New Art: Clusterbomb @ Patriothall Gallery, Stockbridge

This is my review of Clusterbomb at Patriothall Gallery WASPS for The Skinny. 3 Stars!

Notwithstanding the occasional guidebook erroneously, and rather hilariously, describing Stockbridge as ‘bohemian’, it’s probably fair to say that the area’s art scene is bland and commercially focused. That’s why this independent exhibition of drawings and paintings by Edinburgh College of Art graduates should be particularly welcomed.

The unifying concern – ‘the excessive clustering of imagery’ – is simple and there is no burdening the visitor with spoon-fed textual reflection. This decision has worked out well for Clusterbomb: many of the paintings are so replete with lively symbolism and tackle such thoroughly contemporary referents, from kebabs to Lego, that formal explanation is unnecessary.

Emergent themes are food supply, violence, fear and waste culture. Matt Swan’s Anonymous Dorito Henchman with a Green Cape showcases the inventive mix of fast food, vanity and pure fantasy that makes up his bizarre and intriguing work. Jamie Kinroy tackles the stress and breakdown of social life in the face of consumerist capitalism, and in the likes of Hard Times 2 his use of colour and logo echoes multinational corporations.

Bobby Nixon’s Black Paintings convey the growing sense of fear in the contemporary urban environment, again referencing the logos and junk food that are staples in the big city. John Brown’s playful deconstruction of bodily parts in Twitland complements the more serious contributions.

Contrasting with all this detritus and dysfunction is Alex Gibbs’ lonely Suburban Living, With Trees, whose clinical, manipulated landscape still hints that we are looking at the other side of the same coin of human agency.

There is more that can be done here in terms of refining the concept and honing the various responses, but this is nevertheless a good, low-budget exhibition from promising new artists. Clusterbomb’s inventiveness and critical engagement with contemporary themes is admirable and the show is certainly worth seeing.

Review of Edinburgh Art Fair

This piece was first published on The Skinny‘s website, 1st December 2010.  There are lots more art previews, features and reviews there.

The dilemma with the likes of the Louvre, MoMA and the Vatican is that one is so bombarded with masterpieces that perspective is easily lost. How many Caravaggios or Warhols is it possible to meaningfully digest in an afternoon’s ramble? Like listening to ten great operas simultaneously, it’s fabulous white noise.

Edinburgh Art Fair also overloads, but lacks masterpieces. The fair is a chance for commercial galleries to showcase their collections and ideally make a few sales. But it’s easy to see how the commercial focus hinders meaningful engagement with art.

With an impressive sixty-five galleries exhibiting the work of over a thousand artists, most galleries have brought the optimum mix of works for commercial purposes. There is often little coherence within a single gallery’s stand, never mind throughout the event as a whole. Lack of context tends to drown individual pieces and an unfortunate result of the aesthetic overload is a tendency for more garish, ridiculous works to stand out.

Conversely, Glasgow School of Art graduate Ryan Mutter’s three paintings grab attention precisely because of their paucity of colour. Exhibited by the Contemporary Fine Art Gallery Eton, War Machine (pictures) shows a darker side to Mutter’s interest in Glasgow’s industrial past. The same gallery also brings us several of Peter Howson’s paintings, similarly interested in industrial society but on an individual, idiosyncratic level, contrasting with the impersonal gigantism of Mutter’s featured works.

The near-ubiquitous Ronnie Wood’s nostalgic rock scenes make an appearance, and at Peebles’ Breeze Gallery Bob Harper isn’t far behind with more intimate celebrity visages.

Overall, the fair leaves you feeling aesthetically starved. Perhaps this is the overload effect. It’s surely also due to the fact that events like this often seem less about art and more about interior design, business talk and Chelsea boots.

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