Friday, 13 January 2012

Elizabeth Blackadder Exhibition

I was over in Edinburgh during the Christmas break, and caught the end of the Elizabeth Blackadder exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.  The show marks Blackadder's 80th birthday, and a very nice lady outside the exhibition handed me some free tickets, which was lovely.

I not a massive fan of Blackadder's work, which I find quite unengaging, but the space of the Academy is a spectacular one for a solo artist to fill, as was shown to great effect with the recent Joan Eardley retrospective.  Plus I am all for appreciating the work of women in Scottish art!

The first room showed early work, with which I was unfamiliar, and I was very taken indeed with the energetic mark-making and wonderfully evocative 1950s and 60s colourways of the prints and drawings.  They reminded me very much of William Gillies - not surprising, since he was Blackadder's teacher.  Two travelling scholarships to Italy yielded some beautiful pen and ink drawings of Italian hill-top towns, again full of a lovely variety of marks and great energy.

 Wall Town 1962 by Elizabeth Blackadder (ink & watercolour)

However I wasn't so taken with the later work, with cats, watercolours of orchids, and saturated flat pattern-making colour still lifes of kimonos and collected objects.

 Chinese Still Life with Arum Lillies by Elizabeth Blackadder 1982, Oil on canvas

The oils are certainly quite punchy at a distance, especially in the setting of the RSA, but didn't really convey anything emotionally to me.  Closer observation of these or of the botanical watercolours, which initially look so intricate, don't reveal exciting lines or astonishing passages of painting.  The cats, which could look very saccharine, are obviously well observed, but just aren't something I could really feel connected with.  Nor did the later paintings really speak of the times in which they were created, unlike the early work, which definately had a 50s and 60s vibe. 

Blackadder's work is very quiet, very still.  That's not a criticism in itself.  The work of Gillies is also very quiet and still, and yet his paintings somehow have a real soul to them, a real inner life buzzing away inside them.  I'm afraid I just didn't connect with the Blackadders, but perhaps that's just me.  Obviously she is hugely popular and much loved, and the paintings, judging by the short film that was showing, are very much a reflection of her as a person, in which she comes across as lovely and unassuming.  I just wonder where all that exciting early mark-making went.

In the shop, the catalogues were reduced, and you got two for the price of one.  My free ticket entitled me to a further discount, but even at £5 each, I decided against buying.  The merchandise was on special offer, and there were lots of cats and orchids on fridge magnets.  Everyone there seemed to have a free ticket.  Leonardo it wasn't.

Images copyright Elizabeth Blackadder

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