Helen Glassford's Immerse

Helen Glassford’s Immerse at the Tatha Gallery is an exhibition of over forty-five oil paintings that the artist has been working on for over a year, inspired by the fascination she has with the sensory experience of the landscape; the forces at play (both physical and psychological); and the wild and unpredictable personalities of nature. What we see here are what some might consider ‘the empty places’ – deserted beaches and rocky outcrops on the periphery of the Far Northern reaches of Scotland.

As reported in Issue no.2 of Art North magazine, the love and passion for being out there in the wildness of a landscape such as that which Glassford frequents as a painter was first kindled when walking in the Lake District hills as a child. Vivid memories of the smell of the air, the light on the mountains, and the sense of solitude that it evoked, all remain with her today and are as much the subject of her art as the landscape itself that she paints.

Helen Glassford ,  Immerse II , Oil on Board 120cm x 120cm, 2019 (Courtesy the artist).

Helen Glassford, Immerse II, Oil on Board 120cm x 120cm, 2019 (Courtesy the artist).

When in 1995 she moved to the East Coast of Scotland to study at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, it was the lure of the light and the easy escape routes to the hills and beaches that understandably were the draw, and as a consequence she made her home here, now living and working in Newport on Tay, where she established the Tatha Gallery – a space that has done much to advance the careers of artists of all ages and revitalise the art scene across the water from Dundee.

As I wrote myself, in the pages of Art North, “being ever aware of the transient nature of life that the landscape she is most drawn to evokes may be one thing, but what is it like to be an artist who is also Director of one of the most respected galleries in the region?” Now showing her own work at the Tatha Gallery, are there “any dilemmas, as if crossing an line should she do so?”

Art North Magazine , Issue 2 (Summer 2019)

Art North Magazine, Issue 2 (Summer 2019)

My conclusion was, and remains, that she has certainly earned the privilege of presenting her work to a wide audience in her own gallery, as she does now, and it is not before time. It’s not as though she has thrust herself at collectors by utilising the space for self-promotion, as anyone who knows Helen will agree: In fact, she has gone out of her way to put together an inspired exhibition schedule over recent years, promoting artists either senior in stature or new to the market.

Helen Glassford ,  Time Lapse , Oil on Board 92cm x 152cm, 2019 (Courtesy the artist).

Helen Glassford, Time Lapse, Oil on Board 92cm x 152cm, 2019 (Courtesy the artist).

There is something rather special in fact, in knowing that the artist is a person who, in presenting her own work to the public, knows intimately herself the hard-won struggle to bring such work to fruition, and all that goes with making the transition from easel to gallery wall as an exhibition nears. Of the work itself, Helen has written of her journeys to soak in the landscape:

Getting to know the landscape is a mysterious hunt and will perhaps always remain elusive. Yet it is as perplexing and as intangible as any other relationship. The dark hills forbid yet entice. The thin light on the water is fragile and uplifting. Softening light at the end of the day unifies landscapes to a single texture and quilts its harder edges. It is the fascination for these transient beauties of the landscape and the weather it wears that will forever inspire me.

Without a doubt, the art that Helen Glassford excavates in her search for the illusive qualities of the Scottish landscape that is her inspiration is every bit as eloquent as her writing on her own art. I therefore encourage anybody with an interest in contemporary landscape painting, or those who are willing to extend their interest to include such a powerful body of work, to be sure of adding the Tatha Gallery to their itineraries over the coming weeks, and be sure to give time to take in Glassford’s Immerse.

Helen Glassford ,  Immerse , Oil on Board 120cm x 120cm, 2019 (Courtesy the artist).

Helen Glassford, Immerse, Oil on Board 120cm x 120cm, 2019 (Courtesy the artist).

Helen Glassford | Immerse

21 June 2019 – 24 August 2019
Preview and Book Launch: 21 June (6.30–8.30pm).

Tatha Gallery
1 High Street
DD6 8AB22

Matthew Hollett Wins EVA 2019 Award

Congratulations to Matthew Hollett for winning the Excellence in Visual Arts Award for the most exceptional piece of critical writing on a Newfoundland-based artist. Matthew’s contribution to Art North magazine, which appeared in issue 1 and highlighted the works of Jane Walker (Newfoundland) and Vivian-Ross Smith (Shetland) secured for him the award of best example of critical writing in print or online worldwide, with a prize of $2000 (CAN). Two other critics – Eva Crocker and Kate Lahey – were shortlisted for this year’s award.


The EVA Awards are the only awards initiative dedicated to celebrating the visual culture of Newfoundland and Labrador, but clearly show that there is real potential for transatlantic collaboration to result in much-deserved recognition. We were honoured to have such an article in the first issue of Art North, and we are really pleased for Matthew that his contribution has been justly rewarded in this way. The EVA Awards consider jury reviewed submissions and this was the 14th year of the Awards. Matthew’s contribution was recognised publicly at the awards ceremony at The Rooms, Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest public cultural space on 14 June 2019.


Moray School of Art Degree Show 2019

The evolution of work coming out of Moray School of Art (Moray College, University of the Highlands and Islands) can be described as a cultural Madagascar: isolated and without interference from the invasive influences of national art institutions. Once upon a time, when I was a student there, I felt that the lack of access to contemporary art was a hindrance. Now, coming back as graduate, alumni, and artist in my own right, I can see the remoteness from the rest of the Scottish art scene creates a purity and sincerity which makes the work emerging from Moray School of Art unique. 

Dominating the centre space of the beautiful building, with its parquet floors and decorative exposed oak beams, hangs a friesian cow giving birth to a unicorn. The authenticity of Shaun Pearson’s work is tangible. This is someone who has not one care about what art is meant to be. The walls, top to bottom, are covered with paper plates decorated with gauche portrayals of crisp packets, watermelons, frog faces… the kitsch, the tacky, and the low brow. It’s as if he employed a hoard of primary school kids to go crazy in the arts and crafts corner of their classroom. The work would be perfectly at home in a John Walter exhibition and I really hope that comes to fruition one day. 

Shaun Pearson  (Image: Moray School of Art)

Shaun Pearson (Image: Moray School of Art)

Sadie Stoddart  (Image: Moray School of Art)

Sadie Stoddart (Image: Moray School of Art)

The usual tropes we see in graduate shows are almost non-existent here. There is a genuineness, and a playfulness, which radiates from many of the works, which is not to say that they don’t hold a strong social message. Sadie Stoddart’s papier mache installation consists of a constructed greenhouse with planters adorned with colourful mono-printed slogans. The work calls out a message of collectivity: the artist is nurturing the seeds of revolution literally and figuratively. The apparent message of activism resonates with the current zeitgeist of protest where the adhoc aesthetic of low-cost materials and simple making processes screams of recent leftist movements. This is a work of the people which is rare in Moray, where the culture is less of rebellion and more of ‘let’s write an angry letter to the local paper.’ 

In contrast to the day-glo rainbow of Pearson and Stoddart, the restrained colour palette of Madeline Daly’s work investigates the binary tension between all things. Clean structural lines cut into patterns reminiscent of the natural colours of the north; dark blues, grey-whites and sea greens. The multitude of concrete cast objects arranged on the table are both unique and uniform with each holding its own individuality. The work proves to be an exploration within colour with texture and shape being almost incidental. 

Madeline Daly  (Image: Moray School of Art)

Madeline Daly (Image: Moray School of Art)

Muriel Hughes’ continues the theme of social and cultural commentary as she dedicates her space to Ruth – the personification of ‘The Female’ in narrative. The installation fills the space with stylised depictions of a depersonalised woman in various forms of nakedness and exposure. The prominent cut outs are echoed with reflections of their own negative space. The subject beautifully relates the social narrative of the contemporary female to the literal interpretation of womanhood. 

Muriel Hughes  (Image: Moray School of Art)

Muriel Hughes (Image: Moray School of Art)

Muriel Hughes  (Image: Lynne Hague)

Muriel Hughes (Image: Lynne Hague)

Muriel Hughes  (Image: Lynne Hague)

Muriel Hughes (Image: Lynne Hague)

Muriel Hughes  (Image: Lynne Hague)

Muriel Hughes (Image: Lynne Hague)

Forging a creative career in the northern hinterlands is not the easiest task. The challenge for the graduate artists will be not only in cementing a place for themselves within the local cultural activity but also to find their niche within an already niche industry. The secret, which they will not discover until much later, is that their work already holds a uniqueness and honesty which is not easily matched by their peers from the big cities. In the near future, the graduates of Moray School of Art will contribute to the development of a distinct Northern style. One which should get the national recognition it deserves. 

Further information from: Moray School of Art (Moray College UHI)

Kevin MacNeil's Coll Beach Sutra

Kevin MacNeil’s Coll Beach Sutra, appearing in the current issue of Art North magazine, is a text that was originally commissioned as part of a participatory artwork and digital anthology project by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. Paterson’s project, titled First There is a Mountain, is touring twenty-five high profile coastal art venues around the UK, and has involved the creation of an array of curiously shaped ‘buckets and spades’ with which the public are invited to ‘build mountains of sand, playing out the world’s natural geography against a series of tidal times.’ Each ‘bucket’ is a scale model of one of five mountains: Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mount Shasta (N. America), Mount Fuji (Asia), Stromboli (Europe), and Uluru (Oceania) – each of which is nested together in a set. For further information about the project, visit: www.firstthereisamountain.com.

Katie Paterson ,  First There is A Mountain  event at   Mostyn, Llandudno (West Shore Beach), 19 May 2019 (Photo credit: Lin Cummins)

Katie Paterson, First There is A Mountain event at Mostyn, Llandudno (West Shore Beach), 19 May 2019 (Photo credit: Lin Cummins)

Upcoming dates for Paterson’s First There is A Mountain, include: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums (Ballroom Beach); The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney (Waulkmill Bay); An Lanntair, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis (Coll Beach); Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, North Uist (Baile Sear Beach); ATLAS Arts, Isle of Skye (Glenbrittle Beach); and Comar, Isle of Mull (Calgary Beach). A full its of venues can be found on the project website. The project began its tour at the Whitstable Biennale, Kent on Leysdown Beach, Isle of Sheppey in March, and continues its round-Britain tour, ending at Three Shells Beach near the Focal Point Gallery, Essex on 27 October.


Taking place each Sunday over the thirty-two week period of British Summer Time, each venue is staging events on their local sandy beach, with the artwork growing to form a time-based topographical map that connects the Earth’s oldest rocks with the UK’s geological landscape, and celebrating the local, national and international. Twenty-five new pieces of writing (of which Kevin MacNeil’s is one example), have been commissioned to correspond to each beach location. First There is a Mountain brings together celebrated authors, poets, geologists, earth scientists, ecologists, technologists, and art writers, and each text creatively responds to Paterson’s project. The diverse writings connect with each locality, relating the artwork to place, its people, history and wider geological context. MacNeil’s Coll Beach Sutra relates to Coll Beach, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis – Kevin MacNeil is a novelist, poet and playwright born and raised in the Outer Hebrides.

Dear Christine

‘I’d like to thank everyone who is paying tribute to my mother. She was a very brave woman. Thank you’
– Seymour Platt, son of Christine Keeler, January 2019

Though I feature in Dear Christine only through the medium of a republished essay from the Telegraph that now appears in the book that accompanies the exhibition (currently on show at Vane in Newcastle Upon Tyne), even minor involvement in this enterprise has made me feel extraordinarily excited. It’s the sheer originality of it combined with the paradoxical feeling of inevitability – why did no one ever do this before? Perhaps because women artists are still so astonishingly rare. There can be no branch of the arts in which women can be seen but not heard from as much as painting – nowhere where the role of muse is so strictly demarcated. Quite a few groupies have managed to become musicians and secretaries to become writers – but to move from one side of the easel to another is a task way beyond the reach of most of the youthful and passively pretty women who are chosen to inspire Great Men. Fionn Wilson – an artist from a working-class background in South Tyneside – was made to curate this project.

Three years in the making, it is a thing of beauty without cruelty, a balm applied posthumously to the wounds Christine Keeler fatally sustained in the very uncivil sex war of the 1960s. In theory everyone was free to do it with everyone else – in practice the rich (be they jaded old aristos getting in on the Swinging London lark or the newly-minted showbiz kids who drove it) still got the pleasure and the poor still got the blame. By the end of the Sixties the freewheeling sexual swashbuckler as played by the well-bred and privately-educated Julie Christie and Charlotte Rampling would be feted and imitated by women of all classes – while the perfect prototype, more beautiful than any of them, would be living in a council flat, the diminishing returns she received for repeating her warnings about the wages of sin gone into the pockets of well-fed sharks.

The difference between Christine and the dolly-birds who would ironically monetise their sexuality while hers was used as a stick with which to beat her was of course social class. Growing up in a converted railway carriage without hot water or electricity for many years, raped as a teenager by her stepfather and his friends, removed from her home after a school health inspector found her to be suffering from malnutrition and at 17 the mother of a baby who died after six days, she arrived in London the summer before the Sixties; had Hogarth still been around, he would have loved her. Instead she fell under the spell of the amateur artist and society doctor Stephen Ward, who immediately recognised in her Modigliani face and Ingres body that despite her dirt-poor origins she was one of Nature’s aristocrats: ‘She could have been a duchess.’ Women of her class had always been valued solely for their beauty – as muses, models, actresses and prostitutes – and discarded when it faded; Ward believed he could help her escape the fate she had been born to as well as amusing himself with the sexual escapades he stage-managed for her.

Christine Keeler  (photographer unknown). Courtesy the  Christine Keeler Collection  with kind permission of James Birch.

Christine Keeler (photographer unknown). Courtesy the Christine Keeler Collection with kind permission of James Birch.

When a sex farce became a Shakespearean tragedy, Christine’s (it seems too harsh to call her ‘Keeler’ after all the times the word was used as a sniggering slander) punishment was uniquely cruel. Her Svengali escaped by committing suicide; her playmate Mandy Rice–Davies parlayed her tough-minded cheekiness into a career as a cabaret singer. Most poignantly her War Minister lover disappeared into good works at Toynbee Hall in the East End – ironically a charity which ‘works to bridge the gap between people of all social and financial backgrounds.’ He became their chief fundraiser, able to work as a full-time volunteer due to his inherited wealth; with his appointment by the Queen at Buckingham Palace as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975, his return to respectability was complete – if anything, he ended up with a better reputation than he started with.

But with no family money – indeed, with no family except one which had raped and starved her – to fall back on, Christine’s Hogarthian journey spiralled downwards. As Fionn Wilson quotes in her Foreword to the book of the exhibition (catalogue seems too slapdash to sum up this beautiful thing): ‘It's been a misery for me, living with Christine Keeler – even a criminal has the right to a new life, but they made sure I didn’t. They didn't stop calling me a prostitute for ever and ever and ever and ever. How can anyone live with that? I took on the sins of everybody, of a generation, really…’ Calling herself Christine Sloane, she sold advertising space, worked as a receptionist in a dry cleaners and latterly was a dinner lady at a London school; when the principal discovered who she was, she was immediately sacked. She died two years ago at the age of 75. During her later years of penury and ill-health, people were happy to exploit her fiscally as eagerly as they had been to exploit her physically when in her prime; in the famous chair shot she is visibly wincing (and till the end of her life protested that she had not been naked but wearing pants – a last desperate grab at decency from an inherently decent woman who lived a louche lifestyle through necessity rather than choice) and when she was paid £5000 to attend the premiere of Scandal! she watched it ‘through gritted teeth.’

Why is this exhibition so vital, in both senses of the word? Because it’s a belated celebration – defiant, affectionate, sorrowful and more – of a life which was trashed by the Establishment – by the risibly-named Great and the Good – while the woman who lived it was still a teenager. It speaks for the legions of women desired, used and discarded not just in art but in life. Fionn Wilson – creator, curator, and keeper of the flame – says it best: ‘Her only crime was to be working class, to possess a supernatural beauty – and to try to eke out some sort of freedom.’

Roxana Halls ,  Laughing While Smashing (for Mandy and Christine) , 2018, oil on linen, 105 x 105 cm, private collection

Roxana Halls, Laughing While Smashing (for Mandy and Christine), 2018, oil on linen, 105 x 105 cm, private collection

Dear Christine: A Tribute to Christine Keeler
Conceived and curated by Fionn Wilson

VANE – Newcastle upon Tyne
Until 29 June

5 October – 9 November

ARTHOUSE1 – London
2 – 29 February 2020

Claudia Clare ,  Christine Keeler: An Uncertain Pilgrimage , 2019, slip painted earthenware, glazed, with gold leaf, 40 cm high x 38 cm wide. Image credit: Sylvian Deleu

Claudia Clare, Christine Keeler: An Uncertain Pilgrimage, 2019, slip painted earthenware, glazed, with gold leaf, 40 cm high x 38 cm wide. Image credit: Sylvian Deleu

EXHIBITING ARTISTS: Natalie d’Arbeloff, Helen Billinghurst, Claudia Clare, Caroline Coon, Lucy Cox, Catherine Edmunds, Roxana Halls, Sadie Hennessy, Marguerite Horner, Barbara Howey, Shani Rhys James, Sal Jones, Jowonder, Sadie Lee, Cathy Lomax, Julia Maddison, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Wendy Nelson, Sarah Shaw, Stella Vine, Fionn Wilson, and with music composed by Katie Chatburn.


BOOK: The Exhibition is accompanied by a book, featuring writing from David Astbury, Julie Burchill, Amanda Coe, Tara Hanks, Kalliopi Minioudaki and Bo Gorzelak Pedersen, with additional photographs from the Christine Keeler Collection (with kind permission of James Birch), and poetry from Sarah Caulfield and Charlotte Innes. Forewords by Tanya Gold and Seymour Platt.

(Page Banner Image: Courtesy of the Christine Keeler Collection with kind permission of James Birch).

Read the essay by Ian McKay relating to this exhibition