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.

St. Patrick’s Day plus Five: Some Reflections

The annual dilemma: where to drink on St. Patrick's Day

Almost a week has passed since Paddy’s Day.  I’ve had time to reflect on my choices.  Let’s face it, the final choice was likely to be a bad one on that particular night, but a choice it was. 

What does one do in Edinburgh on Paddy’s Day?  Go to work!  Alright, but in the evening?  If you’re a type who likes watching sports in the Grassmarket and Cowgate area, especially on one of those really intense weekends when, say, Scotland and/or Ireland are playing rugby, and you’d like to grab that atmosphere, impose it upon an otherwise peaceful Wednesday night in Spring and go to work the next day, then the Grassmarket’s your man. 

If you’ve ever been to Temple Bar in Dublin, it’s a very similar deal.  Both of these districts in their respective cities have the role of ‘guest room’ and for many carry a strict ‘one visit only’ condition, especially those on longer stays.

What would Nesbitt do?

Maybe I’m being a little snobby here, so I’ll admit that the Grassmarket option, as intense as it is, provides by far the most accurate reconstruction of the event as it happens in contemporary Ireland (for better or worse).  So it’s an understandable choice.  What’s more I have indeed done it myself, and while doing so did run into one Jimmy Nesbitt, and had the privilege of shaking his hand in the lavatory of the Last Drop (oh, we were awash with that Paddy’s Day dignity – I waited until he’d washed his hands, honestly).  This is an option with celebrity endorsement, is what I’m getting at.


So needless to say, being a little seasoned in this city, my drinking companion and I decided to go elsewhere, and settled on the plan to slouch around in sleepy Stockbridge instead.  We didn’t realise it at the time, but we might as well have stuck our middle fingers up at the whole event by making this choice. 

Actually, that’s not true: the Stockbridge choice had more of an effect of ignoring St. Patrick altogether.  Our livers probably didn’t notice, but our sense of all things Oirish certainly did.  That’s not to say that there was anything wrong, per se, with the Stockbridge choice.  A night in the pub is a night in the pub.

The Crawl

We started out in Avoca on Dean Street.  Admittedly, this is an Irish pub of sorts (but not in the decorative ceramic bed-pan, rip-off prices way), so this pub was the exception to the rule.  It was pleasant, quiet, and a couple of pints of Guinness were inevitable – and tasted good if you like that sort of thing.  The staff here had green T-shirts, perhaps with Guinness logos and something relating to the day in question, so it was a Paddy’s Day observed here, at least for us and the barman.

My companion and I proceeded to discuss how we’d both noticed an intriguing, purplish pub-looking place further up Dean Street, and had in fact both intended to try it out, but had been prevented by some fear of the unknown, so we decided to use our combined forces to rid ourselves of this fear and ended up moments later at the delightfully surprising Raconteur (previously the old Dean, I’m assured by a friend).

Really, this is where I should have started, because the Raconteur is possibly the one place on our Stockbridge Paddy’s Day crawl someone from Edinburgh out there might not have already been to.  You’d better do this place justice by reading about it elsewhere for a more carefully researched account of their excellent cocktail menu and the enticing food menu, but take it from me that the atmosphere was great – very friendly and relaxed, with table service and pub prices!  A very cool place altogether, and some complimentary pretzels never go amiss. (Ignoring Paddy’s Day)

The rest of our night we spent in the Antiquary, where we stumbled upon their weekly pub quiz (ignoring Paddy’s Day) and the Baillie, which was dead (ignoring Paddy’s Day), and then Hectors, which unashamedly ignored Paddy’s Day, my companion, and me.

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