New Talent in the Edinburgh Art Festival

On the fringes of the Edinburgh Art Festival – I wish there was a fringe for it, a kind of free-for-all that would escape curatorial constraints – come some promising younger artists who still rely on the day job to cover the bills.

Glasgow artist France-Lise McGurn  works two days a week in a restaurant.  “Them’s the breaks,” she said.  Which is perhaps why the  sculpture in the centre of her Collective Gallery show doffs its cap to table napkins – the kind Picasso might have sketched on by his plate.

France-Lise McGurn Collective Gallery

France-Lise McGurn, Collective Gallery, photograph by Tom Nolan


At the gallery on Calton Hill most of the attention has gone to Beatrice Gibson’s film in the main City Dome space.  But outside it McGurn has a prime slot, in a showroom with glass windows facing the tourist throngs gathering at Edinburgh’s partial Parthenon.

McGurn – who featured in a curated group show in London’s Gimpel Fils gallery last year – said she wanted to bring something dynamic and quick to the space, and she certainly succeeded.

McGurn’s work here has developed out of archive material,  from French language textbooks to graphic illustrations from Le Petit Marseillais shower gel, and 1940s public health posters warning soldiers and sailors of the dangers of venereal disease .

Le Petit Marseillais

Le Petit Marseillais

As she created her work,  Gurn repeated the images “over and over again,  so it almost becomes a really practised, hand-writing kind of thing” she said.    “I don’t work directly from anything. It’s not to appropriate the exact image, it’s to create a shorthand from it. You can recognise the time it’s from, the geography of it, but not an exact image. ”

What emerges speaks for itself,  with a period grace in its line and style, its evocation of a cafe culture, whatever dark elements lie behind it.

France-Lise McGurn,  Collective Gallery

Grown-up, France-Lise McGurn, Collective Gallery, photo Tom Nolan

McGurn at first created an entire floor covering for with both text and more drawings; when she decided it was wasn’t right, and took it outside to cut it up, people thought she was doing a live art performance.   She had what she called the “Greek piece”, Men are from Mars(rille), hanging in the window but  decided things were getting “overly classical” with the Parthenon, and moved it to a back wall.

Men are from Mars (eille), France-Lise McGurn, photograph Tom Nolan

Men are from Mars (eille), France-Lise McGurn, photograph Tom Nolan

The festival has promoted some new artists in its Platform space.   But on the opening nights, I moved across town to Rhubaba, staging ‘e e e e o ee e i a a e e a’ , a group exhibition that brings together existing and new work from artists Anne-Marie Copestake, Alexa Hare, Sophie Mackfall and John Robertson.

There was plenty to look out here, but Robertson’s large piece, Robert Schumann/Photography Year Book 1960, seemed particularly interesting and effective.   I got talking to Robertson, and here he is contemplating his oevre.

John Robertson, and Robert Schumann/Photograpy Year Book 1960

John Robertson, and John Robertson’s Robert Schumann/Photograpy Year Book 1960

Like McGurn, he graduated in 2012 (she from the Royal College of Art, he from the Royal Academy), and like her he still needs to pay bills – in his case assisting another artist, and as a tech hanging galleries.

While both artists seemed open to selling works to a festival bargain hunter, neither had a figure to hand.    It had me wondering if the festival should gently be doing more to promote sales as well as profiles for still-struggling artists, tapping to the huge festival spend.

“In London it’s much tougher because our rent is exorbitant, we have to work a lot just for that money,” Robertson said.   “For people who go to Glasgow or Edinburgh, it seems much more feasible.  A friend of mine has just moved to Glasgow,  you can be an artist, because in London it feels like you are doing it part-time.”  He is planning a joint London show, in an event space called Carousel.

Robertson moved away from figurative work after he graduated.   “These are all made on the floor,” he said.   “I do the marbling as a separate thing, and I have days of painting bits of random paper and tearing them up, and my studio looks like primary school. Then I have drawers of what looks like bits of crap, which I arrange on the floor until something happens, and then paste them down.

“The books came about from during the pasting process, I got all these books that I was using, to weigh the paper down, this corner came up as I was pasting it.  I repasted it, put this book on it, and then I was hold on a minute, it’s better with the book on it. And then it needed the other one. Then it became a process of arranging the books, with the same logic as arranging the paper. Since December I have made a bunch of panels this size, six or seven.”

For all the tongue-in-cheek description I thought this was a considerable art work.  Here it is sans Robertson.   I liked the placing, the colour tone, the marbling itself.


Robert Schumann/Photography Year Book 1960, 2015

Without showing too much favouritism – it was a crowded preview, quite late in the day, other works were surely blocked from proper sight, and another visit may be in order – I wanted to mention a second piece from Rhubaba, on another wall, and now realise that is also by him.  I hope.

John Robertson artist Rhubaba Gallery

John Robertson, Forked Tongue