George Leslie Hunter at City Art Gallery, Edinburgh
The City Art Gallery is showing an exhibition of work by the artist George Leslie Hunter until 14th October, along with a free exhibition of other artists exploring the wider context of the Scottish Colourists as a group. I say group, but they were not a group in a traditional sense, more a concurrence. Hunter in fact emigrated to America in 1892 and later he went on to spend quite some time in France although returned to Scotland eventually. One of the lovely things about the exhibition is the striking difference in the qualities of light in the three countries he spent time in. In fact, bizarrely, his entire American oeuvre pretty much went up in smoke as a result of an earthquake so there are only a few sketches of San Francisco to represent that time, despite the fact that Hunter was extremely excited about the work he had produced in the years he was there. It sends a chill down any artist’s spine I’m sure to imagine how he must have felt to come back to his studio to find several years work lying in ruins. His San Fransisco drawings made me think of my OCA students as there are some very good solutions to faces in crowds – something I find a lot of students seems to fall down on (being unable to relinquish detail no matter how inconsistent the scale).
The Scottish colourists are globally renowned and enormously well loved in Scotland for their bold and experimental use of bright colour and strong contrast. SJ Peploe, JD Fergusson and FCB Cadell make up the rest of the group.
Hunters paintings are vivid and courageous, and I imagine when they were displayed must have felt almost savage, although now the subject matter makes them feel more genteel. His Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase, 1913, has such a range of mark making; canvas shows through in some areas and yet paint froths like toothpaste squeezed directly on in other places.
A visit to the top floor to compare Hunter to his antecedents shows just how raw and experimental his work could be.
Olivia Irvine and I are running a study day soon on another Scottish colourist, Samuel John Peploe, and the exhibitions are part of an organised series, so there is plenty of opportunity for anyone within range of Edinburgh to get a deeper understanding of these 4 men and their legacy.