Some of Ruta Skemaite’s masterful photographs evoke a feeling of dreamlike stillness, and their simplicity may serve to camouflage the level of technical skill that goes into such images. However, if you look closely at one of Skemaite’s still life photos, you will begin to notice her clear eye for what to include, what to keep in focus and what to allow to recede into the background. This skillful editing of normal objects and everyday scenes is what makes her work so compelling and enjoyable to look at. For example, I was blown away by the crispness of the apple alongside the cloudy haziness of the sheet in this photo from her series, Virtuves Mitu Griovejai 2.
Skemaite graduated with a BA in film and photography from Edinburgh Napier University in 2013, but is originally from Lithuania. Now she divides her time between the UK and her native country, drawing inspiration both from the places she travels to, as well as returning home. She describes her work as both documentary and conceptual. Her series, The Island, for example, not only captures the color and textures of the seaside features, but also creates a series of compelling images that seem to ask the viewer to attempt to decipher a narrative of some sort. In many cases, her documentary technique does not only inform, but it raises greater questions and curiosity about the locations she photographs.
Ruta’s work has won several photography awards and has been featured in exhibitions in both the UK and in Lithuania. While the work that I found most compelling was her still life photography and self-portraits, she also has several impressive series of documentary photography and portraits of others in her online photo-blog. Whether candid or posed, the shots are undeniably striking. Her work can capture the essence of a person or place through details and atmosphere that have to be seen to be believed, so check it out here!
Ewan John is a Linlithgow-based artist, writer, lecturer and indie publisher. He wears many hats with his artistic output, and his prints, books, zines and crafts can be found in galleries and gift shops across the UK and beyond, in the USA and Australia. His charming images of birds, seen here, aren’t just for walls, as he’s incorporated them into books of poetry, silk-screened t-shirts, CD art and badges. His work has a unique, whimsical style that often gives the impression of doodles in the margins of a notebook standing up and coming to life.
Accompanying his drawings in many of his zines, are short passages, sometimes poetic, sometimes humorous, that give the illustrations a slightly surreal context. One zine with a particularly eye-catchingly bizarre title is “The Darwin Lettuce,” which includes a series of “lost letters” written to Charles Darwin by a public who beg for his help in identifying the strange creatures they encounter, among other misadventures. When you pick up one of Ewan John’s zines, you can never know what to expect, but it’s sure to be a strange, and entertaining, journey.
If you are a fan of the works of illustrators like Edward Gorey, for example, enjoy cute birds, or even just want a good dose of humorous nonsense, why not give one of Ewan John’s zines or prints a chance? You can get in touch with him through his personal website, which lists locations where his work can be found, or you can simply order from his Etsy store if you like.
Ewan John is a graduate of Edinburgh University and currently works as a lecturer in art and design at Forth Valley College, Stirling.
From far away, a collection of Claire Moynihan’s sculptures may look less like art and more like something that belongs in an entomological museum, but that’s part of their appeal. Using a unique sculptural fiber technique that turns embroidery 3D, this UK-based artist creates jaw-dropping realistic insects out of simple materials like thread and felt. These charming miniature sculptures, which often represent the insects in close-to-life size, have been seen in venues such as the Courtauld and the Royal Academy. This sewing genius currently lives and works in Hertfordshire.
Moynihan presents her insect sculptures both as single ‘bug balls’, or in groups where she mounts them in glass boxes and even adds scientific labels for an extra realistic effect. In her artist statement, she says she finds humor in presenting her finely-worked realistic sculptures as scientific displays. She also hopes to raise the profile of insects often described and treated as ‘pests.’ By celebrating them in her artworks, she hopes to possibly change the general perception of these under-appreciated creatures.
The technique Moynihan uses is mainly unique to her own style of working, but it is loosely based on the 17th century technique of stumpwork, which was used to give textiles a puffed-up, sculptural effect. However, with Moynihan’s freestyle sensibility, she transforms stumpwork from an embellishing technique to a method for creating fully 3d sculptures in the round. Her working approach is truly unique, and she may even be among the craftiest of textile artists. You can find out more about her work, as well as see more close-ups of her incredibly life-like creations, at her website: http://www.clairemoynihan.co.uk/ . I highly recommend taking a peek, since it was truly difficult to pick just three images to feature!
Louise Orwin is a performance artist whose work deals with anxiety, humiliation, and expectations of femininity. She is currently based in London, after earning her MA in Performance in 2011, and her latest project, Pretty Ugly, is causing quite a stir.
Orwin found herself fascinated by a recent trend, young preteen and teenage girls creating videos for YouTube asking the mostly-anonymous commenters if they are pretty or ugly. Despite these videos almost always leading to a tidal wave of anonymous abuse, the trend rapidly gained popularity. Curious about why young girls would subject themselves to such harsh bullying and what it was like to experience the backlash of a “Pretty or Ugly?” video, Orwin decided to find out firsthand.
Using her performing chops, Orwin took on three teenaged personae for the project, called Becky, Baby, and Amanda, and made different videos for each one. Now, in a performance piece that will be running from 23 October to 9 November at the Camden People’s Theater, the videos she created will be combined with YouTube comments they received, and material from interviews Orwin conducted with the teen girls affected by this trend. Orwin hopes this project will not simply result in an entertaining performance, but also serve as a part of her continuing research into how social media is effecting our lives. Here is the blog she made specifically to document the progress of the Pretty Ugly project.
Orwin is also working on a series of photographs exploring women’s relationships with food and dieting, and her past projects include interactive performances and spaces that focus on creating a one to one connection between the artist and the viewer. If you would like to see more information on her work, check out her personal website.
She was the first female artist to get her own retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, her career covers seven decades, and her psychologically poignant works span a huge variety of media and subjects. French art matriarch Louise Bourgeois has taken over Edinburgh’s art galleries with two simultaneous exhibits at the National Gallery of Modern art and the Fruitmarket Gallery.
The exhibit at Modern One, A Woman Without Secrets, takes Bourgeois’s later mixed media sculptural works as its centerpiece. Cast bronze, fabric, mirrors, and more form dramatic psychological tableaux that reveal the artist’s inner anxieties and neuroses. This dynamic and varied show is accompanied by a smaller, more focused, but equally worthwhile accompanying exhibition in the Fruitmarket Gallery. I Give Everything Away focuses on drawing suites Bourgeois completed late in her life. Taking up the entire ground floor is a haunting set of the 220 Insomnia Drawings, created during an eight month struggle the artist had with insomnia. The upper gallery features two highly emotional and expressionistic sets of drawings, When Did This Happen? and the titular I Give Everything Away, which are large scale and tremendously evocative. Both exhibitions work together to present a comprehensive view of the vast range of techniques and subjects Bourgeois worked with.
Despite her passing in 2010, Louise Bourgeois’s work still feels fresh, and has inspired younger generations of artists to delve into the world of their lived experience, anxieties, and longings for the subject matter of their work. Any artist, or fan of Bourgeois’s work, should make a point of visiting this perfect storm of exhibitions, at two great galleries that are within walking distance of each other. A Woman Without Secrets runs at Modern One now to May 18th, and I Give Everything Away will be up at the Fruitmarket Gallery until the 23rd of February.
Leo Starrs-Cunningham is a Scottish printmaker and painter and a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art. His style ranges from the geometrical to the natural and even figurative. He has worked in many print mediums, including woodcut, screenprint and digital. To me his most intriguing and immerse works combine the technical and natural, by digitally altering pictures of objects from the natural environment that frequently go unnoticed.
This set of digital prints was inspired by Starrs-Cunningham’s experiences visiting and exploring the Caledonian forest in Scotland. His Triptych, one panel of which is pictured here, features the inside of a flower blown up to nearly 80 centimeters in diameter. Starrs-Cunningham says that this enlargement makes the tiny insects that live inside the flower large and visible, when in reality they are only two or three millimeters in size. These tiny creatures, though not as noticeable as the impressive tall trees and larger animals that may be found in a forest, are just as essential to the forest’s natural balance.
Starrs-Cunningham’s other images of native Scottish flora use other digital techniques to alter the images and highlight specific aspects of their structure. As seen in his work featuring an enlarged image of a thistle, these alterations highlight details and fascinating, almost geometrical structures of natural specimens we might just pass over at any other time. By drawing attention to the unique sights these flowers offer when examined up close. Starrs-Cunningham emphasizes the role these seemingly insignificant plants have in sustaining a healthy environment.
If you’d like to see more of his works, or even purchase one of his prints, check out his website! He is also one of the founding members of Black Cube Collective, an organization to support young emerging artists and advance artistic practice in the UK and around the world.
Walking around Glasgow over the past few weeks, I noticed scraps of colorful figures with cube-shaped heads pasted to the sides of a few buildings. I didn’t know it at the time, but these scraps were the remains of Peter Drew’s graffiti rendition of one of the most famous scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The series consisted of 16 wheatpaste figures accompanied by speech bubbles in different locations, a project which he began in April and finished in September, just before returning to his home in Adelaide, Australia a few weeks ago.
These graffiti pieces make you wonder how Shakespearean tragedies like Hamlet would have played out if they were set in our world of technologically-mediated communication. Would Hamlet’s ruminations have the same impact if he posted them on Twitter or texted them to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, complete with a few appropriate Emojis? How Drew divides the soliloquy up into tweet-friendly chunks and gives his Hamlet a pixelated, emoticon-like face brings these questions to the forefront.
However, these weren’t the only issues raised by the emoticon soliloquy. While Drew was putting the wheatpastes up around town, he was also completing his Masters degree at the Glasgow School of Art. Putting up these works, despite their temporary medium, without the city’s permission was seen as a potential cause for expulsion from the program. The controversy was even featured on the New York-Based art blog Hyperallergic. Drew held off on completing the series to avoid expulsion, and was finally able to finish his vision last month.
While this project, and the controversy surrounding it, is particularly exciting and brings up the opportunity for heated debate about graffiti’s legality and to what extent a student in art school should be allowed to practice it, Drew’s other works are equally interesting. The monumental portraits of family and friends from his hometown seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the generic emoticons of Drew’s interpretation of Hamlet, and give a completely different impression, adding an impressive breadth of variety to his projects.
If you would like to see more of Peter Drew’s graffiti art, check out his website. He also has a blog where he writes about the ideas behind his projects as well as issues facing graffiti artists today.
I got to see the 40/40 show, which was held in celebration of the 40 year anniversary of Glasgow Print Studio, just before it ended. For a print geek like myself, it offered the opportunity to be wowed by 40 Scottish artists, and their many styles and techniques. The 40 pieces commissioned by the Glasgow Print Studio for the show were also for sale. I couldn’t afford most of them on my student’s budget, but if I had to pick one to splurge on, it would probably have been a print by Bronwen Sleigh.
Sleigh received her MA in Printmaking from the Royal College of Art in 2008. Her current work consists mostly of elegant geometrical abstracts that are striking at a distance. Up close is where they truly shine, due to the detail and precision Sleigh’s chosen process of etching allows for. Etching is a complex and labor intensive printing process that involves using chemicals to dissolve the lines forming a desired image into a metal plate. Historically, it has been used for centuries to create some of the most famous works in printmaking. The difficulty of etching is a fair tradeoff for the sharpness and detail the metal plate allows, however, and Sleigh makes full use of this quality.
Sleigh uses architecture as a starting point for her compositions, and titles like Pacific Quay, Westfield Road and Exhibition Way II reveal the inspiration for the prints, but they are still essentially abstract. To me, they feel like exploded blueprints, or a representation of what it is like to move around and through these architectural spaces. Sleigh’s work is already beginning to gain international appreciation, as she is featured in shows from Canada to Japan, and her work is in major collections such as the V&A. If you’d like to see more of her work, check out her website!