GEORGINA COBURN feels the artist’s work has entered a brilliant new phase

THIS is a landmark solo exhibition by one of Scotland’s foremost landscape artists. Allan Macdonald has wholly succeeded in presenting a definitive and powerful visual statement, infused with a new vibrancy of palette and an undeniable sense of life felt in every single brushstroke.  The quality of work throughout the exhibition is consistently impressive and intensely dynamic; the artist has clearly focused all his energies and honing of skills in the creation of an extraordinary body of work. The exhibition represents a significant milestone in the artist’s evolution, transcending the genre of landscape painting. Characteristically the element of light in MacDonald’s work has a devotional quality which actively informs our reading of the work. Rather than contributing simply to our optical or physical appreciation of a scene, the artist illuminates the human condition in his interpretation of landscape. While this symbolic association with light has always been present in the artist’s work, representing a meeting between the natural environment and a human heart and mind to perceive it, here a new level of poetic eloquence has been achieved. Whilst there are echoes of McTaggart, Turner and Van Gogh in this body of work, the statement is uniquely MacDonald’s own. 

In a work such as Waters Bound in Thick Clouds, Oldshoremore(Oil on canvas), a blaze of light reflected in the water and a defiant patch of cerulean blue resonate from within the turbulence of the image. MacDonald’s work consistently celebrates both light and darkness in full knowledge of each other, not just as pictorial devices for description, but as elements of emotional and psychological gravity. In Grass Withers Flowers Fade, Belladrum, MacDonald’s leitmotif – an essential patch of aspirational blue in a high corner of the image – allows us to feel that the purple storm clouds over the field of vibrant green will pass. We see in the two circular formations of flowers, one in bloom, the other in a state of decline, a cyclical image in nature alluding to our own mortality. This human presence in the work is also manifest in an image of still life, Golden Years and The Shadow. Here in contrast to the landscape work where light is the primary agent informing our reading, the relationship is inverted in a domestic, man-made environment. Upon a chair, flowers brightly overflow beyond the borders of the top part of the composition, while behind and upon fresh green grass a figurative shadow cast by the empty seat emerges.  The vibrancy of the flowers carries equal weight with a shadow that is ever present, yet does not dominate the image. Death is as essential to life as it is to the concept of resurrection, and within this truth communicated by MacDonald’s art, painting is an essential act of renewal. In this body of work we feel life triumph, in spite of personal loss. 

In At the Going Down Of the Sun (Oil on Canvas) Macdonald returns to the familiar subject of a grove of birch trees but with a new sensibility and vitality. A composition dominated by cool blue, the image is tempered with a band of warm cadmium yellow; ever present light and intensity of hue contributing to the expressive qualities of the image. As in Suilven (Oil on Canvas), the rhythm of brushwork in sweeping diagonals and colour relationships feel like a joyous dance of life. Pale Moon of the Seasons (Oil on Canvas) is an exceptional example of compositional balance in the frenzied movement of the dominant sky and sophisticated relationships between colour and mark. All elements are equal in this work. Smaller and more abstract compositions such as Embers Melvich (Oil on board) andA Cloud That Passes (Oil on Canvas) are equally potent examples of the equality and consistency of technique and ideas throughout MacDonald’s work. The presence of portraiture in the exhibition also informs our appreciation of land and seascape, rendered with the same degree of sensitivity and insight. The interior psychological nature of works such as Sally or Dad Patron of the Arts, where the face fills the entire frame, demonstrate MacDonald’s ability to convey human vulnerability and strength. 

To see such a distinctive visual signature emerge so resoundingly as a direct result of creative process, especially within a genre dominated by market demands, is a pleasure, a privilege and a rarity. Beautifully presented both in the gallery space and in the catalogue publication, Until The Day Break heralds a brilliant new phase in Allan MacDonald’s oeuvre. The passion, commitment and skill of the artist are clearly visible and resonant throughout this exceptional show. 

© Georgina Coburn, 2010