At first, any link between the works on display at Axolotl’s Spring Exhibition is hard to discern.
After closer inspection however, themes begin to emerge. Emotional detatchment, symbolic juxtaposition and feminine power link the work of the four main artists featured at this, Axolotl’s excellently-curated second show.
None of the subjects at the Spring Exhibition look you in the eye. Instead, the models of Michael Wildman’s powerfully symbolic monochrome photographs gaze into the distance; the subjects of Jilloc’s colourful Fauvist oils glance at unseen pursuers; and the sitters for Steven Hendry’s stark and brutal paintings look away, appearing to be afraid to meet your eyes. Even the objects of Sarah Wilson’s unique and mesmerising resin casts interact mostly with each other, rather than with the observer.
Wildman’s ‘In The Day of Cold Light’ series is inspired by Rodin’s ‘Crouching Woman’. Each work features a nude female recreating the pose of the sculpture, placed in an outdoor setting. The subjects take on the guise of timeless, mythical creatures; their feminine power & mystery leaps from the giclee prints, each of which is accompanied by a handwritten letter from the model revealing their thoughts & feelings about being portrayed.
Most striking of these is ‘Sam’, a large-scale print of the Edinburgh skyline taken from a high vantage point in Leith. Perched atop a crenellated tower, a naked figure crouches, succubus-like and dwarfed by the scale of her surroundings. The city provides a sweeping and dramatic backdrop to her intent, the tonal qualities of the exposure hinting at some otherworldly menace.Hendry’s Baconesque oils present a starker view of humanity and of society. His subjects, mostly nude, cradle guns fetishistically, and take on dejected poses of despair and defeat. Although the symbolism is not subtle, its power is nevertheless strong; the execution is equally effective, with stark shadow and harsh light used to create some grotesque and at times disturbing images.
Works such as the Banksy-ish ‘Defeated Heart’ – a strong composition featuring a faceless, hooded youth holding a gun to an inflatable globe held in their outstretched hand – confront then mock our fears of terrorism and perception of society’s decline, and Hendry’s pieces have a vicious impact that is hard to ignore.Jilloc’s strong colours and graphical compositions are equally bold: here – unlike the previous two artists – emotion ripples closer to the surface of the canvases.
‘After the Kiss’ is the most erotically-charged piece on display, inspired by Polish art deco artist Lempicka. In it, two lipstick-smudged female figures exchange deep looks of guilty pleasure and desire in this arresting and striking work. Next to them, the red and white balanced subject of ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’, hounded by unknown assailants, is frozen in perpetual flight.
‘Psychotropic Dream Girl’ has a similar pose and composition, although the colours and execution hint at a darker, more mysterious tone. The subject here takes on almost anthropomorphic qualities, her dark skin and painted-out mouth bringing to mind paganistic rituals which the blood-red background seems to emphasise.After the figurative work of the other three artists, Sarah Wilson’s ‘Transferable Memories’ is more narrative and introspective. Fossils of the future, the majority of her works are small resin casts containing an assortment of juxtaposed objects: three dimensional collages with titles like ‘Betty’s First Piercing’ and ‘Life’s A Lottery’.
Each piece has a multitiude of interpretations: the first best known to Wilson herself, as each assemblage undoubtedly has personal resonance. Other meanings are left up to the viewer, who is encouraged by the ephemera and titles to piece together the fragments into a tale of their own.
One of Wilson’s most personal pieces is ‘ALIENI IURIS’, a memento mori dedication to her late adoptive parents. It features a worn dressing table, the title of the piece – a legal term translating as ‘under the control of another’ – engraved upon its mottled mirror. A letter sits on the table’s surface, a poem written by the artist in homage to her father. A faded photograph of her mother is glued to the left of it and the top drawer is open, revealing a scattering of handmade resin buttons, one for each year of her late mother’s life. Deeply touching and laden with personal symbolism, it is a standout piece of Wilson’s poignant collection.
The Spring Exhibition at Axolotl also features several works by artists from their previous show, as well as pieces from forthcoming exhibitors, with a rewarding range of styles and media that encourage the visitor to linger and contemplate.
With its fresh, challenging and vibrant approach, after just two shows the gallery is firmly cementing its place as an unmissable stopping point on Edinburgh’s art circuit.
The Spring Exhibition at Axolotl Gallery runs until the end of April.