Galleries - November 2018

The video art of Rachel Maclean overflows with grotesque, surreal images. Using a green screen, the Scottish artist creates pseudo- historical interiors and fills them with characters –usually all played by her –who sport garish costumes, caked-on face paint and prostheses. Using found audio for the dialogue and soundtrack, she offers satirical commentary on modern life and collective identity. On 29 November, her 2012 video ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ goes on show at the London National Gallery. This work, made in the run up to the Scottish referendum, explores the fanciful constructions that inform national identity. Much of it concerns glitter-doused versions of the eponymous beasts in bright pink and blue wigs, speaking in audio clips of David Cameron and Alex Salmond. In this exhibition, the video offers a counterpoint to Edwin Landseer’s 1851 ‘Monarch of the Glen’, which is also on show in the London gallery. Instantly recognisable, the picture has long been tied to Scottish identity, thanks to advertising campaigns as well as tradition, despite having been created by an English painter. A lone stag in a mythical, misty Scottish landscape, the painting is instantly recognisable – and compared to Maclean’s works, straightforward. But overuse and oversimplification has made it increasingly the subject of criticism by Scottish viewers who are proud of their complicated heritage and modern world. In 2017, National Galleries of Scotland acquired ‘Monarch’ from the drinks company Diageo and it spent months touring Scotland before its two month stop in London. Though it has been a huge draw for visitors, it is, according to one representative of the Galleries, “an ambivalent painting. . . it’s so much a part of the culture of Scotland, fictional or real, and it’s that funny ambivalence that makes it so special.” Far from being a romantic shorthand for Scottish identity, the painting these days serves a similar purpose to Maclean’s videos: a starting point for conversation on national character. Patricia Derby It can, in this country at least, often be a surprisingly tricky transition for a graphically trained artist to move into making fine art, ie from commissioned to non commissioned work, the mind set of one not necessarily attuned to the freedoms of the other. No such problems for Dan Fern, the successful graphic artist and distinguished RCA teacher (where he was Head of the School of Communications in the late 1990s) who has, over the last 10 to 15 years followed an equally interesting career making paintings, prints and 3-D work with shows at Jane England in 2004 and overseas, and now another at Début Art & The Coningsby Gallery, this time accompanied by a full scale monograph on this second career. At the core of this would seem to have been a studio at Vercors in France's mountainous South East where walking and mountain climbing, allied to a passion for maps, has opened up a very particular and fruitful relationship to the landscape, with abstract pieces full of light, space and the materiality, or 'thingness', of nature. Meanwhile keep an eye open for the show that follows here, Jill George's Christmas miscellany, full of good things. Nicholas Usherwood Anyone who has been in touch with Galleries over the last 35 years will undoubtedly have had conversations with Hilary George. For much of that time Hilary managed the production of Galleries; this November issue is the first without her attentive eye steering the magazine to press. Working on more than 400 issues is some record to beat –and this is a heartfelt public thank you for that dedication. PH R OUND-UP 10 GALLERIES NOVEMBER 2018 Character analysis Mapped out So long from left A lison Lambert 'Ovid' Jill George at The Coningsby Gallery Rachel Maclean ’The Lion and the Unicorn’ National Gallery Dan Fern ‘Han-Shan series #2’ Debut Art & The Coningsby Gallery