Edgelands – Warburton Gallery

The Listening Gaze (Edgelands, Warburton Gallery, Edinburgh)

The Warburton Gallery is a minor miracle on George IV Bridge, a stone’s throw from the Royal Mile. You only wish that a few more brave souls from the flow of tourists could be siphoned off from the tartanry up the street and enticed to step inside.

The gallery is a kind of long-term pop-up. It is a temporary space, in India Buildings, and will be gone in a year or so, as the plan to turn yet another city centre edifice into yet another hotel goes ahead. The gallery is the guest of the developer.

The gallery occupies a still, soaring space, in the central dome of the 1860s building. The work is shown in three circular floors. It is peacefully uplifting and quite chilly. Concentric circles of black iron railings against white walls rise up into the dome; the ethereal effect is amplified by the sound installation that is part of the current exhibition, ringing in the ears on F sharp, which is apparently the building’s resonant note.

  • Warburton Gallery Arts Press

India Buildings was designed by the architect David Cousins, in what’s described as a “Scots Baronial and Jacobean office bloc”, though the style laid down for the area at the time was “Old Flemish”.

Peter Warburton, who moved to Edinburgh to study and work as an artist and then became curator of the Henderson Gallery, attached to the restaurant, launched the Warburton Gallery as a non-profit venture last year. Operating on a budget of almost nothing, he has offered spaces in the adjoining labyrinth of rooms (a C Venues operation in recent festivals) to artists of all stripes. The building is cold because heating hours are strictly limited in a sponsorship-in-kind deal.

Warburton has found friends in high places: supporters, moral if not financial, have ranged from Emily Walsh, of the Fine Art Society, to Simon Groom, director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Ben Thomson, chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland, opened the first exhibition; Arts and Business helped the gallery to a small sponsorship-in-kind deal of a few thousand pounds, to launch the first two exhibitions in 2014. The admirable Stag cafe is run by the same team as the Dovecot.

“Partly what we have done here is to just do it,” Peter Warburton said. “We have never had the funding in place but we just believe it can happen, if you are prepared to do it for very little or at no cost at all.” What he has created ought, while it lasts, to be firmly on the art map of Edinburgh, as much as the Ingleby Gallery or spaces on Dundas Street. It’s a place where art can be viewed in peace.

“It’s about the artist, it’s about seriously taking the career of the people we are trying to show here. It’s about launching them,” rather than launching the space, he said.
Warburton also had a hand in constructing the gallery’s excellent website, as cool, calm and striking as the gallery itself. It notes that the gallery is aimed at “fostering the imagination, facilitating the creation of new art of the highest quality and enabling artists to experiment and take risks in their artistic practice”, all “underpinned by strong curation and presentation.”

The gallery’s current show, Edgelands, showing Australian artist Idris Murphy with Scotland’s Paul Martin, has just been extended for another week.

The subjects of Murphy’s landscapes run from Australia to Turkey, where he recently lead a delegation of Australian artists visiting Galipolli sites. The starkly different quality of light is reflected in the work; rich pinky clays of Australia, bright light greens from Turkey that rise off the canvas.

His prices here, I’m told, a few notches lower than they would be in Australia, where he has been in practise for 40 years. I particularly admired The Emplacement, Eceabat Road (acrylic on board, £1,700), with orange hills and a blue gold-tinted sky. Also from Turkey, Shadows and Pines, of a hillside with light green glare on the field on the foreground.

Shadows and Pines by Idris Murphy

Shadows and Pines

But the favourite was Pink Outback – it would be stutteringly obvious to say it reminds me of Sydney Nolan’s representations of Australian landscape, but it does, and you half expect a tiny black Ned Kelly figure about it somewhere. There is a kind of Ayers Rock outcrop behind, and spindly trees in foreground and rich clay pinks, a falling sky behind, all at £6,750.

Pink Outback by Idris Murphy

Pink Outback

Paul Martin’s work is upstairs. He’s been a popular figurative artist in Edinburgh, with shows at the Fine Art Society, but has moved into abstractions; the paintings incorporate natural materials from the landscapes they explore.

My best (lower end) buy would be Sedimentary (£1.200) with its mix of pattern and abstract; almost Aboriginal, with white lettering superimposed.

Sedimentary by Paul Martin

Sedimentary

Passover (£1,200) hinted at the red marks for the Death Angel while Ancient Forest (£1,200) has impressions of blackened tree stumps, lichen growths, enhanced with splashes of blue.

But the piece de resistance is Remembering Lot’s Wife, with 3 panels, at £15,000 in acrylic, gesso, sand, sawdust, found objects, gold leaf and ink on board.

Paul Martin, Edgelands, Warburton Gallery

Remembering Lot’s Wife. Triptych, acrylic, gesso, sand, sawdust, found objects, gold leaf and ink on board. £15,000

It’s richness is hard to reproduce here; it has a texture of battered soil like some World War One battlefield in Gallipoli or Mesopotamia; this time the hieroglyphics are blue, with splashes of black, and the whole has Pollock- like power. Craters of white, the line of a road, outlines of buildings – it could be the torn soil of a World War One battlefield seen from a Sopwith Camel.

Murphy has sold four paintings out of this exhibition, Martin three, not quite a windfall but foreign visitors have been among the buyers.

Murphy and Martin first met at age 22, in London, and met again in Perth, Australia, more than 40 years later, after long careers teaching and painting. Warburton says he doesn’t do “curatorial speak”; but in an excellent exhibition proposal, he notes how Murphy “is drawn back time and again to the Australian bush and desert, a landscape drenched in colour and heat”, while Martin’s works mark and map the Scottish shoreline, “the vigour of rock and cloud, of sand signs and seawrack.” Both are sensitive to what Martin calls “the gritty sacredness of places and things”.

Murphy has been exhibiting in Australia since the early 1970s; he is a former head of drawing at the National Art School in Sydney. His current project – about which I will hope to write soon – is a series of exhibitions combining leading Australian artists titled My Friend the Enemy, commemorating the centenary of the Galpolli landings. Paul Martin grew up as a student with the abstract expressionism of the late 1960s; he has work in the Royal Academy, and at the BBC.

It’s a surprise, walking in off the street, to find the introduction to the exhibition by the leading Australian novelist Tim WInton; it’s a mark of the show’s quality, as hidden gem, for all it’s location.

Winton writes about coastal Edgelands, of walking a beach and experiencing “the ephemeral stipples and scratches in the land”. Martin and Murphy, he says, “are two painters who’ve learned to look at natural forms so keenly and humbly that theirs has become, each in its own way, and in separate hemispheres, a listening gaze”.

The sound installation much enhances the effect. Paul Martin produced it with his son Ben, with recordings of guitars, bone flutes, altered mandolins, tied into the harmonics of the building.

Edgelands is now extended until February 1st. The new exhibition, by the Viennese painter, filmmaker and installation artist, Daniel Domig, runs from February 20th – April 19th.

The Warburton Gallery hours are Wed – Sun, 10.30 – 5.30pm. The Gallery Cafe is open 7 days a week, 10.30 – 5.30pm

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