Online until 13th June
In its latest exhibition 114°E / 1°W Hong Kong to Shetland, Edinburgh’s Fine Art Society portrays life from two contrasting localities of the globe – Lamma, Hong Kong and Yell, Shetland – through the works of the Greenock-born artist Ron Sandford (b.1937).
Sandford’s observations of Lamma – an island off the coast of Hong Kong – can be found on the ground floor of the exhibition. Sandford moved here with his wife, the talented illustrator Meilo So, in the mid 1980s. He described the island as ‘a sort of paradise’. Indeed, his move to the island marked a liberation from deadlines and commissions. Sandford, who up until this point had completed numerous high-profile commissions alongside working part-time as a teacher at various prestigious art schools, was free to draw whatever he pleased.
The artist chose to focus on scenes and objects of everyday life on the island using pencil, pen and watercolour. His subjects include beautiful landscapes, freshly caught fish, bananas, a street seller and a woman taking a siesta. The majority of the works are stamped with the artist’s seal, a practice Sandford adopted from Chinese tradition during his time abroad. The red character found on the seal is pronounced as ‘san’ in Cantonese; literally meaning ‘mountain’ and bearing resemblance to his last name ‘Sandford’. This has become a trademark of his work.
The exhibition space upstairs is dedicated to the artist’s work produced on Shetland’s isle of Yell where Sandford and his family settled in 2002. The commonalities between these works and those produced in Lamma are clear. Once again, Sandford focuses upon scenes and objects of everyday life that form the cultural fabric of the island. This includes crabs, tomatoes, mackerel, flowers, local beaches and fishing boats. Moreover, Sandford’s works from both Lamma and Yell demonstrate his ability to draw with incredible precision whilst also experimenting with his use of perspective, composition and colour. The results are captivating, highlighting Sandford as one of Scotland’s pioneering artists.
One can make a comparison of Sandford’s depictions of island life to current life in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are all effectively living on our own small islands, separated from the rest of society, approaching life at a slower pace. During this time, we can be more appreciative of the smaller things in life such as the environment around us and the food we eat. A slight comfort can be found in the fact that, though we are isolated, there is still a sense of community as people world-wide experience similar situations.
Visitors can virtually explore this online exhibition using the Fine Art Society’s new 3D platform available on their website. Overall, this is exceptionally easy to navigate and is the next best thing to visiting the exhibition in real life. The platform includes circular aids on the floor that you can click to move your way through the exhibition, and there are similar aids alongside each artwork that you can click to reveal wall texts. These offer the option to view the works in high resolution and to make enquiries regarding purchasing them. A comprehensive catalogue is available to download.
This exhibition is an example of how, by embracing new technology, galleries can overcome the enforced restrictions put in place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. If galleries can afford to do so, then this is a promising way forward and a worthwhile investment – certainly, even prior to the pandemic, online exhibitions have been recognised as a means of making museums and galleries more easily accessible to wider audiences.
Image: Lantern Festival, Pak Kok Kau Tsuen, mixed media on paper
6 Dundas Street
Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
With grateful thanks to Amy Miles for this review.