The ongoing celebrations for the centenary of the brilliant twentieth century painter Joan Eardley gather pace this summer, with galleries up and down the country mounting diverse exhibitions. The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, who represented Eardley in her lifetime and beyond, open their major exhibition as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, and amongst the early evocative sketches and paintings, the iconic landscapes and startling portraits, some never previously exhibited, is something a little different – a tapestry interpretation of one of Eardley’s much-loved Catterline landscapes.
“I’d never woven a Joan Eardley before,” says Naomi Robertson, Master Weaver and Tapestry Studio Manager at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios, who embarked on the project in December last year. “My parents used to take me to see exhibitions of her work, and I’ve always loved the landscapes she painted up at Catterline. They just capture that wild beauty of place.”
Amidst the complex yet enthusiastic back and forth between gallery and tapestry studio, between Eardley’s family and the Dovecot client keen to commission the work, the image was eventually chosen: Eardley’s July Fields, a fantastic blur of wildflowers and grey skies, fields and fencing. “I thought the mark-making in it would be suited to tapestry; the gestural paint marks, the colours and the layering of colour over colour – that’s the kind of thing we love to explore, as weavers, that sort of scraping and layering of paint and colour. Tapestry can play with all those sorts of things,” says Robertson.
But approaching a painting as complex as Eardley’s, with its multiple brush marks, its layers and spatters of paint, its modulating colour, and translating it to tapestry, is no easy task, not least when another lockdown is looming and you have just days to map and mark out your subject. July Fields is held in Edinburgh’s City Art Centre, which by luck was displaying the work in December last year, and so in the last few days before the post-Christmas lockdown, Robertson hurriedly gathered together all the shade cards she could find in the studio and stood in front of the painting, matching colours and making notes for the highly detailed paper colour “map” that she would eventually produce to pin to the back of the loom and guide her through her work.
“It’s not a recipe, as such, but I’m writing myself descriptions,” she explains, of the exhaustive process of matching colour and form – not least when you are interrupted every few minutes by gallery-goers wondering what on earth you are doing. “When we work from artworks, we don’t make a direct copy, because there’s isn’t any point in doing that. We’re making a new artwork. Working with warp is not the same as working with a paintbrush in fine marks.”
“I don’t think I realised what I was getting in to when I started! It was an incredibly difficult tapestry to weave. The design doesn’t really let up – it was very intense! And there are lots of paint marks. To edit too many of them out would lose the feeling of the whole piece. It gets very complicated in the middle and sometimes I had to use a post-it note to mark my place so I wouldn’t get lost!”
Robertson, as is common in much weaving, weaves the picture on its side, the tapestry rolled up at the bottom as she works so that she never sees the complete picture until it is cut off the loom at the end of the process. “Painters have come in sometimes to look at what we’re doing and they never understand how we can work without seeing the bigger picture, but I don’t mind – you always have it in your mind.” One of her few nervous moments was in the first few weeks, she tells me, when the colour contrast of the very first section was very low. “It was hard to see if it was working.”
Robertson’s finished work certainly is very much a realisation of its inspiration, utterly recognisable in its explosion of wildflowers and grasses, and yet, as Robertson points out, the colours “not brighter, but more alive.” “It’s a quality of wool. Paint reflects light, but wool absorbs it and resonates out, so it feels richer.”
Christina Jansen, one of the Directors at the Scottish Gallery who has observed the tapestry from its first threads to the cutting off, tells me they have painted the gallery wall navy blue in preparation, so that the tapestry really stands out. “To have something like this in the exhibition, a fresh interpretation of Joan’s work – I really think it will help people understand how Joan puts paint down,” says Jansen. She and Eardley’s niece, the artist Anne Morrison, are both certain Eardley would have been fascinated at the result. “Anne said to me, she’d probably have started doing a series of paintings of weavers!”
Joan Eardley Centenary, The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, www.scottish-gallery.co.uk 30 Jul – 28 Aug, Tues – Fri, 11am – 5pm; Sat 11am – 2pm. tnaomi
There is Jon Macleod’s “Astar”, a peat-smoke infused moorland car air freshener – “take the aroma of the moor with you!” – based on the ambience of the dilapidated old cars used as shelters around the moor. So, too, his Mapa Gaol M[o]intich, a speculative London tube-type map of the courting spots of young lovers on the Lewisian moors. From Tiree, glassmaker Frances Woodhead charts 11 years living on the island in recycled glass bowls. And then – who could resist? – the “snow globes”, or more specifically, Crogan Meanbh-Chuileig (Gaelic speakers will know where this is going) showing Highlands and Islands views – a tent atop a hill, for example – which, when shaken, conjure up a veritable storm cloud of midges.
Kiosk: B[u]th, An Lanntair, Kenneth Street, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. 01851 708480 lanntair.com and Www.buth.scot Until 21 Aug, Tues – Thurs, 10am – 5pm; Fri-Sat, 10am – late; last Sun of the month, 12pm – 4pm
Last chance to catch this exhibition of work by architects and artists looking at the nitty-gritty of the designed interior, right down to the teaspoons. This is the architectural “gesamtkunstwerk” in its constituent pieces, evocatively put together, gently asking questions of how we build and how we build up the practical stuff of our lives, a solidly-hewn missive from a partially-lost world in which off the shelf interior components and ready-made interior house styles do not exist.
Interior Landscapes, The Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, RSA Lower Galleries, The Mound, Edinburgh,www.royalscottishacademy.org Until 25 July, Thurs – Sat, 10am – 5.pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm. Free: Book time slot online