Joan Eardley A Sense of Place Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two) Review Thursday 1st December 2016


Joan Eardley : A Sense of Place at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two) is a major exhibition spread over five gallery rooms that explores through the gallery’s own collections, other public works on loan and works from private collections, the work and life of this much loved artist.  Some of the material on display in this exhibition has never been on public display before or rarely exhibited.

All of the immediately identifiable works are here – the landscapes and fishing nets of the village of Catterline on the north-east coast of Scotland and the children and street scenes of the now long gone Townhead area of Glasgow...often capturing the “Samsons”, a family of twelve children whom Eardley lived close to when she re-located to a studio on St James’ Road circa 1953.

This exhibition is large and diverse in the works that have been curated for it, and much painstaking research has gone into it to not only show the works, but examine the personal motivations and artistic development of Joan Eardley both as a person and an artist.  Such care and research has gone into this exhibition that it has often been possible to identify the very spot that Joan was standing on when she painted many of her landscapes in what has remained a largely untouched Catterline.

There is something here for everyone in this exhibition and from the enigmatic images of children with their at times “haunted expressions”, to seascapes and landscapes  we can follow not only the main definitive periods of Joan Eardley and her work, but also the transitional periods as she moved into and experimented with other forms of expression (some almost abstract ).

A few personal favourites here as always – the Glasgow scenes of a world now long gone– “Street Kids” from 1950 to 1951, “Two Glasgow Lassies” from 1955 and “A carter and His Horse”.  Nice to finally get the chance to see the last picture as it has been in the British Embassy in Tokyo since the 1950s and not on public display until now.   Also to me, wonderful to see some sketches of children from this period that not only show what an outstanding draughtperson Joan was, but somehow take us closer to the immediacy of the event between the sitters and the artist.

From the later period of her work, a series of large paintings from the “Fields behind No 1” series are favourites as plant and grass seeds are physically mixed in with the oil paints and put onto the canvas.  Here the artist is not only painting the nature around her, but painting with it.

This exhibition shows the work of an artist who refused at the time to be pigeon holed (and still does) into any one artistic style, and the range of work on display is even more impressive when we consider that the life of Joan Eardley (1921 to 1963) was far too short and that the majority of work on display here was produced in a short period of roughly fifteen years.

This exhibition runs from 3 December 2016 to 21 May 2017.  Admission is £9/7 – Free for Friends.
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Review by Tom King



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