Successful artists immerse themselves in their art. It’s the only way. Helen Glassford happens to be a successful artist while also balancing a parallel career as founding director and curator of Tatha Gallery in Newport on Tay. In its five years the Tatha (Gaelic for Tay) has been making waves by presenting a host of high quality exhibitions. Artists they have shown include Norman Gilbert, Marian Leven and Will Maclean, Frances Walker, Kate Downie, Ronnie Forbes and Richard Demarco, Calum McClure and Ruth Nicol. With co-director Lindsay Bennett, Glassford has displayed a mix of steadfast integrity and quiet determination to introduce the work of existing and emerging talent to new audiences. In the last year, Glassford has juggled her day job with creating a new body of work, travelling in all seasons and in all weathers to some of the most secluded parts of Scotland and immersing herself in the changing weather patterns. There are 45 oil paintings in Immerse; all inspired by the fascination Glassford has with laying down in paint a feeling for the many unpredictable moods of the Scottish landscape. Planting herself on deserted beaches or rocky outcrops, sketchbook in hand, she quickly makes marks in situ, recording and noting the feel of the weather and the sense of the place. Human insignificance in the face of nature is writ large in these works, which blur sea, sky and land to the point of abstraction. It’s nature, but not as any camera would record it. As art historian Tom Normand writes in the book that accompanies this exhibition, Glassford is “recognising the landscape as a pristine experience” and, in the process of creating Immerse has created a body of work which is “endlessly mysterious”
There is a famous romantic myth surrounding the artist JMW Turner who claimed, in 1842, to have lashed himself to a ship’s mast in a storm to more fully experience and capture the very essence of nature at its most extreme. The contemporary painter Helen Glassford cites Turner (the show’s title is one such clue) among her artistic progenitors.
Some of these are referenced explicitly: one oil is titled By the Sea (Minus the Monk, after Friedrich), which recalls the great German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich and his work, Monk by the Sea, completed in 1810. Although Glassford’s painting is much smaller than the Friedrich its colours, tonal qualities, energy and subject matter all point to her distant predecessor, with one exception: like all her paintings By the Sea is utterly devoid of human presence. Conceived in isolation, like many here, in the more remote parts of Scotland, Glassford’s work also points to another literary and artistic concept, that of the sublime, in which the seemingly ordinary is elevated to a position of special significance.
However, these are not images of or about landscape or seascape where specific location and topography is a key element; they are, rather, about the feeling the landscape generates in the artist, which is then reflected back to the viewer.
Glassford describes her work as “a balancing act of memory and emotion” but says that “to romanticise the landscape, would be an injustice”. These are powerful works, full of heartfelt passion, craft, skill and integrity.
Review of Immerse
Solo Exhibition at Tatha Gallery
Helen Glassford’s Immerse at the Tatha Gallery is an exhibition of over forty-five oil paintings that the artist has been working on for over a year, inspired by the fascination she has with the sensory experience of the landscape; the forces at play (both physical and psychological); and the wild and unpredictable personalities of nature. What we see here are what some might consider ‘the empty places’ – deserted beaches and rocky outcrops on the periphery of the Far Northern reaches of Scotland.
As reported in Issue no.2 of Art North magazine, the love and passion for being out there in the wildness of a landscape such as that which Glassford frequents as a painter was first kindled when walking in the Lake District hills as a child. Vivid memories of the smell of the air, the light on the mountains, and the sense of solitude that it evoked, all remain with her today and are as much the subject of her art as the landscape itself that she paints.
When in 1995 she moved to the East Coast of Scotland to study at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, it was the lure of the light and the easy escape routes to the hills and beaches that understandably were the draw, and as a consequence she made her home here, now living and working in Newport on Tay, where she established the Tatha Gallery – a space that has done much to advance the careers of artists of all ages and revitalise the art scene across the water from Dundee.
As I wrote myself, in the pages of Art North, “being ever aware of the transient nature of life that the landscape she is most drawn to evokes may be one thing, but what is it like to be an artist who is also Director of one of the most respected galleries in the region?” Now showing her own work at the Tatha Gallery, are there “any dilemmas, as if crossing an line should she do so?”
My conclusion was, and remains, that she has certainly earned the privilege of presenting her work to a wide audience in her own gallery, as she does now, and it is not before time. It’s not as though she has thrust herself at collectors by utilising the space for self-promotion, as anyone who knows Helen will agree: In fact, she has gone out of her way to put together an inspired exhibition schedule over recent years, promoting artists either senior in stature or new to the market.
There is something rather special in fact, in knowing that the artist is a person who, in presenting her own work to the public, knows intimately herself the hard-won struggle to bring such work to fruition, and all that goes with making the transition from easel to gallery wall as an exhibition nears. Of the work itself, Helen has written of her journeys to soak in the landscape:
Getting to know the landscape is a mysterious hunt and will perhaps always remain elusive. Yet it is as perplexing and as intangible as any other relationship. The dark hills forbid yet entice. The thin light on the water is fragile and uplifting. Softening light at the end of the day unifies landscapes to a single texture and quilts its harder edges. It is the fascination for these transient beauties of the landscape and the weather it wears that will forever inspire me.
Without a doubt, the art that Helen Glassford excavates in her search for the illusive qualities of the Scottish landscape that is her inspiration is every bit as eloquent as her writing on her own art. I therefore encourage anybody with an interest in contemporary landscape painting, or those who are willing to extend their interest to include such a powerful body of work, to be sure of adding the Tatha Gallery to their itineraries over the coming weeks, and be sure to give time to take in Glassford’s Immerse.
Art North 2019
In anticipation of Immerse
This text can be seen on the Art North Website
Ronald Forbes RSA
Review: Into the Wild (Exhibition)
The Meffan, Forfar
This is Helen Glassford’s third solo exhibition and a major statement from an artist who has distinguished herself from her student days in Dundee in the late 90s to the present day. In 1998 she won the Philipson Medal for Painting at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Highland Spring Purchase Prize, and the Cuthbert New Young Artist award at the Royal Glasgow Institute, where in 1999 she also won the Armour Award. In 2007 she was a runner up in the Jolomo Landscape Painting Awards.
The title of the exhibition, Into the Wild is appropriate because we are led to inaccessible places that only the physically fit and adventurous of spirit can reach. In addition, there is also an unusual generosity in Helen Glassford’s paintings, because she is happy to share with us her intense sensations and personal observations rather than merely depicting visual detail. This is not ordnance survey topography, or postcard depiction: this is a search for the sublime. She experiences the moors and mountains of northern Scotland not only through walking, but also from rock-climbing in summer and ice-climbing in winter. Her experience of the sublime goes from awe and wonder at the beauty of her surroundings to the fear of the danger that is ever present when one grapples physically with the substance of our wild landscape.
She re-lives and re-creates her experience in her creative process in the studio. These works do not usually depict an actual place or a specific viewpoint, but rather they attempt to create a universal truth, synthesised from the range of sensations that she has experienced. The ever-changing weather patterns and light conditions that the Scottish highlands offer are used to explore a painterly equivalent of the terrain and the sky. The paintings have gestural swirls of paint, from washes to dry scumbles that appear totally abstract when the viewer is very close to the work. Further back, hints of details of mountain, corrie or loch key up the image and provide a resolved totality that we feel that we recognise, and may even claim to know intimately, even though it is an image born in the studio. The titles often give a clue to this poetry of sensation – Waiting for Clarity, Luminous to the Last, Crisp.
Helen Glassford handles the sensation of weather and light that not only inspires vigorous, painterly art-works, but also allows her to celebrate her sensitivity to colour, and her acute observations of it. Her palette does not provide Mediterranean garish heat: here we have a range of greys that move from cool blues to soft pinks and purples. There are slashes and patches of richer blues and russets that convey a hint of water or moorland scrub that smoulder richly, rather than burn brightly. They perfectly measure the richness of visual experience we have in lower light conditions where the chromatic intensity of colour is perceived to be greater than would be the case in bright sunlight. Getting this right gives the paintings tremendous authority.
There are forty paintings in this exhibition. A handful are very big, the majority are about 60x80centimetres, and some, including a block of nine, are quite small. While each has its place here, and contributes to the overall experience of the ensemble, some of the smallest works carry the greatest power. There is an almost casual directness in these that carries great punch. With amazing economy the artist reveals for us these hidden places, and offers aesthetic joy, as a confident fast brushstroke of rich colour sweeps across a crunchy melody of soft greys.
In this exhibition Helen Glassford has produced a body of work that is observant, creative and mature, and offers discovery and pleasure for those who allow themselves to be taken on her journeys Into the Wild.
Helen Glassford walks and climbs in the Scottish hills, no doubt seeking the same things sought by others before her. That she shares a commonality of experience with all who yearn for that moor-and-mountain solitude, or a sense of the sublime, is undeniable, but her desire to translate something of her wanderings into paint less common, and her chosen language rarer still.
She finds no satisfaction in attempting to portray a singular viewpoint, aware that the mind’s eye does not settle easily that way, preferring instead to try to convey something of the things she saw and how they made her feel, in a manner that accepts the fleeting fluidity of perception. It is as if she wants to distil the journey, so that drip by drip, brushstroke by brushstroke, the jumble of sensory impressions that a day in the wilderness so gently imprints on the psyche, is sorted and catalogued into layers of oil and pigment. In some works the shape of the land is evident, in some less so, and in others almost not there at all, almost as if it was not seen or fully remembered, or even discarded as not relevant. In some, colour is naturalistic, while in others the viewer might be confounded by a block of blue, a slash of indigo, a zig-zag of green, or a swathe of golden ochre, hinting at a sensation more keenly laid down.
These things are not simply bravura gesture or visual punctuation, but snippets of evidence – stuttering, imperfect glimpses and traces of something felt viscerally, but already fading in the memory. Paint is applied and removed, assessed and re-assessed, images emerging out of the murk of imperfect recall. What is left is quiddity, essence, something to be recognised as verity, or as close as it is possible to get, and the artist moves on, to the next thing.
Exhibition Review: Kilmorack Gallery, Kilmorack
A graduate of Duncan Of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, Helen Glassford’s exploration of landscape is at its best and most potent when transcending the literal. Though works such as After The Burning and Rannoch Moor, November, are well-painted atmospheric evocations of landscape, it is in works such as Blackened Heather and First Flurries (Both Oil on Board) that she really comes into her own.
Here subtle variations of the palette, understanding of form and composition and handling of paint are acutely balanced. She distills the experience of the physical landscape into tangible poetic abstraction, creating an image which allows us not just to see but to feel unique qualities of location. These are images for the eye and mind to wander into rather than the two dimensional presentation of a particular view.
In Blackened Heather the strong compositional formality of the ashen foreground is complimented by sweeping ethereal under-painting, orange emerging through soft sage green. The sensitivity of the artist’s palette is further extended in First Flurries, matched by variation of brush marks. The purple darkened sky offset by hues of green, blue and pink are richly animated by gestural marks, fine areas of decalcomania and sweepingly curved drawn lines. A smaller work, A Little Piece of Paradise, is aptly named, a vision of green and vivid turquoise with strong blocks of colour dominating the composition.
Jan Patience on Helen Glassford
As a painter, Helen Glassford brings a softness to her work, which nudges its way into the visual memory of the beholder. Her abstract landscapes reveal a deft touch and are in possession of a lilting approach to colour and tone. Everything in its place and a place for everything.
As a newish gallery owner and curator of her own space in Newport on Tay Glassford brings the same gentle yet deft approach to showing art. Her latest exhibition in the Tatha Gallery, a former hotel perched on the banks of the river Tay, is called the Newport Circle. As the name suggests, it takes on the virtuous circle of 11 artists with a link to each other and to this small Fife town which faces directly onto the city of Dundee.
All of the artists have left their mark on Glassford and a generation of other artists, many of whom - like Glassford - attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) at the tail end of the 20th Century. The artists in her circle are Joyce Cairns, Grant Clifford, Doug Cocker, Richard Demarco, Ronnie Forbes, Marion Leven, Will Maclean, Dawson Murray, Alan Robb, Frances walker and Artur Watson. Not all were Glassford’s tutors, but all had a connection to Dundee and the surrounding East Coast and have contributed to what Glassford calls the “energy and vision” currently transforming the city.
“There is no razzmatazz within this group’, says Glassford. ‘No need for constant admiration and acclaim . Their practice is rooted in distant history and culture, I think of them as the the hidden circle of European Art, like the stone circle of Easter Aquhorthies in the North East of Scotland.
A gifted painter, who was runner up in the prestigious Jolomo landscape award eight years ago, Glassford is not exhibiting in this show. She is there however in the circle, as a curatorial presence. She arrived in Dundee in 1995 to study at DJCAD. After gaining an initial degree in fine art, she went on to study a masters degree and never left. Her experience of being taught by artist such as Forbes, Robb, Maclean and Watson left an indelible mark on the way she approached art – and life.
I came to Dundee from Carlisle, she explains and went into second year having already studies for a year at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. It was a great period in the college’s history with Alan Robb at helm in the school of Fine Art and I met all these influential artists. There was real thoroughness and depth of context on offer. The technical help was there and the support network was immense.
Having been a self employed artist of 15 years, Glassford wanted to find out more about the business of art and to share the fact that there were so many talented artists living in the immediate vicinity. This led her to setting up the gallery, which celebrates its first anniversary as this new exhibition opens. Sitting directly across the firth of Tay from the nascent V and A building, as a hotel it served passengers who caught the ferry over from Dundee in the days there was no rail or road bridge to speed their journeys. It takes its name Tatha, from the Gaelic word for the river Tay, but it is also the Sanskrit word for “thusness”, or a sense of being.
On Edinburgh Art Fair
Among the highlights of this year’s art fair was the space reserved for Fife’s Tatha Gallery. A beautiful space right on the ocean in Newport-on-Tay, the gallery prides itself on its collection of both established and developing artists. Tatha’s ethos is making art more accessible and they accomplish this brilliantly with the art they have brought along to the Edinburgh Art Fair.
Showcasing fantastic work from Calum McClure, specialising in wonderfully bleak and beautifully lush prints and paintings of country estates, cemeteries and botanical gardens alongside brilliant mixed-medium pieces by David Cass, whose timeless renderings of ocean scenes and mountain tops caught our attention from across the fair.
Also on display was abstract acrylic works by Christopher Wood, continuing the nautical theme of the showcase, splashing colour across the walls. Alongside this are large works by Helen Glassford, co-founder of Tatha, whose large scale works appear both still and in motion and are utterly captivating.
Together, the artists on display created a distinctly peaceful atmosphere in a crowded fair and consequently the Tatha Gallery showcase was among the most memorable of the whole event. While the fair may be finished, we urge you to pay Tatha a visit by the Tay and experience the pieces for yourself.
Dundee based Helen Glassford is one of the young rising-stars of the Scottish art world. Landscapes are hard to paint; for they are too vast and too changeable to capture in a single composition of hill, sky and river. But Glassford gets under the surface of it and captures the deeper more abstract qualities of a place. Her work is just as much about paint and energy that lets her do this as it is about the landscape.
...Helen Glassford's small abstract oil 'The Sea and Me', a vital stroke of vibrant blue against a deep black ground. Maybe it's an autobiographical fragment which speaks about despair and ultimately its transcendence...
Painting the Nation: ArtScotland
Helen Glassford paints in a soft palette of earthy colours, sweeping brush strokes giving the viewer a sense of space of the vast mountains of Scotland she climbs and paints. Helen's abstract work captures the ever changing atmosphere and weather which creates a constant shift in the light of the landscape of Scotland.