The annual group show at Sorcha Dallas this year is themed around the idea of repeated words, images and motifs. Dubbed r e p ’ e . t ’ t i o n - the unconventional spacing and punctuation is a nod to the eccentric orthography of EE Cummings - the exhibit blends new work by young, Glasgow-based artists with more established international figures and big names from the Op and Pop art canons, arranged together in two tightly-grouped installations.
The first, in the smaller of the two gallery spaces, is overbearing and claustrophobic thanks to Claudia Wieser’s wallpaper installation.
Pasting black-and-white photocopies directly on to the gallery walls, Wieser builds up fan-like motifs, parallel lines and dense geometric blocks. These serve as a backdrop for Sue Tompkins’s typed works on paper. These texts might be poems or song lyrics - Tompkins was frontwoman of the pop group Life Without Buildings, and her practice still includes musical performance - or snatches of overheard conversation. Whatever the source, each one takes a phrase and repeats it, sometimes with slight variations, until even the most innocuous term takes on a sinister air. There’s something dark about Fiona Jardine’s untitled collage, too, which sees images of hands and limbs arranged in a repeating, circular pattern.
In the second gallery, its windows covered in gauzy white fabric, the atmosphere is lighter and cooler, bordering on the antiseptic. The works here are arranged around a seating area, which features two chairs by Franz West, their seats and backs woven into Aztec patterns of brightly- coloured industrial strapping, and, on a little plinth bearing a vase of cut flowers and volumes of EE Cummings’s poetry. The domestic feel is furthered by Eva Berende’s hinged screen, each of its four panels bearing meticulously dyed strands of wool that trace out a pattern of interlocking oblongs and diamonds.
Up on the walls surrounding this odd little salon are works by Bridget Riley and John Wesley. Undressing, a diptych by Wesley, shows a woman taking off her stockings and knickers, but any trace of the salacious is removed by the Californian Pop surrealist’s flat, spare technique, as if the female body is nothing more than a pattern to be transcribed. Wesley’s Untitled (Mickey & Minnie) further flattens the already two-dimensional, repeating the familiar three circles of Mickey Mouse and his wife in flesh pink against a minimal landscape reduced to stripes of green and blue. The pair of Riley prints here lack the dizzying, disorienting power of her best-known monochrome Op Art works.
Instead, Riley offers studies in false tessellation, aligning leaf-like abstractions in orange, blue and deep green for Sylvan, revisiting the pattern for Berlin Wall Drawing (Print), this time opting for pale pastel tones.
For a show examining repetition, there’s a good deal of variety here, but thanks to some careful curation, connections are drawn between the disparate bunch of artists gathered here, sometimes simply - Wesley and Riley share a similar palette, Berendes and West both make furniture but present it as art - sometimes subtly, with Wieser’s wallpaper providing a busy visual soundtrack for Tompkins’s silent songs.
Around the corner on King Street, 15 artists from the Sorcha Dallas roster have taken over the Glasgow Print Studio. The group show, To Bring Forth and Give, is the result of a collaboration between the gallery and the studio designed to introduce artists to the possibilities of printmaking.
While most of the 15 have opted for the traditional approach, producing editions, some have taken a more radical, experimental tack.
Clare Stephenson’s piece Ornament and Boredom is more sculpture than print. The towering effigy - it’s a good 8ft tall - is equal parts haughty drag queen, classical statue and winged angel, its component parts apparently cobbled together from fashion magazine clippings and antique illustrations.
Michael Stumpf has made a screenprint of a photograph of a screenprint. His sweatshirt, emblazoned with a jumbled, purple, red and orange logo that reads “silenzio”, each letter rendered in different type, ranging from a simple sans serif to a hand-drawn gothic face, is suspended from the gallery ceiling on a hanger.
The partner print shows the same sweatshirt, roughly scrunched and crumpled on a jet black floor. On either side of the curtained doorway that leads to the print studio, Fiona Jardine has plastered the walls with screenprinted rolls of wallpaper, dotted with eyes, lashes and brows. One panel of the pristine paper has been defaced with smudges of slurry-brown paint, and Jardine has pasted a few more eyes, this time collaged from magazines, over the top.
Craig Mulholland’s contribution is a continuation of his sprawling solo show, Grandes et Petits Machines, which filled the two spaces at Sorcha Dallas and the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Gallery earlier this year, before transferring in expanded form to Spike Island. Mulholland is at home in any medium - that solo show included everything from delicate sculptures to paintings made of metal to an animated film with an operatic score - and his four prints here are assured, crisp new renderings of his past work using pegboard, obscure patterns that suggest programs written in obsolete computer code, or dangerously decayed electrical circuits.
The artists who have opted to make more conventional prints are not overshadowed by the sculptural and installation work. In fact, the more delicate, quiet pieces stand out. Alex Pollard’s Jack Sheppard is a photo etching that distorts a portrait of the eighteenth- century thief like a fairground mirror, as if Pollard has dragged his source image this way and that during the printing process. Couple, by Raphael Danke, is a surreal juxtaposition of an outsize lipstick and a radiator, rendered in grainy monochrome. A pair of digital prints, Drawing Study, offers a diary of Kate Davis’s recent practice, with a self-reflexive text reading: “It has taken me a month and a half to complete one drawing recently. That fact is part of the image now.”
Alasdair Gray must have made his first print before some of his peers here were born, and it’s easy to see that this isn’t an artist feeling his way in a new medium, but a master at work. His Corruption - “the Roman Whore”, according to the print’s hand-written caption, “for whom hangmen and politicians play the pimp” - is a woman with a death’s head rictus grin, impossibly pregnant with an embracing Adam and Eve, who are in turn surrounded by a strange bestiary of eagles, squid and bloated fish.
To Bring Forth and Give is more of a showcase than a group show proper, but it hangs together thanks to the palpable sense that most of these artists are eagerly experimenting with, and embracing, a new direction in their practices. It is, too, a sign that printmaking, all too often seen as a poor cousin to painting, is in rude health.
This review was first published in The Herald on Friday 12th December , 2008.