By Matty Smith
Despite a blurb claming that Cairncross and Fitzgerald’s exhibition “explores the process of photorealistic drawing”, these works could not be mistaken for photographs. The artists seem to realise, declaring simultaneously, “It is the highly unpronounced shifts from the original visual information which create the drawings’ sense of awe.” These are very good renderings, I doubt many viewers could be left without some sense of awe, but the term “photorealistic” seems like a misnomer. The works span a small range of impressionistic styles, incorporating especially pointillism, alongside various hatching and stippling that is visible for what it is – pencil work. The artists, sensibly, show no interest in merely emulating photographs, and the drawings, although painstakingly realist, incorporate mark-making that no photography could replicate. In some of Cairncross’s works – the bushier backdrops in his scenes – this pointillism is reminiscent of Rei Hamon’s. Both artists presented accomplished and reasonably conservative explorations in pencil, alongside some less successful attempts to incorporate other media, with Fitzgerald depicting broken down buildings, and Cairncross turning his attention to (mostly) dilapidated machines.
The combination of the nostalgic subject matter with this unfashionably traditional use of media managed to be, for me, refreshing. I find it rare today to come across art that speaks its mind as plainly and eloquently as the best literature does, and while the themes of the works were romantic and perhaps unambitious, I could not help welcoming the unpretentious clarity overall.
Both Cairncross and Fitzgerald are trained as architects. Art is, for them, a passion rather than a profession, and this was their first exhibit. The drawback here is that the exhibition lacked a sensitivity about how to disseminate the works in Thistle Hall’s often awkward little space. A notable flaw was that the pair included a handful of significantly weaker works which departed from the other works’ tone and style. One of these was a skillful, but ultimately commercial-like rendering of a sports car. Another was a painting, the only full colour piece in the exhibition, tucked awkwardly on a skant, dark piece of wall at the back of the gallery. It is not the first time I have seen this part of Thistle Hall used to house a weaker work that a more parsimonious exhibitor would leave out entirely, and a reminder that good presentation can be as much about what you choose not to show as what you do.
Photo credit: Thistle Hall