George Birrell: Beach Houses (oil on board)

Torrance Gallery, Edinburgh: George Birrell, Arie Vardi, David Parker

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18th May saw the opening of Torrance Gallery’s latest exhibition, combining the work of three experienced Scottish artists with differing approaches to how to respond in paint to what they see and imagine, with colourful and accomplished results. In fact on entering the gallery on Dundas Street in Edinburgh’s New Town, one is struck by the apparent similarity in colour, though on closer inspection it’s the handling of colour and its articulation in paint that tell the story. Fiona McCrindle, who took over the running of the venerable Edinburgh gallery, earlier this year, explains the artists’ largely shared colour-palette played a part in planning the exhibition; it’s maybe a testament to her considerable experience both as an artist herself, and in directing displays (notably for the nearby Edinburgh Drawing School, which she founded and still directs), that the three sit together harmoniously, whilst inviting comparison between them.

Arie Vardi‘s heritage is unusual – born in Chile, he studied in Jerusalem and since 1991 has been based in Scotland (his studio is in Methven, Perthshire). His paintings focus on the west coast of Scotland, Perthshire and notably the Mediterranean, the influence of which is betrayed by the strikingly saturated colour in his work – vibrant and dynamic seascapes, riverscapes and interiors and still lifes in acrylic, oil and mixed media. It brings to mind Adrian Lennon’s seascapes, with an added intensity coming from the juxtaposition of blues and reds, and the darker hues lending added resonance. His graphic design background is often evident from the compositional approach he takes, with careful spatial emphasis. Fiona showed me the jewellery she has on display at the gallery, made by Arie in silver, gold and semi-precious stones, inspired, like many of his paintings, by the Scottish landscape, with its floral or rock shapes.

Arie Vardi: Light Study II [Harris] (acrylics)
Arie Vardi: Reflections on the Clyde (acrylics)


George Birrell‘s considered compositions share some of Vardi’s intensity of colour; painted largely from imagination and memory, they appealingly depict the informality of stone and water textures in a carefully-arranged flattened perspective, punctuated with precise edges. Subjects include distinctly Scottish-looking castles and harbours, and while the hues recall Rousseau’s work or art-naïf, the overall perspective effect is rather like a tapestry. Educated at Glasgow School of Art, and a tutor himself, George described to me his compositional approach, starting with a layout in mind, building-up textures and then working more intuitively as he incorporates smaller elements to play on the eye, such as flags and window-frames. He explained that he custom-cuts his brushes in order to achieve the exacting edges of the more detailed elements, while the compositions benefit from design elements such as tilting, cropping and bold partitioning of space. More decorative or contextual elements are evident, such as horizontal banding, to support the foreground subject.

George Birrell: Crossing (oil on board)


George Birrell: Gracht (oil on board)


The oils of Edinburgh painter David Parker strongly recall the work of Scottish Colourists such as Hunter or Peploe, with their wide, intuitive, economical brushwork, the rises and falls in colour intensity introducing a subtlety that helps to articulate the shadow and light in his compositions. Although the subject-matter – interior still-lifes and tableaux – is arranged carefully, the execution is intuitive and exploratory, and very natural, that painterly technique particularly evident on the larger canvases: if an impasto technique, it has a deftness of touch, with the volumes of shapes built-up with considered colour. David, who gained his fine art degree at Newcastle Polytechnic, emphasised in conversation that he sets out mainly to enjoy the experience of pushing paint around with a brush, depicting as best he can his response to what he sees, rather than seeking to impress the viewer or achieve an effect: ironically that  un-showy expressiveness is precisely what appeals to the viewer.

David Parker: Still Life with Oil Lamp (oils on canvas)


David Parker: Tabletop (oils on canvas)



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