Joan Eardley at Catterline

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Things to do


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September, 2021

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Picasso and Braque need no introduction. Their collaboration and rivalry in developing Cubism is a matter of art history. More tenuous but equally remarkable is the link from Joan Eardley via Maggi Hambling to Anselm Kiefer.

The link is not suggested in the centenary display of Eardley’s paintings at the Modern Art museum in Edinburgh; Maggi Hambling would probably have strong words to say about such a suggestion and Anselm Kiefer is working in a quite different direction. Nonetheless, with eyes to see similarities are evident. Eardley and Hambling shared a preoccupation with the sea; Kiefer works his canvases by incorporating plant and industrial material. All three found different expressions that reveal a common inspiration in the world before them.

Modern art is summarised in the Edinburgh museum, with representative works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Picasso and Braque have their cubist works in juxtaposition; there are works by Ben Nicholson and his father William,, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as well as Russian, western European and American artists; this century is represented by Chris Ofili and a landscape creation in the grounds as well as a children’s playground reflecting designs from cinema related to the exhibition at MA2 across the road.

It is the concentration of the two rooms devoted to Joan Eardley at Catterline, the coastal village where she spent her last years, that overwhelmed us. The grandeur and threat of the sea are vividly represented as is the snow that enveloped the village one winter. Joan Eardley had a way of envisaging plants in a field that gives them a life on and off the canvas, as though they are actually in growth there. Surface texture takes on a plastic quality that renders a plant as perhaps an insect would find it, something overwhelming.

This is called a display rather than an exhibition. I can only say that a full blown Eardley exhibition would be an event to rival the London blockbusters, yet in the museum in Edinburgh this show attracts a few discriminating visitors who have space and time to appreciate an artist of rare quality.


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