Archive | August 2019

John Busby – Silent Landscape @ Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh: a calm, contemplative study of our natural world

“My work is rooted in landscape and in the living birds and animals as they are part of it. I aim to show how creatures move and to express the visual delight they bring. I try to combine accuracy with artistry.”  John Busby

John Busby – Landscape and Wildlife artist at work in the world of nature

“Silent Landscape” is the perfect, poetic title for this fine retrospective of work by John Busby (1928 – 2015).

John was brought up in Yorkshire where he developed an interest in nature, especially birds. After studying art at Leeds University and Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 1955, time to  travel around France and Italy. He taught drawing and painting at the ECA for more than 30 years until retirement.

Nature in the raw was his perennial subject to paint, the wild open space of hills and dales, captured in all seasons, dramatic mood and shifting light. Over the years, his approach changed radically, moving to and fro, from scenic realism to experimental representation.

Around the elegant, spacious rooms at the Open Eye gallery, take a time – travel journey starting in the mid 1950s with the intricately crafted “Twelve Winded Sky.”

Twelve Winded Sky, (1956) John Busby

The palette of sombre muted tones of bare sketchy trees, bleak moorland, with just a splash of mustard yellow under a dark sky, reflects a touch of winter chill.

Moving on to 1962, “Northern Landscape” is depicted in an almost cubist pattern of oval and oblong shapes in a blend of charcoal, mushroom and truffle.

Northern Landscape, (1962) John Busby

A decade later, “Ensign for Winter” is a pure abstract Rothko-esque layered block of bold blue, with black and cream stripes.

Ensign for Winter, (1972) John Busby

Many rural scenes have a sky-high, birds-eye view across the countryside.  “Flight over Yellow Field” is a textured tapestry of geometric colours with a tiny kite blowing in the wind, while “Lothian Landscape” is a richly atmospheric panorama of green fields, sandy shore and blue sea and cloudy sky.

Lothian Landscape, (1980) John Busby

“Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen,

With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men ..”

From Walter Scott to W. H. Ogilvie, Lammermuir has inspired writers for their romantic, legendary tales.  Here is a remote glen of rolling hills painted by Busby first in 1985, a fragmented structure in a sweeping curve, to a more naturalistic composition in 2005, with its sun-tinted streak of blue sky.

Lammermuir,  (2005) John Busby

To complement this retrospective, “John Busby Remembered” features a selection of work on the theme of the natural world by fellow artists and associates at the ECA:  an expressive abstract by Barbara Rae and the iconic figurative seascapes of John Bellany.

“Whence do we come ….”, John Bellany

Like David Attenborough of the art world, animals and birds were the subject of John Busby’s lifelong passion, illustrating and writing books – he was a founding member of the Society of Wildlife Artists.

Drawing Birds (and other wildllife books), John Busby

On show in this exhibition are a few sketches and watercolours such as of owls and sparrows to illustrate his masterly study of ornithology.

The Heart of the Wood, (1953) John Busby

Take a stroll around the Open Eye to immerse yourself in these evocative, enriching landscapes: cool, calm and contemplative in their sense of place and time,  here are moments of quiet beauty and stillness.

‘Silent Landscapes’ by John Busby & ‘John Busby Remembered’

27 July to 2 September, 2019

Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm. Sat. 10am-4pm

The Open Eye Gallery,  34 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6QE

tel. 0131 557 1020

Landscape, (1967) John Busby


“Aspects of Edinburgh” by Davy Macdonald @ Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh: portraits, landscapes and Pollock-esque abstract designs

It was ten years ago when Davy Macdonald first launched the first of annual solo exhibitions in Edinburgh and London.  His work has always featured his fascination with the Gothic architecture in the Scotland’s capital and the haunting sense of history around the Old Town.

This poster image is wittily entitled “Scotch on the Rocks” – blending a tumbler of whisky and the Castle Rock.

Tartan Text

Observing the city, past and present, here are iconic figurative scenes of a young girl clad in a fashionable tartan coat, mobile in hand. Almost oblivious to her surroundings, she is immersed in sending a quick text or taking a sneaky selfie with the Scott Monument as a backdrop.  The juxtaposition of modern street life and social media against the towering presence of literary heritage creates a humorous filmic snapshot.

Tartan Selfie

Asking the artist how on earth can he paint the intricate colour and checks of the girl’s coat, he quickly replies – “a pot of Tartan paint!”

Red cloaked figures within a landscape capture a quick glimpse of students, dressed in their distinctive gowns at the University of St. Andrews, on their Sunday procession to the harbour.  Graceful and contemplative, reminiscent of saffron-robed Monks seen in the distance, taking the air around temples in Cambodia or Myammar.

Red Cloak – Reflections

Macdonald’s unique forte is his Heritage series, narrative paintings to illustrate and tell the story of the culture, work and lifestyle of long lost communities across Scotland.

Women take centre stage in picturesque scenes such as in “Spinning the Yarn”  a fine portrait of two women, crafting the wool,  their eyes squinting in the sunlight. This is from the series Harris Tweed.

Spinning the Yarn

Here too are the fisherwomen at Newhaven harbour, such as “At the End of the Day” illustrating a young girl whose bandaged fingers and sore feet are the result of hard manual labour,  salting the herring.

At the End of the Day

Most impressive is his artistic experimentation in abstract paintings, brash, bold patterns of colour and shape. Reflecting an interest in the scientific study of the universe, “Formation of the Galaxies” is a burst of tiny fragments, an explosion of stars and swirling mass of atoms.

Formation of the Galaxies

This has a real touch of Jackson Pollock about it and as well as a work of art, the decorative design would create a most attractive wallpaper.

“The painting has a life of its own, let it come through”   Jackson Pollock.

Most ingeniously, a small section of another abstract has been enlarged to create a canvas print, “In the Glen.”   The intricate microscopic view of geometric colours is again a perfect design for fabric, perhaps a scarf or cushion cover.

In the Glen

This is an inspiring showcase of Davy Macdonald’s eclectic range across style, subject and genre. Ten years on, he has diversified with great creativity, mastering traditional portraits and narrative landscapes as well as these stunning, surreal designs.  Farrow & Ball, take note of this talented artist!.

Do visit this exhibition soon – there were early visitors to the gallery before it had even opened, keen to buy a painting only just hung on the wall.

Aspects of Edinburgh

22 – 31 August, 2019: 10am – 6pm daily

Dundas Street Gallery,

6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ



Nicole Farhi: Writing Heads @ The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh – unique, literary-inspired, mini masterpieces

Nicole Farhi is a multi-talented artist in every sense of the word.  From excelling as a world renowned fashion designer, and also a home stylist – furniture, kitchenware, accessories – today she is a sculptor extraordinaire.

Nicole Farhi

Born in Nice, she brought a chic French style and continental flair to the British fashion industry. The shift in career from clothes to clay was, as she says, “It’s like falling in love. You don’t know why .. your life is going to change.” In 2012 she turned away from the cat walk and now concentrates solely on sculpture. For Farhi it was a natural progression to study the human figure in a different perspective, to craft and shape a face, head and hands.

Nicole Farhi at work

This most impressive and inspiring showcase,“Writing Heads”  takes pride of place at the elegant space of the Fine Art Society this summer, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival: Twenty-five immaculate miniature busts of internationally renowned authors – philosophers, travel writers, essayists, novelists, playwrights and poets.

“I started thinking of the books I had loved reading while growing up in France.. but then also foreign authors like Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith and Doris Lessing. At the end, I had a gallery of faces, all full of humour and authority ..  insight and intelligence.”   Nicole Farhi

These famous faces are lined up in rows on two long shelf-like tables, so that you can walk all the way around for a close up view.  The Heads are creatively constructed of ciment fondu ( a French invention – strong, quickly setting cement made from a mixture of limestone and bauxite) and acrylic.

This must be a most malleable combination of materials as Farhi has perfected an extraordinary likeness in each distinctive facial expression, skin tone, hair and clothing. They have such a tactile quality, one is tempted to touch (but of course would not!).

Let’s take a short stroll around to spot a few of these famous writers – I was so inspired that I have been dipping into a few of my favourite books to reflect on their literary life and work.

Toni Morrison, who passed away age 88 on 5th August, 2019, received The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.  Her novel, “Beloved,” based on the true story of an African American female slave won the Pulitzer, and she continued to chronicle the African American experience over five decades.

Here she is with her mane of steel grey, spiral curled, Afro hair and a proud sense of race and womanhood in her calm, composed expression.

Toni Morrison

A quote from her novel, “Beloved”

Ernest Hemingway, with thick white beard and craggy lined face, is wrapped up in a thick seafaring sweater as if he just stepped off his fishing boat,  reminiscent of his famous character, the Old Man.

Ernest Hemingway

“The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles I the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks” “The Old Man and the Sea” – Ernest Hemingway

Edinburgh’s own Muriel Spark is captured as a pretty young woman,  copper hair, red jacket, red lipstick. She escaped her short marriage to Sidney Spark, (his name was the only part of him she liked and kept),  to seek the freedom to write.  There would be 22 novels in total, with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, regarded as her milch cow. She was Scottish through topography and geography but European in cultural, social and political spirit.

Muriel Spark

“Hold up your books” said Miss Brodie. “If there are any intruders, we are doing our history lesson, …our poetry, … English grammar. Meantime I will tell you about my last summer holiday .. about the Frenchman I met in the train to Biarritz, .. and about the Italian paintings I saw.” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” – Muriel Spark.

Another avid traveller is Graham Greene, hair slicked back, a quizzical look about his piercing, perceptive eyes. His stories located in hot and dusty tropical places such as Mexico, West Africa, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and Argentina, led to the expression “Greeneland.”

Graham Greene

“I became aware that our love was doomed; love had turned into a love affair with a beginning and an end. I could name the very moment when it had begun, and one day I knew I should be able to name the final hour”  “The End of the Affair” – Graham Greene

One of the most innovative, modernist and feminist writers, Virginia Woolf is portrayed by Farhi with a subtle sense of quiet beauty – her angular face, severe hairstyle and gentle eyes, in thoughtful, distant mood.

Virginia Woolf

With her passion for vocabulary and language, she created her own style of lyrical poetry- prose narrative as a way to enter imagination of her characters.

“She enjoyed life immensely. It was her nature to enjoy. She enjoyed practically everything. …in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.  ”Mrs Dalloway, -Virginia Woolf

With her fashionably androgynous look of ther period, short wavy hair and masculine-styled shirt collar, the bust of Daphne du Maurier expresses her tomboyish denial of femininity.

Daphne du Maurier

The seed of the Rebecca story lay in her jealousy of her husband’s first fiancée:

“ If there was some woman in London that Maxim visited, dined with, slept with, I could fight her.. One day the woman would grow old and Maxim would not love her anymore. But Rebecca would never grow old.  She was too strong for me.”  “ Rebecca” – Daphne du Maurier

In 1954, aged 18, Francoise Sagan became an overnight sensation on the publication of “Bonjour Tristesse, ” an amoral tale of a schoolgirl’s summer romance which scandalised French society.  The sculpture here shows her shock of blond hair, with a half smile, seductively playing around her mouth.

Francoise Sagan

Always a rebel, her wild Bohemian lifestyle was mirrored in her depiction of fictional love affairs and loss.

“I do not know if the desire to attract others comes from a superabundance of vitality, possessiveness, or the hidden, unspoken need to be reassured.” “Bonjour Tristesse” – Francoise Sagan

W. H. Auden is remembered for his wisdom and wit – his first book, Poems was published in 1930, with the help of T. S. Eliot.  With a deeply lined face and furrowed brow, the sculptured image here recalls photographs of the man at work, cigarette in hand. Close friend and creative collaborator, Benjamin Britten described his startling personality and remarkably fine brain.

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”

Funeral Blues – W. H. Auden

W H Auden

This is just a glimpse of the twenty five Writing Heads on show – all the ciment fondu sculptures are for sale (Edition of 7 with 3 APs each, and hand painted Bronze editions are available to be cast on request.

In the downstairs gallery is an enchanting selection of serene and soulful Portraits, entitled Intimate, by a wide range of artists from mid 19th century to the present day.

Do visit the Fine Art Society soon to see this remarkable, richly rewarding exhibition, an absolute highlight of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Nicole Farhi: Writing Heads

25 July to 31 August, 2019

The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh,

6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

Tel. 0131 557 4050

Jennifer McRae – “Past, Present, future – tracing the female line”

Photo credits:

Nicole Farhi – Louise Long

Individual  images of “Talking Heads” – Iona Wolff