Friday, 29 June 2012

Hilary: the Hunter/Gatherer of Souls

Hello everyone,

Earlier in the month, Alison promised to introduce you to some of the characters that appear in Norrie Harman's solo exhibition, 'Way Out West'.  It would be unthinkable to ignore the biggest of those characters, in both size and personality, the remarkable Hilary:

'Hilary's For Tea', oil on board, by Norrie Harman.
Now this is a big painting, the biggest we've ever shown at 8'x8', and Hilary's personality is all pervasive when you come into the gallery: you cannot ignore her and you cannot deny her impact.  And it's by no means just her size that gives her such impact - this is a painting masterclass from Norrie - a stroke of genius.  In an exhibition that is almost entirely monochrome, it is fascinating that the one painting with colour should actually be the darkest and most disturbing.  Of course, her gruesome painted face is scary, but the unnatural lurid green, clashing with the blood red, is the toxic colour of nightmares.  Not to be taken lightly.

Hilary is a complex character, lonely and full of tragedy, but perhaps deserving to be so.  Having lived with her for the last month, I have grown very fond of Hilary and have learnt to see her vunerability and well as her menace.  She hangs at the back of the gallery with a 'tunnel' of monochrome work pointing towards her.  It takes courage for an artist to use such a limited palette in his work: no distraction of colour, paring the work back to its bare essentials, shows real confidence.  The genius of having just one, enormous and exquisitely painted colour painting that has so much impact has not been missed by those who have visited us this month.

Hilary also makes a couple of appearances in the monochrome work.  Here she is 'hunter/gathering' for the nightmarish tea she is inviting us to:

'Hilary Goes Shopping', watercolour and indian ink, by Norrie Harman.
Again wonderfully created, there is the body language of despair, maybe even defeat, that belies the threat of her appearance.  I love this painting for its power and its humanity.

An interesting footnote about Hilary is that such is her size, Norrie couldn't work on her in his studio, so he built a tin shed on the outskirts of Edinburgh and painted her there.  Doing so in the cold and lonely winter months shows real commitment to his work, and he is to be commended for doing so.  After all, if he hadn't, we would never have got to meet this amazing character.

Love it or hate it (and both opinions have been expressed), there is no denying that 'Hilary's for Tea' is a monumental piece of work which we believe should be housed in a permanent collection for all to experience and consider.  Much of Norrie's work will leave a lasting impression on us: none more so than the wonderful Hilary.

And a Happy Birthday today to 'Hilary's for Tea' creator, Norrie Harman. 


Monday, 25 June 2012

Methadone Love III

Hello everyone,

First of all I want to thank all of you who have been in to view, and indeed champion, award-winning artist Norrie Harman's solo exhibition, 'Way Out West'.  The response we have received here at UG has been quite overwhelming and re-affirms everything that we believe in as a gallery: the support and encouragement that we gain from artists and visitors alike creates a very special and precious partnership indeed.

So I've thought long and hard about this blog: in the last one, on 'Kim Kim', I was keen to demonstrate that, although Norrie Harman's work is uncompromisingly strong and sometimes even brutal, if you open your eyes a little bit more, your discover what I believe is the most potent aspect of all - the sensitivity.  'Methadone Love III' takes this to a whole new level.

So here it is, in all its shocking glory:

'Methadone Love III', watercolour & indian ink, by Norrie Harman.
So now might be an appropriate time to stop reading if you are at all offended, but to be fair I see and hear much worse every day - just watch the news for a start!.
Again, if it's not your bag move along now before we get into any more detail.
Too late:

'Methadone Love III', detail, by Norrie Harman.

On completion of each of his works, Norrie sent us an image of the painting.  With 'Methadone Love III', he sent us only the detail below which, I am sure you will agree, is a very fine observation of the female's head:

'Methadone Love III', detail, by Norrie Harman.

I can't help wondering what it says about the art world that an artist sometimes feels the need to sensor, or edit, their work in order to get it accepted  -  to show only the 'pretty bits' to get it the wall space it deserves.  This is not the case with UG: this is a wonderful work of art that we are proud to have in the gallery.  I remember a comment made by my artist friend and contemporary, Patsy McArthur, who once said, "you can't help what comes out of you'.  Of course she was right - as an artist you go the the whole hog or not at all and that is particularly pertinent when talking about an artist with as unique a voice as Norrie Harman.

The nameless, helpless, but still beautiful woman in 'Methadone Love III' has haunted me since I first saw the work, and I think about her situation often.  On speaking to Norrie about the 'offending' artwork, he explained: 'I tried to treat it with as much sensitivity as I could.  I deliberately wasn't too graphic with her genatalia'.
In doing so, Norrie has allowed this woman to retain some dignity and, by painting her face so beautifully and in a manner only he can do, allows us to consider the painting as a whole: shocking, yes, but beautifully so.

Looking at this painting, I can't help but notice the empathy and non-judgemental stance of the artist.  In her drug induced state, her hand fumbles around searching for some affection, landing awkwardly on the head of her lover.  In spite of herself, she has at least managed to participate in some way that is remotely agreeable to her.

We know that, in the history of art, there have been great works of art that have been deemed too offensive or controversial to be seen by the public.  Once censored, or simply excluded from public display, some are now heralded as forward-thinking and enlightened comments of the time.  I believe that 'Norrie Harman's 'Methadone Love III', and his exhibition as a whole, should be seen as a 21st Century equivalent - a powerful and bold statement about the world we live in.

Speak soon. 


Thursday, 21 June 2012

There's More Than Meets The Eyes to Kim Kim

Hello everyone,

In my last blog, I promised to introduce you more closely to some of our 'special guests' in award-winning artist Norrie Harman's solo exhibition, 'Way Out West'.

We have to start with this:

'Kim Kim', Watercolour and Indian Ink, by Norrie Harman.

I was smitten the first time I saw 'Kim Kim'.  This mysterious and attractive young woman in an almost Goddess-like pose, with her protector at her feet, captivated me immediately.
Initially I was bowled over by 'Kim Kim' simply as an exceptional example of drawing and painting, yet even at first sight I knew that there was more to her than meets the eye.  It's interesting that, on first impression, viewers of Norrie's work cannot escape his hard-hitting and powerful imagery.  Strong and confident images, of course, but also beautiful and sensitive, definitely menacing, but ultimately real and meaningful.

'Kim Kim', detail, by Norrie Harman.

You see, at the risk of taking away all the magic and mystery, 'Kim Kim' is a fragment of Norrie's childhood memories.  Kim, as she was usually known, was the daughter of the first Japanese family ever to move into the Wester Hailes area, where Norrie grew up in the 1980's.  She and her family obviously attracted a great deal of attention and interest from the other residents of the tight-knit and sometimes suspicious community.  Kim may have been exotic, but she was also different and something of an unknown.  Her life, and that of her family, was pretty difficult and so they enlisted the support of a Doberman dog - traditionally an attack dog - to offer some support, security and perhaps even friendship.  Coincidentally, the Harman family also had a Doberman at that time, a bitch called Kim, whose role was also to offer security and companionship.

It took a while for the penny to drop, for me to understand the significance of the blindfold in the portrayal of 'Kim Kim', but now it's so obvious it's painful.  In the privacy of her own space and with her best and perhaps only friend at her side, Kim attempts the futile gesture of disguising the fact that she is different.

I could be wrong, but if this painting doesn't demonstrate a deep-rooted sensitivity, and an empathy with the subject matter, then I'm not sure what does.

Hurry back soon, and if you're lucky we will take a more intimate look at one of Norrie Harman's more controversial works, 'Methadone Love III'.

Speak soon.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Son of a Butcher

Hello everyone
I've been thinking a lot about all you wonderful and fascinating people who visit UG every month.
This month sees the arrival of a whole host of new visitors I've had the pleasure of meeting and I'm enjoying every minute of it.
All of you have been lured here by a very unique and raw new talent in town. That talent belongs to award-winning artist Norrie Harman.

Hilary with her maker.
'Hilary's for Tea', oil on panel by Norrie Harman.

Some of you may not yet have read the first review of his exhilarating exhibition, 'Way Out West'. If you have will you indulge me and stick this in your browser again?

Over the next few weeks we have much to share with you about Norrie Harman and his work, and we will revel in introducing you to some of his creations, like Roxy, Linda and Kim Kim, and of course that 'famous' Hyena and the infamous Hilary.
But first, by way of an introduction, I'm simply going to tell you a wee story that goes back to the 1990's. Yes folks, all that time ago when I had all my own teeth and real hair!
I was a student at Edinburgh College of Art and nearing the end of my 'stretch' in the drawing and painting department. Like many art students, I was feeling extremely deflated and disillusioned by the whole experience. In an attempt to cheer myself up, or perhaps remind myself of what it was all about, I sought inspiration from my contemporaries and so embarked on a secret snoop round the other student's studio spaces. I naturally started with the final year students as, nearing the end of the process, there was bound to be something spectacular from which to learn everything. Alas, nothing springs to mind.
And so, and this is the important bit as it may have been the most significant move I ever made at Art College, I decided to look at the work of the younger students....the next generation.
After a spell of searching and searching, I found what I was looking for, and it was the most eye opening work I had seen in the whole four years I'd been at ECA. This work was by a Norrie Harman of who I knew nothing about and didn't need to. I just new his work was the 'real deal' and the images I saw that day and the name stuck with me.
Now, some fourteen years later (and long-time over-due) his first solo exhibition in Edinburgh the aptly titled 'Way Out West', is now on display at the gallery.
In the lead up to this outstanding exhibition of drawing and painting, we have learned much about Norrie Harman and his 'story' which, like his work is wholly compelling.
But for now, all I'd like to say is that this son of a butcher has more than earned his stripes.

Speak soon.

Monday, 4 June 2012

We wait with bated breath.....

Edinburgh's own, Norrie Harman, takes to the walls.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Sleeping Under the Stars

Hello everyone,

In the last blog, we had a look at a particularly special painting by Jenny Matthews in our current exhibition.  This time we are having a look at UG's 'curators choice' from Janet Melrose RSW's side of the show, and I have to say that I am slightly nervous about doing so - I am not sure I will have the right words to do the work justice.  What I am confident about, however, is that Janet's work will speak for itself and will easily hold its own.  I will take a leaf out of Janet Melrose's book and take a 'less is more' approach to discussing her work - of which these are a master class:

'Meeting of Ideas', mixed media, by Janet Melrose RSW.
What I will say is that as a general rule with paintings, the more perfect and effortless they appear, the more difficult and demanding they were to arrive at.  In Janet's canvasses in particular there is evidence, or rather clues, as to the history of the painting.  There are signs of the layers of history or story-telling that lie behind the paintings, which enhances their overall beauty.

To be honest, there is not a single painting in Janet's new body of work that I wouldn't love to have on my wall, but here is my curators choice:

'Sleeping Under the Stars', mixed media, by Janet Melrose.
I will confess that, on viewing 'Sleeping Under the Stars' for the first time, I shed a little tear.  Recently, I lost my best and irreplaceable friend, UG hound Tommy:

I guess my heart was feeling rather heavy at the time, and that in part explains why I had such an emotional response to this painting.  Janet's paintings have the enviable ability to touch your heart, to create strong emotional responses.  It has been fascinating over the last month to witness people's joy firstly at seeing the work, and then at the appreciation of the talent needed to paint with such subtlety.  This painting, and indeed the exhibition as a whole, has certainly helped lift my spirits and those of many visitors to the gallery - I will be very sorry to see it end on Monday.

I have always admired Janet's brave approach to painting.  It takes real guts and conviction to pare everything right back to the bare flesh and bones of what makes a great painting - colour, composition, application of paint and, in this body of work, a subtle and sensitive narrative that is meaningful and appeals on so many different levels.

Thank you to artists Jenny Matthews and Janet Melrose RSW for creating a truly sublime exhibition, which you can still be moved by until Monday 4th June.

Speak soon.