Yesterday I flew to Edinburgh especially to visit this Exhibition. I was not disappointed. She’s long been one of my favourite artists and to see so many of her paintings plus letters, photographs and newspaper articles about her life was an added bonus. There was even a brief scratchy film of her at work and talking about her work. These all brought her to life for me but also left an overwhelming sadness at the brevity of her life and artistic career. There was no corresponding shortness or lack of achievement, however.
She tackled the two seemingly contrasting subjects of Catterline landscapes and Glasgow children in the 50’s and 60’s with equal integrity. Eardley maintained that both were the same in that, ‘Neither knew they were being painted’ .
Scale is so important and the intimate nature of many of the smaller drawings and paintings of the children seemed very appropriate in contrast with the much larger landscapes. Her use of black chalk and pastel in these small sensitive drawings seems such a good choice. Somehow it emphasises the grimeyness of the children’s living conditions in the Glasgow tenements. It became clear that these smaller works were sometimes used later to create larger oil-paintings. There are some interesting small sketches of composition ideas.
I quickly copied from some of these to better understand the compositions. of more resolved paintings made later in her studio.
On my way home I sketched people waiting in the airport. Unlike Eardley’s subjects, mine where mostly engrossed with their phones or tablets. I thought maybe I could use these for a future painting.
The second room of the exhibition was devoted to the Catterline landscapes. Although there were many small chalk, pastel, goache, ink and watercolour sketches, it was the huge restless oil-paintings which captured my attention. These were full of movement and atmosphere. I have visited Catterline and I too found it an entrancing place – partly, of course because of it’s importance to Eardley. I could almost sense her presence there by standing in the same spots where she had stood in all weathers to paint. Reading her letters about her attempts to paint the salmon nets drying on the beach, further brought the paintings to life.
It was so important to see these images first-hand as compared with illustrations in books. The energetic almost frantic application of paint plus bits of grass and sand, conjured up the scene as though you were standing on the cliff-top with her. Similarly her paintings of the fields around the cottages were alive with emotion and memory
There was a huge amount to inspire me in this exhibition. It deserves a second viewing and shall do my best to return. Joan Eardley’s reputation seems justifiably to be rising in the Art World. This was by far the most comprehensive and exciting collection of her work I’ve seen so far and would urge anyone with an interest in painting to attend.