I had a very pleasant Sunday afternoon’s gentle walk with Melanie and Gordon along the nearby Water of Leith. A small river which runs right through Edinburgh and, as the name suggest, goes all the way to the port of Leith. Once upon a time it was home to many mills with the river turning the water wheels of the industrial revolution. Now it is a long, forested river walkway. Gently running water (except during the floods), and centuries-old massive trees arcing over your head, the summer foliage creating a leafy canopy, softly filtering the strong summer sunlight. We walked along from nearby my home, passing right by Murrayfield Stadium the home of Scottish Rugby Union (League does not count as real rugby, it is heresy). Along past very expensive homes backing on to the river for a long, peaceful amble, then across a nice little wooden bridge and up some very steep cobbled steps cut into the side of the river valley which bring you up through heavy foliage and out eventually into a clearing behind the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, with a Henry Moore sculpture right there at the top of the stairs as your reward.
An enjoyable walk through the ground of the Gallery of Modern Art then across the road to the Dean Gallery opposite. The Dean Gallery is a recent addition to the National Galleries of Scotland and houses a large amount of work by the Edinburgh Scots-Italian artist, the magnificent Eduardo Paolozzi. At the moment it is also running a retrospective on the six decade career of Paolozzi just now and the entire gallery is awash with his multifarious works. Sketches, paintings, montages and, of course the amazing sculptures for which he is so famed. Right from his early work in the 40s and 50s there is a strong association with films and with science fiction in Eduardo’s work. The wonderfully colourful and starkly powerful graphics of Astounding Tales and other SF&F magazines and comics are a rich source of inspiration to the young artist. Now in his 80s Paolozzi retains this sense of child-like sense-of-wonder, still collecting magazine and film images, rummaging through the toy section of Woolworth’s or small markets for objects which take his fancy, spark his imagination. If you look around the fabulous recreation of his studio it is littered with found objects that his magpie eye liked, from 50s Italian scooters to a model Millennium Falcon.
His sculptures and his busts often have a semi-mechanical overtone to them. Not so much biomechanics like H R Giger more like an almost natural organic confluence of technology and art. Some bronzes are made form impressions of found material in old junkyards and all give the impression of organic growth, that he hasn’t just made a shape but that the shape has grown as he find new shapes to add to his work as he goes along. Even the semi-symmetrical busts have an SF overtone to them, recalling Maria from Metropolis and prefiguring C-3P0 and the Terminator. Many of them are fantastically tactile sculptures and the desire to touch then, feel the outlines and texture is almost overpowering. In fact it occurred to me that an exhibition should be arranged especially for the blind and visually impaired that allowed them to do just this. With these phantasmagorically twisted bronzes there is no reason a blind person could not touch them, feel them and enjoy the art as those with eyes do. I’m tempted to email the galleries and suggest this although I suspect the insurers would not be too happy about people touching the exhibits. Coming out afterwards I’m left with the impression that Paolozzi is still, at heart, a child, taking delight in all that is unusual and wonderful in the world. I suspect this is why his work is still so vibrant and fresh in a way that the victims of the Brit-Art fire last week can only dream of.
We walked back over to the Gallery of Modern Art afterwards and relaxed for a little while in the peaceful environs of the award-winning Landform natural sculpture. I’ve watched this take shape over the last year or two, from raw earthen mounds, to sculpted shapes, to grass-covered earth sculptures with water. The long swoops and curves recall both the mazes of formal gardens in country houses and also the spirals which figure so prominently in the artwork of our Celtic and Pictish ancestors. The stepped embankments seen from the far side are reminiscent of more work by our ancestors, resembling Iron-Age hill forts, such as Trapairn Law near Edinburgh (famed in legend and poetry and also, along with the rock fortress of Dun-Eidin (where Edinburgh Castle now sits) one of the mythical homes for Arthur) while the still water mirroring the sky above suggests the Celtic belief in bodies of water as portals to the Otherworld. You can take all this from Landform, or you can just admire the curves and nature of it, or you can just lie back on the green bank and stare at the sky while the earthen curves hold you or you can, like some young children nearby, take the simplest of delights by sliding down the grassy bank with your dad.
Naturally the day was finished by some outdoor drinking.
This bronze in the gallery gardens is called Master of the Universe. Someone before us had placed a daisy right in front of his pointing finger 🙂