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Claire Barclay’s Skiffing at the ECA

ByJakob Tynan

Oct 13, 2019

Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) this week hosted acclaimed Scottish artist Claire Barclay and her mixed-media exhibition Skiffing, an event marking the end of her ten-month printmaking residency at the college.

Barclay, who is based in Glasgow and known widely for her abstract prints and environmental sculpture, took up the residency at ECA in Autumn 2018. Since then she has run workshops with art students and embraced access to the University of Edinburgh Collections archive in developing a varied and intriguing body of work. The works seen in this exhibition have evolved out of the conversation, experimentation and collaboration that Barclay has been engaged in here in Edinburgh. As the culmination of her residency, it manages to gracefully capture the dialogue between her artistic processes and their often layered, suggestive appearances.

A large series of visually-related prints acts as a uniting thread throughout the exhibition. Exploring the relationships and interactions between objects and symbols, Barclay presents familiar, text-like shapes with an aesthetic flow that reveals the printing process through their scrapes and broken lines. The recurring colour palette of washed-out pink and jet black are present in all of these related works as a means of familiarising the viewer, allowing us to focus on the subtle physical differences – the unique flow – of each curvilinear symbol.

A series of smaller prints laid out in display cases extend the reach of Barclay’s ambiguous print practice to clear text and typography. Words, randomly chosen but sharing a first letter, sit in ordered, bold typeface like newspaper headlines with a surprisingly poetic flow. Reading them over, and indeed reading them out loud, it is as if the uncertain empty words are given meaning through their complementary phrasing and the assured confidence of the font.

ECA’s airy Sculpture Court, purpose built for art displays in 1909, provides the breathing space to appreciate Barclay’s works in both their isolation and in their thematic dialectic. In the centre of the room the lines are gently blurred between printmaking and sculpture, and as a result our familiarity with the aesthetic motifs is effortlessly challenged. The pink and black prints now engage with contrasting materials of wire mesh fencing and the printing blocks themselves, highlighting the concept of objects-in-conversation as a central tenet of the project.

The threads running through ‘Skiffing’ are imaginative and skilfully crafted, and in the location of its display and the presentation of its development, the work is a reflective and compelling finale to Claire Barclay’s residency with Edinburgh College of Art.


Image: Jakob Tynan

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