Lee Robertson’s Heart of Glasgow

Lee Robertson, 'Barrowlands', oil on canvas
Lee Robertson, 'Barrowlands', oil on canvas

A Love Letter to Glasgow


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‘A Love Letter to Glasgow’ is a virtual exhibition of paintings by Lee Robertson, an artist who grew up in Glasgow, studied at Glasgow School of Art and now lives and paints in the city.

In the absence of a physical exhibition this year, the artist and her partner have created this online exhibition for 2020 to allow the works to be seen. An interactive map illustrates the extents of the artist’s city and allows the viewer to select  works via location point links, while using the link titled ‘The Gallery’ allows all the works to be viewed on one page.

Lee Robertson, 'Exhibition map interface'
Lee Robertson, ‘Exhibition map interface’

There are over thirty works exhibited, portraying the artist’s own city. Locations range from Knightswood in the north-west, to the city centre, and to the Barras, the People’s Palace and Glasgow Green in the east end.

Robertson’s subjects are Glasgow streetscapes, architecture and urban landscapes. There are old landmarks like the Tolbooth tower in ‘Glasgow Cross’ and new ones like the 21st century ‘City of Glasgow College’. All works are oil on canvas and each is accompanied by a narrative describing each place and its significance to the artist. Robertson describes her connection with these places with fondness and humour, and sometimes with a little architectural or social history.

Lee Robertson, 'Going East', oil on canvas
Lee Robertson, ‘Going East’, oil on canvas

There are everyday elements of the street too, such as the bus shelter which is central in ‘Going East’, scaffolding in ‘Staging Everywhere’ and of course there are traffic cones! City centre shoppers are portrayed too, walking in sunny precincts. The works depict what one would realistically encounter in these streets today, walking around town.

The artist captures the atmospherics of Glasgow weather and Glasgow qualities of light very well, often there are colourful skies and unusual weather effects, and there is rain in watery reflections on pavements.

Lee Robertson, 'Lighthouse', oil on canvas cropped
Lee Robertson, ‘Lighthouse’, oil on canvas (detail)

Robertson particularly acknowledges the influence of movies, notably Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and this is clear in ‘Lighthouse’ which shows a rain-soaked view along Mitchell Lane towards the Lighthouse building. Robertson has said that she likes to play movies as a background while she is painting, and that she often thinks of her painting like a scene.

The city is portrayed by night as well as by day. The artist skilfully captures darkened night sky, street light, the lighting of buildings and light from traffic. The viewer can imagine themselves walking these streets, experiencing the stark contrasts and dazzle of street lights. Artificial light comes in many colour hues and the artist conveys this very well.

Lee Robertson, 'Fog and Light on the Clyde', oil on canvas
Lee Robertson, ‘Fog and Light on the Clyde’, oil on canvas

In ‘Fog and Light on the Clyde’ the artist refers to a foggy night which she found to be evocative of a J M W Turner painting. The painting Robertson made with this inspiration is successful in portraying a very ‘Turneresque’ fog, obscuring a bridge over the Clyde.

Lee Robertson, 'Barrowlands', oil on canvas
Lee Robertson, ‘Barrowlands’, oil on canvas

‘Barrowlands’ depicts the iconic neon-lit frontage of the Barrowlands Ballroom in the evening beautifully. There is some mystery there too, in imagining the story of the couple with the umbrella outside the ballroom, and will someone emerge from the doorway of the Cabin Bar?

Lee Robertson, 'Games Night', oil on canvas cropped
Lee Robertson, ‘Games Night’, oil on canvas (detail)

‘Games Night’ captures the view from the artist’s home: there is a beautifully coloured sky, rich Glasgow tenement architecture and shopfronts. A current video game cafe frontage is prominent, hence the picture title, and even the recording of a recent wall mural by another Glasgow artist, James Klinge, is visible along the side of the cafe. (James Klinge, ‘Study of a Woman in Black’)

Lee Robertson, 'Barras', oil on canvas
Lee Robertson, ‘Barras’, oil on canvas

‘Barras’, depicting shopfronts along Gallowgate, has a hint of the lighting and rendering of colours seen in the work of Edward Hopper (USA, 1882-1967). The artist herself references Hopper in her narrative to ‘Waterloo Street’, in relation to the quality of the sunlight on the street when she saw it. Robertson has long enjoyed the cinematic qualities of Hopper’s work also.

Lee Robertson, 'Meeting Point', oil on canvas
Lee Robertson, ‘Meeting Point’, oil on canvas

Glasgow Green provides subject matter for a number of works, including ‘Meeting Point’. Like many of the artist’s works the scene is empty of people, but the atmosphere is such that one can clearly imagine that characters may be about to walk into the frame.

Robertson has found numerous subjects for this exhibition within a few minutes walk from home. She continues to be inspired by Glasgow and is currently painting more city centre subjects.

These fine atmospheric works will undoubtedly greatly appeal to many people who know and love these Glasgow places and streets. The artist usually works at quite a large scale, and while that can never be adequately conveyed on screen, Robertson’s painting and written narrative combine successfully in this virtual exhibition to convey ‘A Love letter to Glasgow’.

With grateful thanks to Gordon Reid for this review.

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