum dedicated to what once was one of the most vibrant areas in the UK. Like Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Clydeside had been synonymous with shipbuilding and was now little more than a dinosaurian relic, a has-been that was now only fit for high rise office accommodation, apartment blocks and museums.

a typical rundown painting by Anna
Had I an iphone I would have googled Anna King’s name there and then so I had to wait until I got home to find out if this was typical of her work and what inspired her wasteland look. 

I discovered she was only in her 20s, a recent graduate from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. A landscape artist her work is not known for its colour and pretty subject matter, rather she points us to bleak, empty spaces, derelict rundown buildings and weed-infested, abandoned wasteland. She paints sparingly in oils and her trademark deft pencil line suggests so much with so little.

A cityscape
As someone whose creative output is now in photography I was recently drawn to the broken, sparseness of the Titanic Quarter in Belfast where waste space, dilapidated buildings and relic furniture of a forgotten past were everywhere. In the shadow of the Samson and Delilah cranes I found an untamed beauty in the desolation of the scrubby, lawless no-man’s-land where grass jutted through the cracked concrete and a feral charm in run-down, rusty girders, broken windows and paint-peeled walls of long-disused factory buildings. I wanted to do more of this and had enquired about going to the old linen works at Hilden and the remains of a mill at Gilford. I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve but Anna has beaten me to it in her paintings.

A sparse interior
Not surprisingly Anna has won numerous prestigious awards and her artworks are moving off walls for four figured sums now instead of three. She has found her niche. It was all a far cry from her art college days when nothing worked for her and she thought she was wasting her time. It all came together in her final year after a trip to Utrecht in Holland where sat in a high rise for the first time in her life she got interested in cityscapes. From there it spiralled to a sell-out and much lauded degree show.Almost six years later she’s in her converted studio space painting the scenes she has captured on camera from her frequent trips to deserted quarries, former factories and places most of us would probably run a mile from. Almost six years later she is mixing it with the elite in Scottish painting and is not embarrassed to be exhibiting alongside people she could only have dreamed of while a confused student.

Life in the mundane
Anna’s work has inspired me to look beyond the rich and the obvious and to scratch beneath the surface a bit, no, a lot!!!! I was slowly getting there but this has booted me on to seek beauty among the ashes and life in the mundane. I doubt if I will ever paint but I can take what I have seen into my photography and await what imagery emerges there.

I wonder if I will look back at this exhibition in the Kelvingrove some day and say that’s what inspired and motivated me to go where I had not gone before. We’ll see.

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