REVIEW – The Absinthe Diaries by Davy Macdonald, Dundas St Gallery

The Absinthe Diaries is the latest solo exhibition from Edinburgh-based artist Davy Macdonald, being held at the Dundas St Gallery until 23 November.

The Absinthe Diaries by Davy Macdonald

The Absinthe Diaries by Davy Macdonald

A figurative artist fascinated by the female form, one half of Macdonald’s new body of work is a series of portraits of a woman featuring the ‘Green Fairy’ – absinthe, the drink favoured by some of the artists Macdonald is inspired by. Taking Manet’s “Bar At The Folies Bergeres” as an initial reference point, the series is a natural progression from his previous ‘Champagne Club’ works. Using the surroundings of the Ship Inn in Leith, Macdonald makes effective use of light and form to present a beguiling series of portraits with – like the drink itself – a decadent and ambiguous mood.

The Herring Lassies by Davy Macdonald

The Herring Lassies by Davy Macdonald

The remainder of the exhibition is made up of a collection of his other recent work. Macdonald has a fascination with mythology and symbolism, which is represented by a pair of pieces in his ‘Athena’ series. Dramatically lit with striking compositions, these paintings are based on studies from local theatre productions and evoke a sense of devotional mystery and magic. Most striking of all is the large-scale ‘Mermaids’, full of sweeping lines and curves as it depicts a group of the fabled creatures basking on rocks, the landscape of Arran in the background.

However, Macdonald’s next series will be based on historical reality. ‘The Herring Lassies’ will focus on a trio of the Scots women who accompanied the fleets as they followed the fish around the UK from the mid 19th century. Fascinated by their lives and backgrounds, Macdonald hopes to portray their camaraderie and happiness as well as their toil. One study from this series is on display: a Sargent-like portrayal of a ‘lassie’ in the midst of her work. The background is a blurred stripe of muted colours with a palette which suggests the cold of the sea; the figure of the woman is starkly-lit, almost two-dimensional, bringing a graphical effectiveness to the whole work.

It will be interesting to watch how this series develops as Macdonald continues to develop his style and persue his many muses. With his latest body of work, he demonstrates a strong ability to not only capture the female form and expression, but also shows a balance of the commercial and interpretative which see his paintings appeal on several levels.

The Absinthe Diaries runs at the Dundas St Gallery untl 23 Nov. The opening is on 19 Nov from 6-9pm.

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