Edinburgh's independent student newspaper

Barry McGlashan ‘Between the Dream and Waking

A painting of two women bathed in blue holding hands
Saturday 4th December 2021 16.41

On a characteristically rainy Edinburgh morning last week, I visited Barry McGlashan’s exhibition ‘Between the Dream and Waking’. The city lingered mutely behind a curtain of grey water that dampened both the commuters and my mood as I cycled north toward The Scottish Gallery. These grey feelings dissolved as I entered the exhibition space; a simple room glowing with forty of McGlashan’s paintings displayed around. Though a few of the paintings are large and span nearly two metres, most of them are compact, studded upon the muted gallery walls like brilliant gems.


McGlashan produced the paintings that make up ‘Between the Dream and Waking’ throughout the coronavirus pandemic, where the national lockdown prohibited pretty much all travels. For an artist who often collected images for his work from journeys, this confinement would seem to pose a significant challenge. However, McGlashan responded to his physical stasis by embarking upon ‘journeys of the imagination’. The products of this internal wandering are paintings that act as portals into an introspective state, where memory and dream dance together.


Most of the paintings feature natural landscapes of the sublime kind: arctic wastes, shredded waves, forests of crowded blue trunks. Lone figures appear dwarfed in these epic territories: miniscule cowboys ride across high flung pink mountains, a ranger plods through deep snow. Explorers and nomads are the heroes of these paintings, and they are often pictured from behind, appearing entranced by the painterly horizon unfolding before them.


However, these paintings entice not only with their illuminated depictions of nature, but also through the strong sense of familiarity that pervades them. The feeling for me was almost akin to a déjà vu: while looking at the paintings, I felt as though I was revisiting half-forgotten impressions from places I’d been, or witnessing the afterimages of a dream that flickered briefly in the mind just as you woke up. The paintings also conjured images from films I’d seen, for example, as I was looking at McGlashan’s ‘Yellow Medicine Country’ I was unexpectedly transported to the pastel desert world of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. In fact, though the landscapes of the paintings seem straight out of a mythological odyssey or classical romance, they are as inflected by popular culture, especially film, as they are by more traditional settings. Many of the paintings appear as dynamic vignettes, occupying time like a snapshot or film still. To view each painting is therefore to wade through an expansive nebula of references that could evoke anything from 60’s Westerns, to William Blake’s prints or the films of Éric Rohmer. The materiality of the paintings seems to encourage this fluidity, with the use of varnish combined with oil and pastel loosening the marks, producing a more indefinite, liminal space.
Commenting on his artistic process, McGlashan detailed his use of blotting papers from past works that he incorporated into the paintings of this exhibition, materials he described as the ‘relic of something other, like a memory’. The paintings that make up this exhibition are then quite physically surfaces woven from ghosts, diaphanous portals that catapult the viewer into a ‘place between the dream and waking’.


There is no limit to what you can find within these paintings, and they may lead you down paths that you thought you had forgotten. The exhibition runs until November 27th and is free, so if you have a rainy morning to spare, and feel like going on a surprising and often magical journey, you know where to go.

Image courtesy of The Scottish Gallery