Art in Edinburgh this April: The Printmaker’s Art

Beer is for winners: Beer Street (left) and Gin Lane.

Art is good in Edinburgh this April.  At the top of my list is the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries exhibition, showcasing the work of recent graduates from across Scotland and hand-picked directly from degree shows.  I’ve been told that one to look out for is Omar Zingaro Bhatia’s unique brand of ‘junkshop’ madness, as well as Jamie Fitzpatrick’s avant-garde taxidermy or whatever you want to call it.  More on that and on Diane Arbus in the Dean Gallery later this month.

On Saturday the Comely Banking Crisis took in The Printmaker’s Art in the National Gallery on the mound.  If you’re willing to brave the soporific, sweaty 1970s dungeon that lies beneath the gallery, you’ll find this exhibition amidst the Scottish Collection. 

Let’s be honest: prints aren’t everyone’s thing.  While the media of wood and copper plate printing have been used to produce colour or in combination with other technniques by contemporary artists and in asian printing traditions such as Japanese Ukiyo-e, the National Gallery’s exhibition is generally limited to the shadowy, black-and-white European style, epitomised by Albrecht Dürer’s engravings.

Don’t let this put you off.  This exhibition is free and well worth a visit.  There’s a great diversity of work here despite the medium and the relatively small number of pieces.  Besides, I think less is definitely more when you’re dealing with intense and detailed works such as Dürer’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Needless to say there are works by plenty of other great artists here too.  Highlights for me were Rembrandt’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves, the impression here being an especially dark rendering which works excellently with the contrasting light and darkness of the picture, and Goya’s A woman and a horse, let someone else master them. (Lovely!)

However, our favourite experience by far was William Hogarth’s pair of prints Beer Street and Gin Lane (pictured), extolling the virtues of beer (yes please!) against the total disaster of gin culture in 18th-century London.  Maybe they hadn’t discovered tonic at that stage, but Hogarth really has it in for gin, which is foreign, slutty and disease-ridden, but apparently great for the pawn-shop industry.  Beer, though, is thankfully very English.  Have a closer look and enjoy.


  1. Thanks for brightening up my terms of reference. I knew Hogarth’s Gin Lane (it’s where I went when I first came to England and the Guinness was undrinkable) but had not encountered Beer Street. The sordid but not the fun. (Assuming they’re mutually incompatible.) But these days I’m walking on sunshine down beer street. Can’t you tell, I’ve just returned from our local version.
    But how do the Swiss (and possibly Germans) cope. Light beer is called Hell. So by opting for a lighter brew, you find yourself in beer hell. Hell meaning bright, as in brighter coloured.
    I’ve just recently returned from beer hell too, but that was in Basel.

    Comment by blackwatertown — April 7, 2010 @ 8:11 pm
  2. Thanks for this, and glad I could brighten up your terms of reference! I wonder if you had only come across Gin Lane until now (I’ve been unaware of both until now) due to a change in values with regard to beer? Maybe more recently people haven’t been so keen on stressing how great beer is like they used to be? Who knows.

    As for beer hell, I admit that’s a challlenge, but perhaps easily overcome by the adoption of heavy metal sensibilities? Hell bent for leather in beer hell? Mind you, beer hell is perhaps a win-win, risk-reducing option: you could end up with light beer, or perhaps Presbytarian heaven?

    Comment by comelybankingcrisis — April 8, 2010 @ 8:38 am
  3. […] mentioned here earlier this month, the Royal Scottish Academy brought together highlights from fine art and […]

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