The Ballet of the Palette

The Ballet of the Palette

Glasgow Museum of Modern Art – Fri 20 Feb 2015 – Sun 24 Jan 2016

By Jenna Robertson

I feel that I should begin with a confession. Although I enjoy art (in the literal sense of the word), I mostly enjoy it in a passive way. I rarely go to art galleries, because I often find that they can be intimidating, and leave me feeling like Cameron Frye in that scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, frantically searching for meaning in a painting and having a bit of an existential crisis.

My most recent visit to Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, however, was (thankfully) not at all John Hughes-esque. Instead, I was pleasantly reminded that GoMA is such an accessible way to enjoy art. Not only is it on our doorstep, but most exhibits are free and on a drop-in basis, as well as celebrating the best of Scottish art.

One such exhibit is ‘The Ballet of the Palette’, which runs until January of next year. With a title inspired by Josef Herman’s collection of the same name, the exhibition features paintings selected from Glasgow Museums’ collection, and hand-picked by contemporary artists whose work exhibited in 2013’s ‘A Picture Show’.

Confronted with ‘The Ballet of the Palette’, I was far from intimidated. The walls of the gallery, covered in dynamic art that had not been publicly exhibited for some time, were so inviting, and merited a good forty minutes of perusing.

My eye was immediately drawn to a melancholy, oil on canvas portrait of novelist Sir Hugh Walpole by renowned eccentric and member of the Camden Town Group, Walter Richard Sickert. Sickert’s work is appropriately gloomy considering his suspected association with Jack the Ripper. He portrays Walpole, however, in a slightly more optimistic light than usual, perhaps owing to his admiration of the subject.

Neighbouring Sir Hugh Walpole is another of Sickert’s paintings, a landscape this time, which is more in keeping with the sinister tone he is known for. Titled ‘Barnsbury’, this is a distinctively gloomy, impressionistic representation of a shop front selling paint. ‘Barnsbury’ is a painting of paint that is distorted and pessimistic, suggesting an artistic pun or despair of artistic life. Whatever the meaning behind it, this one in particular had me thinking for some time.

It was a pleasure to then spot a painting by Scottish artist and former student of Glasgow School of Art, Joan Eardley. ‘A Glasgow Lodging’ is a muted and poetic portrayal of artist and Eardley’s close friend, Angus Neil, in his Montrose Street residence. It is perfectly Glaswegian; dark in places, illuminated in others, and unassumingly beautiful. Moreover, to look at ‘A Glasgow Lodging’ is to look directly at a piece of Glasgow’s artistic history, and indeed to celebrate the late Eardley’s legacy.

The satirical, if slightly frightening, ‘Crib’ by Alexander Guy, is also featured in the exhibition. ‘Crib’ is not pretty and it is not flattering, nor is it supposed to be. It is at once startling and amusing, hinting at the kind of harsh, toxic environments today’s children are brought into. Guy paints such mundane, dark objects so vividly that it’s honestly hard to look away from them.

As I said before, I normally get my fix of art from behind the safety of my laptop, rarely venturing to Glasgow’s art galleries. ‘The Ballet of the Palette’, however, has suggested to me the importance of and generally exciting feeling that comes with viewing art in person, in beautiful buildings, without the glare of a screen.

Moreover, as we are currently surrounded by trashy reality-TV and poorly written erotica, we owe it to ourselves to escape from that kind of ‘art’ and block it out with some time spent in the presence of the real thing.


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