The Royal Scottish Academy is full during my visit; not necessarily with people, but with art of impressive quality and exciting variety. With colourful and expressive content covering every available space, the neoclassical grandeur of these 19th Century exhibition rooms is tempered to feel welcoming and even a little playful.
The exhibition is the annual OPEN show organised collaboratively by the Society of Scottish Artists and Visual Arts Scotland, seeking to portray the ‘very best in contemporary Scottish art and design’ with work drawn from their ‘respective memberships and outstanding invited recent graduates from across the art schools and colleges of Scotland’.
With such a huge and clearly talented pool of artists you get a sense walking round of how difficult it must be for a curatorial team to narrow down submissions and locate them appropriately. In answer to this difficulty, they have truly utilised every inch of the RSA’s wall space; one reason I love open exhibitions is for the overstimulation of a full gallery wall, a lively contrast to the often minimal curation of contemporary art and a chance to enjoy very different pieces side by side. Gloriously intricate miniature paintings by Tadeusz Deregowski compliment cinema screen-worthy moving image pieces like the captivating Recitative by Shir Handelsman.
Off the walls, sculptures and installations beckon you into the centre of the rooms; Sam Shendi’s Mermaid being an obvious favourite with its stainless steel curves in Pop Art colours emerging from the floor like a giant crazy straw.
In the Academy’s dark stone entrance lobby the lovable and the absurd meet brilliantly in Emelia Beale’s gangly, stumbling sculpture of a white horse, setting the tone on first sight of the exhibition that this is going to be fun and dynamic – a pleasant surprise in such a historic institution. Beale is a recent graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, along with a sizeable group of others representing fresh perspectives and practices and displaying some of the most engaging work in the exhibition.
Perhaps these environments indicate a step in the right direction towards the inclusivity and accessibility of gallery space that we want to see: enough of ‘The Masters’, how about some students?
Adding, however, a touch of the experienced hand to the work on display, the sublime domestic scene of Edinburgh Interior by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham is slipped in and amongst the busy wall of canvases to coincide with the creation of a new award between the SSA and the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, adding to the ‘ever-growing raft of awards on offer at the annual exhibition’.
I left feeling contented and excited after my hour of artistic consumption, and also pretty hyped to have only paid £2 for it all.
SSA | VAS OPEN is at the Royal Scottish Academy until 30th January.
Image: Jakob Tynan