Pieces of Silver at Fruitmarket Edinburgh

Daniel Silver, 'The Audience' (detail), clay and oil paint
Daniel Silver, 'The Audience' (detail), clay and oil paint

Title:
Daniel Silver: Looking

Times:
Daily, 11:00 - 18:00

From: 11 Jun 2022

To: 25 Sep 2022

Venue:
Fruitmarket Gallery
45 Market Street
Edinburgh
Edinburgh & the Lothians
EH1 1DF

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Looking by Daniel Silver dwells upon just that: the act of observing and being observed. Glance in any direction throughout the exhibition, and multiform human-esque beings will return your gaze. It’s both unsettling and intriguing, which seems to be the intention. It makes you wonder what they’re meant to represent… they look human, but uncannily warped.

Throughout his oeuvre, Silver consistently revisits the human figure in all its intricacies, rendering his findings in sculpture and painting with references to archaeology, psychoanalysis and modernism. Looking focuses primarily on Silver’s return to clay, which he has painstakingly sculpted by hand. The whole thing is very visceral: the clay looks as though it has been tugged, prodded and manipulated in a way that is almost violent, certainly impulsive. 

Daniel Silver, 'Assembly', clay and oil paint
‘The Audience’, clay and oil paint

Looking begins in the Fruitmarket lower gallery, where The Audience (2022) seem to be engaging in animated conversation with their counterparts in Untitled, (Made in Death Valley, California) (2021) who hang on the opposite wall.

Daniel Silver, 'Untitled (made in Death Valley, California)
‘Untitled (made in Death Valley, California)’

Untitled is a very painterly series – abstract portraits with a whiff of cubism. Though there is certainly a dialogue between them, each side of the room is its own microcosm, expressing its own interpretation of human experience. 

The Audience are clustered together on a podium, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere as each bust vies for attention. Haphazard oil paint application makes their edges blur together, thickly applied, it splatters across the congregation. It’s unclear whether the jostling is friendly or otherwise. 

This fraught feeling of competition doesn’t exist on the wall opposite: each portrait within the Untitled set occupies its own space fully, quietly expressing what it needs to within the boundaries of a frame. Each one feeds into the other without trying to drown it out, forming a linear progression along the wall. This sense of flow continues throughout the exhibition, the whole space is hewn together by Silver’s clever use of colour — a unifying language in what could otherwise be a cacophonous atmosphere. 

Daniel Silver, 'Heart, Orange' clay and oil paint
‘Heart, Orange’ clay and oil paint
Daniel Silver, 'Lover', clay and oil paint
‘Lover’, clay and oil paint

Beyond this first room in the small gallery are two freestanding sculptures which are less obviously humanoid. They have the imposing scale of a tall person, and names which suggest human qualities: Heart, Orange and Lover (both 2020). In these two pieces Silver references painter Philip Guston, who focused on the Golem from Jewish folklore, ‘an animate body created from mud.’ 

Daniel Silver, upstairs gallery, clay and oil paint
Upstairs gallery, clay and oil paint

Upstairs feels like stepping into a carnival procession. Tables roam the room on feet, carrying small clay models. On the surface it’s fun and a little bit silly, but there is a heavier undercurrent. Inspired by migration in his own family history, Silver has created a sense of adventure which is nonetheless cumbersome. The feet on the tables seem to drag, determinedly making their way through the world despite being weighed down. Made in the presence of a dancer, the models occupying the tables are chunky yet fluid, solid with a sense of movement. It’s unclear where they are going, which speaks to something in all of us: a distinctly human sense of flux. 

Daniel Silver, Warehouse Room, clay and oil paint
Daniel Silver pictured in the gallery’s Warehouse room with ‘Human 1’ and ‘Human 2’, clay and oil paint

The Warehouse room brings Looking to a close. Tall sculptures, the most abstract in the collection, are placed sporadically. Everything in this exhibition feels malleable. The artist’s process is immediately visible in the aggressively textured surfaces of his sculptures: process and representation are equally apparent. In Looking, Silver makes tangible his way of seeing the world. 

With thanks to the gallery, and to Daniel: it was illuminating to discuss the exhibition with him – particularly the visitors’ experience as they progress through the spaces. As he says, ‘there is movement from gallery to gallery… the show comes together in reflection on the movement between spaces.’

With thanks to Eilidh Tuckett for this review.

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