21 February 2018 Vivien Devlin
3 Barclay Terrace,
The Upright Gallery overlooking the Meadows at Bruntsfield was founded around a year ago by graphic artist and designer, Ian Farmer, and specialises in a diverse selection of contemporary art. This tall, narrow, split level townhouse, previously an Antique shop, has two exhibition spaces with open staircases to allow the light to flood in from the high windows.
In 1998, the French playwright Yasmina Reza won a Laurence Olivier award for her comic-drama, ART. Twenty years on, the international smash hit is being revived for a UK wide tour. The narrative focuses on the purchase of an expensive white canvas which its proud owner Serge is unveiling to his friends Marc and Yvan. Is it beautiful or just blank? Pure white or with a touch of grey, perhaps a vague stripe? In their heated debate over this abstract painting, this ingenious play is a masterpiece in itself as it questions the role of the artist, the essential value and meaning of art.
Re:Colour – Re-Shape showcases two artists who specialise in Abstract work. On the ground floor are the impressive paintings in both monochrome and bold colour by Ian Frank. At first glance they appear to be a deceptively simple series of squares and rectangles but as a former architect, these are based on geometric shape and precise proportions. “Interlocking Squares” is a striking work, with an arrangement of black and blue squares linked by a sharp diagonal ‘dagger’ of bright yellow which draws the eye to the centre of this cool, crafted composition.
The intricate detail of measurement and structure is the basis of Frank’s designs which emphasise the solid flatness of shape and form across the canvas, such as in “Black, White and Green Rectangles.” A group of minimalist monochrome works include “Black Square on White” and “White Square on Black” a delightful double act to be purchased together. Developing this theme, “Exploding Square” is an origami styled paper-craft, bursting open like the bud of a flower.
Another more de-constructed work “Primary Colours” represents thin stripes and thick blocks in black, blue, red, yellow on a white ground. Instantly reminiscent of Mondrian’s precise grid method, here too is that sense of symmetry, balance and spatial cohesion. Smartly textured, and sharply architectured, Frank’s abstract designs create a fine sense of peace and harmony.
Then head downstairs to view the fine selection of Prints and Artist books by John Taylor. His visual language through shape, form, colour and line is most imaginative, crafted with meticulous detail. Formerly a landscape gardener, there is an underlying yet subtle theme of the natural world of the outdoors.
“Ancient Marks” based on cave paintings, is a patterned print on cotton, a swirl of curving crescent moons in shades of olive green and soft blue dotted with black ink calligraphy: one could also envisage a sketchy layout of a garden with borders and ponds. In “Coloured Streamers like Flowers,” the blue and red imagery is much more representational than his other more abstract works such as the balloon like circles illustrated above.
These immediately remind me of the Omega Workshop. Established in 1913 by Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, this experimental collective brought avant-garde art into domestic designs for decorative rugs, linens, ceramics, furniture and fashion. As Dorothy Parker so wittily commented, the Bohemian Bloomsbury Group “Lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.”
The fact that Taylor specialises mainly in prints on cotton, the pretty patterns would be perfect (and popular!) for interior design homeware fabrics – blinds, curtains and also wallpaper – in the same manner as the innovative Omega workshop.
He is also interested in the layering approach for the complex paper crafting of Artist Books with cut out geometric shapes, from miniature scale to an extended cardboard concertina of pages like a child’s pop up story book.
This neatly curated exhibition contrasts Frank’s dynamic designs with Taylor’s quietly composed, textile prints, as well as complementing their distinctive, decorative styles and aesthetic vision. As in the play ART – beautiful not blank!