Monday, 20 June 2011

New Works from Margaretann Bennett

Some brand new Margaretann Bennett paintings arrived hot off the press into the gallery yesterday. The first one has already been snapped up but there are still four available, so if you would like to own a piece from this award winning Scottish artist you had better move fast! 

A graduate of Glasgow School of Art in 1991, Margaretann has gone on to show all over the UK, including the RSA annual exhibitions and is a regular exhibitor with

Margaretann was also recently featured on the front cover of the Scotland on Sunday's Home supplement.

There’s a ‘curiouser and curiouser’ quality to Margaretann Bennett’s top floor apartment on the south side of Glasgow, as the artist is an avid collector of precious curiosities which often make an appearance in her paintings

“Alice is a timeless character that people can relate to through the generations,” explains Margaretann. “I think of her as an independent girl from a modern day sub-culture who thinks outside the box and is not afraid to speak her mind.”

As a child growing up in Bothwell, Margaretann’s adventures took place in her drawings where she constantly created her own fantasy world. Her parents had met at the Glasgow School of Art, where their talented daughter went on to study in the late 1980s.

Margaretann has won many awards, including the Armour Award and the Inverarity One to One Travel Award, both from the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts. Her paintings are held in the public collections of St Andrews Hospital, Fife and Princess Margaret Rose Hospital, Edinburgh.

For the past 10 years, Margaretann has worked from her home studio in the two-bedroom flat she shares with her partner Richard Davies, who is also an artist.
Margaretann describes the flat as an eleventh hour buy, as she had been living in a town house divided into small flats which was almost like and artists’ collective.

“I decided to buy my own place when the opportunity of a small mortgage came along,” she recalls. “I only had sketchy details of this flat to go on, not even a picture, but it sounded like it would fit the bill. I viewed it on Wednesday and had to submit an offer two days later, so I had a couple of sleepless nights as there were a few people after it.

“When I moved in, there was only one bedroom, a living room and huge kitchen with a recess and large cupboard in middle. As I needed an extra space to for my studio, we knocked down the walls in the kitchen and turned it into a bedroom, and created a much smaller but well-appointed kitchen which freed up the original bedroom to become a studio.

“It took months as we also replaced the windows and put down oak flooring, as well as scraping away layers of woodchip paper from the 12ft high ceilings which involved a balancing act with a platform on a trestle table. By the end of the project, we trusted no one but ourselves to finish the work.”

While Margaretann admits that it took years to recover from the upheaval, she concedes that it was the worth the effort. The living room or Victorian parlour as Margaretann likes to call it, is a room where she can relax after a long day in her studio.

There’s room for a dining area, sofa and flat-screen TV, and a shabby chic French cabinet. As the room faces south-west, it’s warm in summer and benefits from the greenhouse effect in the winter. Come the evening, Margaretann likes to close the blinds to create the cosy psychological feeling of shutting the world out.

“One of the first things we did was to replace the little pine fireplace with plastic coal effect fire, with a white limestone surround and proper cast iron fireplace,” points out Margaretann. “We also customised the contemporary chandelier by adding clear and black crystal droplets which are actually Christmas decorations.

“We’ve painted the majority of rooms throughout the flat in Antique White, which provides a neutral backdrop for paintings and sculptures, but there’s not a lot of art work in here as it’s nice to come into a calm room after you’ve been working on something visual every day.”

One of Margaretann’s favourite pieces is a soft fabric sculpture by artist Paola McClure, which she describes as sitting in the corner like a winged goddess. Margaretann came across it while exhibiting at a gallery in Dundee. “When Paola walked in with it, I immediately thought, ‘I’ve got to have that’,” recalls Margaretann.

Another surreal touch is the spout of an old-fashioned teapot, a beachcombing find, which gives the impression that there is a teapot embedded in the wall. Displayed on the mantelpiece is Margaretann’s collection of bird skulls and wings which reflects her interest in ornithology.

“I love to sit on the big comfy chair next to the fire and look at books or marvel and be inspired by the many wonderful objects I have collected,” says the artist.
“Occasionally people come up to view work, and if we have friends round, this is where we will hang out.

“The hallway is an extension of the parlour as it houses my spooks cabinet which is full of apothecary bottles, feathers, an evil plush cat and teddy scares, to name but a few. They are a constant source of inspiration and I love re-arranging them. I think I would have made a good window dresser.”

Margaretann describes the kitchen as the one adult room in the house where everything is to hand. It is a compact space (8' x 10') with glossy black cabinetry from IKEA, oak work surfaces and polished granite floor tiles in white.

The studio, where Margaretann spends most of her days, has remained virtually untouched for the past 10 years, not that you would notice, as the majority of available space is covered with inspirational pieces or work in progress.

“It's a scraggy undecorated room with EAT PAINT grafittied on the semi-wood chip wall, but I know I couldn’t work in an artist studio set-up as I need solitude when I work, but I would like to make it more like a habitable room.”

As well as tangible objects and collectibles, Margaretann draws inspiration from her dreams. While the bedroom doubles as an office space and houses the computer, she insists on keeping part of it as a dedicated bedroom with ‘girly’ objects such as posh perfume bottles.

Most of the artist’s dreaming is done in the comfort of the cast iron bed. “Broadly speaking I'd say my inspiration comes from dreams and characters from friendships past, lost or still to come,” explains Margaretann. “In dreams, anything is possible.

“I often dream that I'm flying using my arms in a swimming motion to propel myself forward above the traffic and the buildings. In my dreams of Alice, she is more likely to be partying down in a crypt than down a rabbit hole.”

See more of Margaret’s works online at

2 St Stephen Place Stockbridge Edinburgh EH3 5AJ Tel: 0131 225 6257.

Margaretann's Favourite:
The Windeater by Keri Hulme

A collection of short stories from the Booker Prize winning author of The Bone People. I often take this book with me when I'm travelling as there's always something in there to match my mood. These are beautifully written short stories dealing with themes of loneliness and isolation, some haunting tales, with each reading like the seed of a novel.

Brothers Quay - The Short Films

These surreal films are fascinating visual feasts, thought provoking and a wonderful source of inspiration with their dark, dream like quality.

Holiday destination
Harris in the Outer Hebrides

For complete solitude, the wind in my hair and the sound of waves pounding on a desolated Atlantic beach. With many an old deserted croft visited, and feathers beach-combed, this place remains an ongoing influence in my work.

Polly Morgan

This London artist creates hauntingly beautiful sculptures from taxidermy animals in unexpected settings.

At the moment I'm enjoying listening to PJ Harvey's new album Let England Shake.
I've always followed her music and find comfort and inspiration in its themes of alienation and loneliness.

Way to relax
Sofa, blanket, feet up, cup of tea, chocolate, teddy bear and remote control!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Fragments of a Scottish Childhood

Joe O’Brien –Solo show at’s Bath Street Gallery 

There must be something in the water in Maryhill, given that the north Glasgow district’s artistic talent pool takes in Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz, actor Robert Carlyle and troubadour Donovan Leitch.

Now, in his new solo exhibition at’s Glasgow gallery, artist Joe O’Brien (49) shares his distinctive perspective on a typical tenement upbringing in Maryhill the 1960s.  Fragments of a Scottish Childhood runs from July 1 – 24, but far from painting his childhood in dark brushstrokes of misery and deprivation, O’Brien offers an unsentimental portrayal of an area that was changing before his eyes. 

"Leaving Fleeto Land"
In his painting Leaving Fleeto Land, there is an almost biblical grouping of women and children huddling together as their former homes are pulled down to make way for new development, echoing  the artist’s childhood home in South Woodside Road which was also demolished.

“When I was wee, what adults told me about things such as religion or education, or the idea of security through a steady job, seemed to be solid and of substance,” explains O’Brien, who was one of four brothers and the son of a railway worker. “My perspective has changed a lot, and these ideas it no longer seems to carry the same weight.”

O’Brien says that inspiration for the exhibition came in fragments, from dreams, memories and experience. The River Kelvin (he called it the Kelly) loomed large in his childhood, not only giving him a love of nature, but also sparking the young Joe’s imagination with visions of crocodiles in the Kelvin’s then murky waters.

“It was a sort of Peter Pan world for us, and in those days, there weren’t so many footbridges linking Maryhill across the Kelvin to the west end which we regarded as the ‘other side’. 

“It was a breath of fresh air skiting through Kelvingrove Park of a Sunday and into the art gallery. Even then, the textures, colours and narratives of the paintings gave me a feeling of awe, not that I knew anything about the technicalities at that time.

"Mr Boyle's Chemistry Lesson"
“Looking back, I realise the significance and power of imagination. I don’t think we use it enough, and there’s a danger of limiting ourselves by our circumstances, but I’ve always drawn and painted. I was the guy in my class at school that was known for being ‘good at art’. My mother was artistic and was always drawing, and that really engaged me; I had very supportive parents.”

On leaving school Joe worked in what he describes as a ‘patchwork of jobs’, but always sketching and painting in his free time. For a time he worked in the parks department as a labourer, but it was when he was working at the pool hall in the QM Union dishing out change to students, that a lecturer took an interest in his drawings, and suggested that it was time he became a proper artist.

“That one voice, confirmed what I’d always known inside – it was an epiphany,” recalls Joe. “It also coincided with uncertainty in the job and I decided to try it. I ended up disappearing into the east end of the city, and hired a prison cell in a former jail in the Calton district.

“I spent the next five years living and working there in complete isolation, not even my close family knew what I was doing. In retrospect, if my family had seen where I was living they would have been concerned, but I was having a great time, paring things down and having time to develop and be creative. I wasn’t afraid, in fact a life spent unfulfilled would have been far more scary.”

During the five years working in his ‘cell’, Joe’s work progressed from small landscapes to more surrealistic and figurative pieces. When he emerged from his creative cocoon, Joe took his work to a couple of galleries and it wasn’t long before he was earning a living as a fully-fledged artist.

Joe recalls that when his first painting was sold, he felt like shouting it from the rooftops. Although discrete about who buys his work, Joe says he rarely meets the buyers or the sellers, although he has heard it said that actors Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor are admirers.

Things have come full circle now that Joe is once again living in his native Maryhill, while working from a WASPs studio in Denistoun. He is emphatic that these recent paintings are not a sepia coloured view of his childhood, but rather they stem from a time when he used his imagination to reinvent his surroundings
“It feels as if the River Kelvin has been coursing through my life,” concludes Joe. 

View more of Joe's work HERE

Exhibition Preview Night: Thursday 30th June, 6.00pm-8.00pm

Exhibition run: 1st July - 24th July

Artist talk/coffee morning, Saturday 2nd July 11.30am to 1.30pm, (with artist talk at 12pm) sponsored by Coffee Chocolate and Tea of Glasgow, an artisan shop on Argyle Street who roast their own coffee beans/make their own chocolate etc.

For further information & images, or to arrange an interview with Joe contact Heather MacLeod on 07891144157 or
Glasgow Gallery
193 Bath Street
Glasgow G2 4HU    Tel: 0141 221 4502
Opening Hours:
Tues – Fri 10.30am - 5.30pm
Saturday 11am – 5.00pm
Sunday  12 – 5pm
(Closed Mondays)>