Upright Gallery’s latest exhibition opening was a lively affair, spilling out onto Barclay Terrace throughout the evening and encouraging passers-by to stop and look. Incidentally, this practice of stopping and looking was the genesis of Nesting for Gail Turpin, an Edinburgh based artist and designer. The result is a curated collection of pieces from a lockdown spent roaming, observing and collecting around Loch Tay with her dog, Orla – a period she refers to as one of ‘unexpected nesting’.
Turpin’s work brings a sense of stripped-back peacefulness to the Gallery. Her colour palette is soothing, her subject matter sparse – but to call the pieces simple would be a great injustice. The beauty of her work is that it is deceptively complex. Get up close and you’ll see that each is made up of a combination of techniques which fuse together seamlessly. Turpin explores drawing, painting, monoprinting and collage, on paper, wood and fabric to multilayered effect. Despite this breadth of medium, the exhibition comes together effortlessly. Nesting is an undoubtedly accomplished body of work.
Nesting 17 is situated at the back of the gallery, and immediately draws your eye in like an (artistic) black hole. It leans towards abstraction more than any others – the feather could be a knife, the shape in the top right a bowl. It is also comparatively dark, brooding even. Crafted on a piece of found wood, the artist’s process is visible in the grain. This was a piece she revisited often.
Turpin’s frankness translates into pieces such as Nesting 6, a personal favourite of the artist, which features a sparse nest and three dappled eggs set against a moody backdrop. It is what it is, but it is also something more.
Then there’s Nesting 10, a melancholy giclee print featuring nothing more than an empty nest. It’s so soft looking, almost as though it is made of felt. This tactile quality recurs throughout the exhibition, reflecting the process the artist employs.
While Nesting currently centres solely on fine art, Turpin is also a maker and is looking to develop her work further into textiles, creating functional art. Her starting point can be found downstairs in Nesting 8, a fabric collage which takes its subject matter from its neighbour, Nesting 7. Both are markedly abstract, relying on form alone to create the suggestion of natural shapes. The uncomplicated dialogue between them shows how well Nesting will translate into fabric.
Considered restraint is a recurring theme throughout Nesting – something the artist was determined about. It even translates into the names, which give nothing away. As a designer, Turpin is used to working to someone else’s brief, and found that setting her own parameters gave her focus: ‘I really like limitations. It can be completely head-spinning to think, I can draw anything.’ The subject matter was obvious to her – nests and feathers – and this self-imposed restraint gave her boundaries to work within — conducive constriction. In her own words, ‘I set the subject matter so I could experiment with the materials, and then I just rinsed it. I came to know what I was drawing really intimately’.
Intimate is an appropriate term to describe Upright Gallery itself, where Nesting is currently showing. Its small scale means you are completely immersed in the artist’s world from the moment you step through the door. Often, you’ll be the only person in the gallery, though there are busy spells. These quiet in-between moments mirror the sense of solitude throughout Nesting, making it all the more possible to appreciate the work in the kind of seclusion it was created.
For what it’s worth, I love perhaps the most restrained piece, an original collage which deals mainly in negative space. The suggestion of form reminds me of Louise Day’s Shoreline exhibition at the Tighnabruaich Gallery. There is something so calming about it.
Nesting is accessible in the sense that anyone can appreciate the works, and this directness reflects Gail Turpin as a person. She is disarmingly approachable, humble and completely straight talking about her work. Anni Albers said: ’simplicity is not simpleness but clarified vision,’ something Turpin definitely subscribes to.
All pieces available to purchase.