A review of Joan Eardley’s exhibition A Sense of Place

A fitting exhibition name for an exhibition which draws its focus on two prominent places in Scotland which shaped the content of Eardley’s work throughout the 20th century.

Pink Jumper – Joan Eardley

This exhibition on at Modern Art Two in Edinburgh runs from 3rd December 2016 to 21st May 2017, exhibiting the works of Joan Eardley (1921-1963). It spans across five rooms and shows every medium, from rough sketches, to photographs and large oil landscapes. Around 250 pieces were donated to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1987 by Eardley’s sister. It focuses on Eardley’s close association with the small Scottish fishing village Catterline and the slums of Townhead in Glasgow. Although quite contrasting locations for painting, Eardley commented on their similarities which kept her painting and moving in between the two for around 15 years, they were both small close-knit places and also relatively poor communities. She spoke of the intimacy in both places, the fact that everyone knows everyone, stating that you’ve got to know something before you paint it. This romatic approach to her studies of both Catterline and Townhead has lead to beautiful portraits of the Samson children who sat for her while being bribed with warm drinks and the occasional payment of a sixpence per sitting.  The portraits of the children, are charming, usually focussing on an item of clothing such as a pink jumper, portraying the delightfully naiive nature of these children with bold brushstrokes and differing mediums.

Children and Chalked Wall 3 – Joan Eardley















Her studies of Catterline, a small fishing village which by the time Eadley had arrived was in decline, were painted in situ. Living in No.1 Catterline (now known as No.1 South Row), it had no electricity and an outdoor toilet and was the most exposed of all the cottages. This cottage is featured regularly in her work, and if not featured it was usually because she was painting from outside it. Eardley would paint for the same spot for prolonged periods of time saying in an intereview conducted by the Arts Council in 1961, ‘I find that the more I know of the place, or of one particular spot, the more I find to paint in that particular spot’.

Collage became prominent in her work from 1960 in her late works at Catterline and Townhead. She collaged grass onto the surface of her Catterline canvases, supposedly making them stick with wet oil paint, it brought a smile to my face as I spotted the Dasies she had pasted onto the canvas surface. Sweet wrappers were seen in her Townhead paintings from 1960-1963 and both sets of works also featured newspaper cuttings and large splatted and dripped paint marks after 1960.It is not clear how long she spent at each location as Eardley rarely dated any of her letters or paintings (making it hard to draw out a chronology of her life) with trips being irregular and random. It seems as if she used both places as an escape and retreat from the other.

The exhibition hang is grouped in location and as you move from room to room you see the array of talent and skill Eardley possessed, being able to depict the busy and noisy nature of the Glasgow slum street scene to the wild roaring sea of the north east of Scotland. Her use of colour is extensive, with some dark landscape scenes (cottages on a grey stormy day) to other brightly animated canvases such as her harvest scenes. The colours of Townhead vary as well but a prominent colour for me was dark blue and red, suggesting the rich and vibrant but at times cold nature of the Glasgow slums. The endearing portraits of the little children drew me in the most with the lose sketch lines still visible under the paint. At first the extent to Eardley’s subject matter seems overwhelming but on reflection, it makes sense as all paintings spring from two places, the busy streets of Glasgow’s slum Townhead and the enchantingly vast fishing village of Catterline.

In short- Eardley embodies what it is to be a Scottish painter and this show exhibts that. A great excuse to visit the Modern Art gallery as well. Don’t forget to go across the road to Modern Art One to check out the 20th Century: Masterpieces of Scottish and European Art which is running until February 2018. Another exhibition worth visiting in Edinburgh at the moment is the BP Portrait Awards 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery, on until March 2017.



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