Image (and more) via Braidwood Building Contractors
There are a couple of reasons I enrolled in Scottish art history courses this year.
1. I'm in Scotland. This should seem obvious, but just like in any other university anywhere, the history of art department at the Edinburgh College of Art/University of Edinburgh is varied in its focus and scope. It's a comparatively large department with experts in Renaissance and Middle Ages, architecture, Chinese art, contemporary art, curating, 19th century painting and the list goes on. Additionally, there are a number of professors whose expertise lies in Scottish visual culture. No matter where you are or what you're interested in, I think it's a good idea to look into local and regional-interest courses as much as possible because it's the sort of educational experience you won't be able to get anywhere else.
2. The beauty of having people who are specialized in an area that you happen to actually be in is that there are many, many more opportunities to get out and see things in person. I took a Scottish architecture course last year and was able to hop on a train to see some castles on the west coast that I was writing about for my essay. And currently I'm taking a course on Scottish art from 1960 which covers a selection of some of the greatest contemporary artists to emerge out of Scotland, and Britain as a whole, in the last fifty years.
So how does it get better than that?
3. Combine 1 and 2, and you get the best possible outcome. Not only do you have professionals who have been working in the field for decades, but in many cases the art that you're discussing is still being made by these artists. Take a professor who's been an art critic and a curator at a number of institutions around the UK and you'll find connections to artists who are top of the heap in the international art world. So when you're taking a class with one (or two) of these professors, why not let them set up a field trip to see some of the art work available in the city and visit the studio of one of the artists discussed in the course? Why not meet the artist! See his work, his process, his studio! Listen to his ideas and his feelings about his art! Get out of your stuffy library and smell the turpentine!
It's a totally different experience in a studio setting with an artist trying to put words to his process than it is to sit in a cold, academic room in front of a PowerPoint presentation, trying to theorize why it looks the way it does. There are merits to both, but I think one of the key things to understand as an art history student is that there are two parts to that: the art and the history. There can be very, very different ways of looking at the subject as a whole.
Taking an extremely long time to get to my point, last week we visited artist Callum Innes' studio in Edinburgh where we spent well over an hour listening to him speak about his painting process, previous projects and how he feels about his previous work, and about his artistic trajectory in general. He had an amazing top-floor studio space with tons of natural light coming through skylights. There was oil paint splattered everywhere, the smell of turps was strong, and several paintings were hung on the walls waiting to dry. Since oil paint takes a long time to thoroughly dry, some of them had been there for months already as he worked on them, layer by layer.
Callum Innes was born in 1962, studied Gray's School of Art and earned a postgrad degree at Edinburgh College of Art. He lives and works in Edinburgh, represented by galleries internationally and exhibiting his paintings in group and solo shows worldwide. Innes was nominated for the Turner Prize (the topmost annual British contemporary art prize) in 1995 and has won several other prizes. Four years ago he had an exhibition in New York at Sean Kelly Gallery which displayed a salon-style array of his watercolor paintings, and Man Booker Prize nominated Colm Tóibín wrote a short story for inclusion in the catalogue.
Cobalt Turquoise / Scarlet Lake, 2012, watercolor on paper
Installation view, Callum Innes | Colm Tóibín: Water | Colour
16 Dec 2010 - 29 Jan 2011, Sean Kelley Gallery, image via ArtNews.org
Innes' process is tied firmly to history. These are modern paintings, some of which easily harken back to, like Untitled No. 71 below, Robert Rauschenberg's white paintings or Barnett Newman's 'zips,' but he takes it a step further. Or, in effect, a step further and then another step back. For me, the crux of Innes' work is, in addition to the 'construction' or layering of paint, is the deconstruction or un-painting. He will spend hours layering on a fine, smooth layer of paint, often paired with another color on half or a portion of the canvas. He'll then use turpentine to remove a layer of color on one side, revealing again the color beneath it, but not without leaving a bit of the topcoat's history there along the edges and in the texture of the paint surface.
The watercolor paintings above are an example of two layers of watercolor paint laid down and then removed to reveal their combination after being 'undone.'
Tate did a really fabulous TateShots visit to his studio about three years ago in which he gives a brief tour and also demonstrates his watercolor process:
Untitled No. 71, 2010, oil on canvas
Three Identified Forms, 2008, oil on canvas
Installation view, Callum Innes: Works on Paper 1989-2013
28 April 2012 - 14 July 2013, Ingleby Gallery
All images, unless otherwise noted, are via Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh.