Art Reviews from the Hidden Door Writers Workshop

Last weekend, team member Rhona ran a writing workshop giving people the chance to learn more about reviewing artwork critically. The group had the chance to explore the site and discuss the work before coming up with their own reviews.

Here’s a selection of some of them…

Photos by Iain Robinson and Chris Scott

Katy McCormick

When you visit the Old Royal High School, you might feel the presence of ghosts in the corridors and classrooms, in the grand rooms and back stairs of the long-abandoned building. 

I encountered one such ghost in a tall-windowed, wood-panelled former classroom at the foot of the east stairs. Vincent Inch (1920-2020), once head of art at the school and credited with rejuvenating Scottish Psychotic Surrealism, is the subject of an exhibition spanning his work from the late 1950s to the 1980s. Some dozens or more oils, mostly portraits and domestic scenes, are hung in chronological order around the room. The panels next to each work contain the thoughts and reminiscences of Vincent Inch himself, bringing a vivid, yet at times confusing, personal history to light. Inch, the son of a vicar and who lived most of his life in Edinburgh, favoured an impressionistic brush technique and a fondness for greens and reds (the colours of his eyes and hair) that reminded me of a more famous Vincent.

Ghosts aren’t real though, and as it turns out, neither is Vincent Inch. He is a pure fabrication, conjured by the imagination of artist Tess Eden Glenn. Together with writer Rory Allison, Tess has created an entire body of work and a detailed back story of an artist who, despite his talent, was always “someone on the underbelly of the underdog.” She has even styled and displayed the artist’s smock, paintbrushes, and easel. 

The exhibition is a fantastical melding of past and present, fact and fiction, words, and images.
Initially my attention was captured by the narrative and as I peered at each descriptive panel, the
colours and brushstrokes of the paintings blurred and swam in my vision. But when I stepped back,
the work snapped into focus, and I experienced their rich texture and layers of colour almost as
experiencing a memory. The picture that has stayed with me was one of Inch as a boy, with his
mother on a porch in a country house on a summer’s day. The boy trapped in childhood but looking
out, past his mother into his future. It left me with the feeling that somewhere, perhaps on some
spectral plane, Vincent Inch might be real. Can fictional characters have ghosts?

Charlie Ellis

Is this the way out?

If one measure of a successful piece of art is the degree to which it elicits a response, then Cat Madden‘s ‘Mind-Wandering Corridor’ is a triumph.

Here, a sign written by a staff member gets the most attention. This is hung in the corner, explaining that ‘this is not a table for empty drinks cups! It is one of our beautiful artworks!’.

This elicited chuckles and bursts of laughter (“what’s so funny?” asked one child). ‘Mind-Wandering Corridor’ is a work of disordered collage displayed in one of the many liminal spaces in the labyrinthine (Old) Royal High School.

Those wandering into this particular corridor seem unsure as to where they are. Was it the way to the bar or had they reached a dead end? The location and piece are imbued with uncertainty. Madden’s piece plays on an old trope regarding contemporary art; the idea that a child could have created it. The work is displayed almost casually, as if it were on a classroom wall. With a breeze wafting through the corridor, it indeed has the feel of an abandoned school (images of Pripyat are brought to mind). A number of the fragments flap about in the wind, while visitors, their thoughts wandering, carelessly brush into some of them.

The whole aesthetic is of haphazardness – daring us to dismiss the collages as disposable. As the artist relates, Madden’s work makes serendipitous use of studio ‘scraps’ and misfits. Underlying the pieces are themes of waste, recycling and reuse. This encapsulates a theme of Hidden Door. Namely, finding creative ways to reimagine places, such as the Royal High School, which have, for too long, been neglected and undervalued.

Mark Young

Popularity isn’t quality. But, it’s not a bad place to start.

Damian Cifelli’s Tarogramma large gushing panels, busied up by a fulsome crowd in a crammed room. Cameras blub. People blab. Blue figures dominate in more than one plate, figures striped from eye-to-eye (think Daryl Hannah’s Pris in Blade Runner), or body blue amidst a sauna crowd too hot-to-be-bothered. They rarely gaze at the viewer are downcast, miserabilist, but not miserable. Think Morrissey without the desire to punch him.

Tarogramma: a fantasy landie peopled by observed inmates, a knowing class of swimmers-bathers-sunbathers-poseurs. Sauna-set, reposed, undressed, undressing, washing, washed up, waiting to pounce. All under water, under observation, under medicated.

One plate draws thoughts of indie lead singers: The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess (pudding bowl Barnet, Nancy-boy dungarees), and Jarvis (all angular limbs, smart blazer, sensible shoes) all waiting on a stage cue to freak-out-the-squares. Some ideas seem thick, full, buzzing with colour-heavy viscous discharge exiting a painful orifice. Cifelli’s works blend mood and moment like a compote of the alien beautiful and their robot overseers, recalling The Day the Earth Stood Still, vast unknowable protector, or the faceless killer plant of The Day of the Triffids, overseers to the multi-ethnic populous, infected beyond the reach of Earth’s vaccine-pathetic.

Some look at you, some see you, most are indifferent to gaze but such fantastic creatures scratch for attention nonetheless. A terrier seeking a rat in a woodpile, they unsettle, burrow in, vamp ‘til ready.

Always ready. Looking.

Look away now, then look back in danger. They are watching you.

Jasmine Falconer

In this series of installations and sculptural drawings, Evie Rose Thornton explores the impact of salt water intrusion on our environment. This phenomena changes the PH in our coastal regions, creating serious consequences for our plants and wildlife.

Thornton’s process involves dying litmus paper with a purple PH indicator. This reacts with alkaline solutions such as sea water and turns the paper blue.

In her most impactful work, a suspended roll of litmus paper is supported by a metal frame. The end is draped into water, ebbing like a swell of underwater plants. The paper is purple up to a marked line, delineating a PH change as it reacts with water and transitions to blue.

This work shows a chemical reaction in visual terms. It gives form to a process, showing unseen changes which disturb balance and impact our world.