20th September – 11th October
Debbie Mountain is a South African-born, Scottish-based artist and psychiatrist. Having grown up in Durban and Cape Town, she moved to Scotland at 27 years old, but only now, many years later, is she mounting her first solo exhibition, at Edinburgh’s Upright Gallery. This small, near-unique gallery continues to specialise in abstract and compositional work, and this display features the artist’s recent abstract patterned compositions – constructions almost – of thickly-applied wedges of brightly-coloured oil on board.
Entirely minimal and uncomplicated, it’s not suggestive nor expressive of anything – pure composition and painstaking, repeated application of paint, with the movement of the exhibition’s title hinting at the reiterative process involved in the paintings’ execution. Noticeably it’s in three, not two, dimensions – the ‘paint pyramids’ as she puts it, are seven or more millimetres proud of the surface of the board, with the resultant highlights and shadows doing the visual heavy-lifting, so to speak, in a way that’s lacking in other painters of strict pattern, say Victor Vasarely or Bridget Riley. It might be likened to highly-coloured, small treacle-like bars, dolloped very carefully, on a baking tray, when almost solid, and repeated extensively – or maybe semi-liquid gold bullion.
Mountain has taken advantage of the modern-day availability of richly-saturated, non-toxic, easy to use oil paint, squeezed from a tube, and applied with strict orthogonal regularity. But it’s not mechanical in appearance or process – the application of the paint, on closer inspection, is not perfect, but merely lavishly applied and countlessly repeated, so that the colour, texture and contours of the paint are what impresses the eye. If anything, the richness of the pieces is increased by the evident imperfections of being hand-painted, adding a human, flawed character and presence, and the act of it being manually-applied is the key, for the artist as well as the viewer – inviting a little chance and tolerating mistakes.
Outlining that process further, in conversation with ArtMag, she explains that she revels in the repetitive nature of the work, enjoying its repetitive, meditative effects – something that may not be lost on the viewer, who can let themselves be embraced by the pattern, as their eye passes across the piece. Mountain uses a paint scraper, cake icer and palette knife to sculpt these ‘paint pyramids’, and eyeing them closely you can see the tiny ‘tails’ where the paint tapers out, or the very slight blur where the slope meets the board, and the highlights caught along the ridges – in one way very much a landscape, and with the power to invite sustained close-up examination by the viewer.
The exhibition also includes two pieces of earlier work – both minimalist, sunset-tinged, metallic paintworks of translucent copper layers, subtler and gentler in comparison to the other, starker works.
On the opening night, Mountain admitted to some trepidation at the inauguration of her first public show, but she can draw full confidence from her work, which while bright and uncomplicated, is unique and distinctively personal.
3 Barclay Terrace