Edinburgh’s Ingleby gallery launches its first solo exhibition by Glasgow-based artist Lorna Robertson. thoughts, meals, days is a selection of new large and small-scale paintings on canvas and paper.
A graduate of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in the 1990s, Lorna Robertson has exhibited in the UK and Germany. The artist is known for her colourful, textured paintings, semi-abstract but with figurative elements.
It’s no surprise that artists cover their studio walls with inspiration for their art practice. In Robertson’s case, hers are collaged with fragmented images, texts and patterns torn from magazines and daily life. These collected images inspire and infuse not only the content of her work but how she approaches the creative process of making the work.
The title of the exhibition, thoughts, meals, days, invites you to look for a narrative thread. These are simple everyday words that construct our daily lives, yet they are fundamental to our experiences and memories as much as the dramatic life stories we can easily recall.
The main gallery space has six works, four of them large-scale. From a distance, it’s clear these paintings are connected. Yet each painting brings something different along with its own poetic title. We approach with curiosity, to tune into the details, much like moving closer to better hear a conversation.
In each painting, we might find subjective connections, whilst also recognising images and gestures from our collective and cultural memory. Each painting features female figures or flowers, often both, often in a domestic setting. Although semi-abstracted forms, they are recognisable – you can almost smell the flowers, see subtle expressions and hear the conversation.
There is an ambiguity within each painting which embodies the nature of fleeting thoughts and memories. Just as you pick out a detail and think you know what you see, something else might emerge in a moment. There’s an occasional optical illusion, like that ‘gestalt switch’ image when two faces change to a vase and back again, or the rabbit and the duck illusion. A glimpse of a flower in a vase reveals a face or figure and then returns to flower form. This organic quality adds even more vibrancy to already colourful scenes which appear simple, yet multi-layered at the same time.
Although most of the works clearly depict female figures in hats and patterned dresses, there’s barely any facial detail – perhaps just a simple line of lip, eye or hair. We are digging and sifting through layers of universal shapes and gestures: mannequins, fashion poses from vintage magazines, old-fashioned group photographs, traces of flowers, tables set for tea and domestic scenes. These women are familiar, from another time and generation, one of your aunties, your mother, great aunt or grandmother. Fragments of detail woven from nostalgic, unreliable memories, a gesture frozen in time, a childhood memory with fractured detail, elements of popular culture and images from magazines. Words, routines, patterns and images form layers on the picture surface and our memories.
Only one painting here was created before 2021. Leisureline, 2015-16, is a significant addition to this exhibition. It’s a monumental-sized, multi-layered work that incorporates painted text. Move closer and you’ll see the dynamics in the layers, finger marks of the artist, drips and smudges of paint, improvisational, intuitive marks which make you feel like the Robertson is there with you, joining in the conversation, and the dance around the painting’s edge.
Robertson’s paintings do feel as organic as an informal conversation, twisting and turning around a theme, uncertain thoughts and shifting focus. Don’t miss the smaller works on paper in the Hallway exhibition space. Two further works on paper are exhibited on the Stairwell.
A new hardback book accompanies the exhibition, edited and co-published by Ingleby, including an essay by art critic Hettie Judah and an interview with artist and writer Mikey Cuddihy. The publication is divided into sections that feature collections of recent large paintings by the artist (2015–2022), small paintings (all 2022) and works on paper (2016–2022).
You can view more paintings by Roberston in the online viewing room at Ingleby gallery website. All works are for sale. thoughts, meals, days continues beyond the Edinburgh Art Festival until 17th September 2022.
With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.