A Scottish landscape painting; picture this – a remote, highland mountainscape; a soft, golden light diffused across the scene; a stag roaming through the foreground; and maybe a kilt-clad man with a spear, trotting inconspicuously somewhere in the wilderness. Hm… we’re just going to go ahead and say it… This is an exhausting cliche, that does absolutely nothing to represent contemporary Scotland, or a tangible experience of our real-life landscapes. Phew… now we’ve got that off our chests, we thought we might show you some works that exemplify the rich and varied world, that is our contemporary landscape art scene in Glasgow.
The landscape is an incredibly versatile subject matter. On one hand, it can literally capture those physical places that we have seen, or have always wanted to see. Through it, we can relive landscapes in fresh ways; or see them in their most perfect, or most electrifying states. Then, on the other hand, landscape art has the ability to express the intangible aspects of experiencing a place. It can represent memory, emotion, sensation, or imagination – to name but a fraction of it. And so, whilst a landscape may appear to be fairly detached from us humans, it can actually be deeply personal; at times, more so than portraiture itself.
So, on that note – let us introduce you to Michelle Campbell, Sam Gare, and Jamie Fleming; three of Art Pistol’s prime examples of contemporary landscape art…
Michelle Campbell has been with us since the early days of Art Pistol; producing landscapes and abstract representations of concepts, such as memory, time and vacancy. Her approach to landscape art is unique, because she blurs the lines between actual representation of place, and the metaphysical world of experiencing a place. For example, in her work Snapshot, the undulating forms of a mountainscape, and her naturalistic use of colour, suggests that she is depicting a physical landscape – such as that depicted in her work Glencoe. However, the geometric forms that she lays over the top of this, moves the work away from the realm of literal representation. Instead, it ties Snapshot in with her works such as Memory vs Time, or Vacant/Vacancy. It becomes a hybrid – half depiction of a real-world landscape, and half abstract, conceptual painting. In doing so, Snapshot seems to be a work dealing with memories of landscapes. Memories, by their very nature, are fluid things. They are not fixed, and clear to see. Rather, they morph, fade, grow, and change. Likewise, the geometric forms of Snapshot warps the mountainscape, making it difficult to clearly see. All that the viewer can truly get a sense of is the atmosphere of colour, and a vague sense of the scene. Despite this blurring of place, we can still experience the beauty of it, and be affected by greens and greys; the shadows of the mountains; and the vast plain of the sky.
Sam Gare’s mountainscapes depict specific volcanoes, mountains and ranges; from Villarrica, to Everest, and to the Karakoram range. But, like Michelle Campbell, she blurs the line between real, lived places, and abstract forms – in doing so, she captures the unreal, ethereal feeling of being in vast, uninhabited landscapes.
For example, in Villarrica 2, Chile, South America, Gare breaks down the image of the volcano into an arrangement of geometric forms, with self-contained patterns within them. This isn’t a homely place that the viewer can feel that they know, it’s a place to view purely for the appearance of its surface. She flattens the forms of the peak into a beautiful surface of shape and texture, that could just as easily be seen as a gorgeous abstract work, as it could a landscape painting. It is telling that she quotes Alan Watts’ exclamation: “I have realised that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is” – alongside her work. This statement suggests that Gare is looking at the experience of landscape in the present moment; the landscape as a subjective arrangement of aesthetic forms, colours and textures, that bring pleasure, emotion or sensation – rather than objective, unchanging places. So, like Campbell, Gare is interested in capturing the feeling of experiencing a landscape, rather than simply copying it, as it would be seen in the flesh.
One of the main things that these three artists have in common, is that they all reinterpret landscapes in new ways. They defy the tradition of mimetic copying of real life scenes, and instead consider new ways for us all to view the natural and urban world. For example, Fleming’s Chromatic Aberration blurs the landscape, giving the dominant place in the scene to a striking line of light, that cuts through the work horizontally. This breaks down the tradition of landscape art, where the viewer takes in the whole scene all at once, viewing it with clarity and comprehension. In this scene, sky, water, and land seep into each other; sinking into the background, behind the line of light. Simultaneously, this line of light guides us across the scene – letting us slowly soak up the gradations of colour, the softened natural forms, and the diffused, sunset glow.
These aesthetically breathtaking, thematically intriguing, and wholly original landscape works, demonstrate that Scottish landscape art does not need to stagnate in those 19th century cliches. Rather, it’s exciting to see the variety of approaches than the Glaswegian art scene has to offer.
There – we hope we have made a case for the vast, global, and varied world of Scottish landscape art, that completely sidesteps the worn out tradition, that we described in the opening of this post. This was just a small slice of the incredible artists we represent – so swing by, and have a look for yourself!
And as always, thank you for reading!