In this new body of work, Andrew Mackenzie confronts heterogeneous notions concerning the history of art, aesthetics, and man’s relationship to his natural environment. He mixes deliberate references to both classical landscape painting and modernist painting and architecture; whilst considering non romantic functional urban sites, his work simultaneously alludes to an aesthetic which indulges our romantic notions of wilderness. He brings to the fore the modernist idea of the physicality of the painted surface through the layering of car parks, quarries, reservoirs, trees, stone and gravel.

Inspired by his native Scotland, Mackenzie’s paintings show the man made and the natural world irrevocably entangled; we see plants and trees reclaim quarry sites and witness the sinuous lines of branches in conflict with the hard straight lines of skeletal modernist structures. His work visually questions whether it is now possible to draw the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘construct’ or indeed if it ever has been.

Mackenzie also investigates painting as an object of process by leaving the trace of each moment of this process visible in some form on the surface. Moreover, he emphasises the traditional painterly construction of illusionistic depth through perspective by layering diagrammatic drawings of structures, whilst conversely disregarding this illusion of depth as trees unconventionally float unanchored over other trees.

In Mackenzie’s paintings we feel a collision of temporalities – they are a backward glance at the artifice of functional architecture, nature and landscape, painting and representation. They are however also visions of the ghosts of possible futures; the premonition of an ever present power struggle, or otherwise the hope for an ideology of compromise between the man made and the natural.


Andrew Mackenzie
Oil on panel

Mackenzie’s starting point for these paintings is the notion of “overlapping relationships between landscape, the urban environment and nature”, using specific examples of nearby winter plane trees. The man-made city is seen entangled with the sinuous forms of the trees in a repeating rhythm of branching patterns.

He dissolves the interface between interior and exterior, bringing the outside in. The viewpoint is shifting and changing – it is not static or fixed, but is multiple. Trees float mysteriously over other trees, while layers of diagrammatic line drawing over these suggest depth and movement, but in a way which defies conventional reading, reinforcing the two-dimensional sense of surface. This creates a constant push and pull between surface and subject. The drawings sometimes suggest particular aspects of the street outside the glass, while others appear to be simply lines, depicting only themselves.

The artist builds up the subtly textured surface over many months, applying and removing paint repeatedly. All drawing, including preparatory, is created with paint directly onto the field of the painting, leaving behind ghostly – sometimes almost imperceptable – traces and echoes.

Andrew Mackenzie is a multi award winning Scottish artist, born in Banff, North East Scotland. He graduated with an MFA from Edinburgh College of Art in 1993, and has exhibited widely. Collection include: The Fleming Collection, Bank of Scotland, Bank of America, Mayer Brown, Royal Academy and Fidelity Investments.


The experience of the painter

It is the mountain itself which from out there makes itself seen by the painter; it is the mountain that he interrogates with his gaze. What exactly does he ask of it? To unveil the means, visible and not otherwise, by which it makes itself a mountain before our eyes. Light, lighting, shadows, reflections, colour, all the objects of his quest are not altogether real objects; like ghosts, they have only visual existence.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1961, pp 11-12)

Imagine a geographic expanse of land; picture the depressions of valleys and the crests of mountain tops. Glide gracefully over undulating hills and spin around an expanse of rock to gain a sense of its depth, its volume, its solidity, its immense weight.

Perhaps it is an obvious thing to point out, but these images are based upon our experience of representations of the landscape. It is important to remember that such images are derived from aerial photographs and computer generated imagery, stories and fantasies; they are based upon what you learnt in school about space; they reflect concepts that are proper to cartography but which are not derived from being in the landscape.

The distinction between images based on systems of representation and the actual experience of landscape is at the heart of Andrew’s work. But we must be clear – as Andrew is when speaking about his practice – that neither way of thinking about landscape is any more or less ‘real’ than the other. As Merleau-Ponty highlighted, as we walk, that distant mountain only reaches us through our sense of sight– it is always something of a spectre. And as we walk we do so in order to change where we are and therefore to change what we can see, so that the landscape is something that is constantly remade by us in our experience of it. As a painter, Andrew works to reveal the problems of trying to deal with experience visually, but also reminds himself through field trips he makes of what it feels like to touch objects and be amongst them.

A recurrent motif in Andrew’s work is the abstract geometric structure placed on top of an image of a landscape (And we have to say ‘on top of’ rather than ‘in front of’ because even though these geometric forms are unbroken by the landscape, we cannot really be sure that foreground and background conventions are in play). These abstract structures evoke modern ways of representing and building in space. And Tim Ingold, in his work dedicated to the history of lines, has highlighted at length the ideology embedded in straight lines:

The relentlessly dichotomising dialectic of modern thought has, at one time or another, associated straightness with mind as against matter, with rational thought as against sensory perception, with intellect as against intuition, with science as against traditional knowledge, with male as against female, with civilization as against primitiveness, and – on the most general level – with culture as against nature. (Ingold 2007, p152)

In the context of Andrew’s work, these straight lines are held in suspension against a landscape that they ultimately fail to contain. Waterfalls, those amorphous entities made from moving liquids, spill over edges and trees proffer a tangle of bifurcating branches, strewn like loose threads, in contempt of the flat surface of the picture plane. Andrew doesn’t allow the ideology of the straight line to exert control. They hover and float, and like many images derived from systems of representation have an abstract sense of permanence about them, but they do not delineate or section off.

The new silverpoint drawings on paper have the quality of afterimages left on the retina. Within them certain forms are simply hollows; where other forms are shadows. The white of the hollows becomes a kind of space into which our own afterimages might reveal themselves and where we might project imaginary forms. Shadows, as we know, are areas from which no light escapes, meaning that we also only see them in their absence. They speak of that uncertainty which is in attendance when we perceive the world, sense it by intuition, but cannot yet recognise and understand it.

Andrew’s practice taken as a whole is bound to a sense of duration, always looking forwards. When Andrew is out in the field, touching objects, writing, drawing and photographing, he has a sense of things to come. The fragments he gathers become elements that crowd the studio walls. The sketches, notes and photographs extract small structural forms that can be repeated, reused and recombined. And through this process Andrew tries to get back to experience, back to the sensations of being. Experience, which this process is woven through, has everything to do with our connection to a world that is still to be determined, still coming into being.

In the language of phenomenology, that branch of philosophy practiced by thinkers also trying to get back to experience, “The perceived thing is not an ideal unity in the possession of the intellect, like a geometrical notion, for example, it is rather a totality open to a horizon of an indefinite number of perspectival views which blend with one another according to a given style, which defines the object in question.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964, p.439) In other words, with Andrew’s work to guide us, in experience we understand any object or idea as something that we could encounter again from a different perspective. We cannot get at the ‘essence’ of landscape when we can possibly see it in different lights later on, in different weather conditions, different moods; when we can always discover new things about it. “The idea of going straight to the essence of things is an inconsistent idea if one thinks about it. What is given is a route, an experience which gradually clarifies itself, which gradually rectifies itself and proceeds by dialogue with itself and with others.” (Ibid, p443). Andrew’s works hold together in a way that allows us to move through categorically different layers, checking one against another, reminded of the process of their making and accumulation. It is in this way that following the life blood of those shadow-branches, we are passed between systems of representation, which then gently guide us back to lived experience.

Ingold, Tim (2007) Lines: A Brief History. London; Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, M (1961) Eye and Mind in Joseph D. Parry (ed.) (2011) Art and Phenomenology. London; Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, M (1964) The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays in Moran, Dermot and Timothy Mooney (2002) The Phenomenology Reader. London; Routledge.
Moran, Dermot and Timothy Mooney (2002) The Phenomenology Reader. London; Routledge.
James Clegg is a freelance writer and a curator at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh. His writing has regularly been published in Art Review, Art Monthly and The Drouth, whilst also featuring in artist books and catalogues. Working across academic and fiction genres, he has lectured for the University of Edinburgh and participated in performance art events.


In art we still have to go see the original object and discuss it with the artist. New technology does not know how to deal with the erotic element, with art that is spatial.1

In the age of post-mechanical reproduction, with such an explosion of visual material available on the internet and when even rooms in galleries can be visited online, is the desire to experience works of art first hand really necessary, or can we come to know them through reproduction alone? The way many of us experience an art work in front of us today is tied to our own physicality. In contrasting aesthetic qualities like scale, texture and form with that of our own, we come to understand better what is before us.

The diverse artists brought together for this exhibition all make art objects which consider the value of space, be it atmospheric drawn or painted perspective, or the exploration of constructed or deconstructed sculptural forms. They all combine an understanding of materials with the conceptual aspects of their practice so the two reinforce one another; seeing these art works in real space is not just an aesthetic experience but one in which it is possible to understand better the ideas which have informed their production.

In 1968, the Danish born artist Asger Jorn created a series of Modifications in which he defaced a collection of sentimental pastoral paintings by unknown artists with his own aggressive brushwork. This deconstructive act of undoing was an attitude of defiance, a response echoed by many of the artists in this exhibition. Bud Latven is an American sculptor who works predominantly with wood turning and his many influences include prehistoric Southwest Native American ceramics. His vessel forms are built up gradually from a complex series of angled wood segments and meticulously smoothed on a lathe. Latven then removes small sections away again, making them ‘symbolically destroyed.’ He explains this further: ‘Many historic and prehistoric cultures used pottery as reliquary items which were broken or ‘killed’ to release the spirits of the dead’.

If Latven’s open ended objects recall past superstitions, Andrew Mackenzie’s eerie paintings point towards futuristic landscapes void of spiritualism. In Turner’s landscapes a glowing aura invoked the power of God; here illumination suggests the unnatural glare of a television or computer screen. Complex networks of artificially lit trees are covered by geometric slashes in toxic bright colour; Like Jorn, Mackenzie debunks the myth of the perfect unspoilt landscape. Flat white bands and geometric lines create a tension between the surface of the painted object and the depth created by diffused layers of thin paint; this broken up approach recalls the Cubist approach to painting space as it is really perceived – not in single point, linear perspective but as a series of constantly shifting viewpoints.

Multiple perspective is pushed into a three dimensional realm in Dan Stafford’s complex ceramic sculptures; he creates composite objects by piecing together inconsistent angular forms which are decorated by patterns from generic modernist cityscapes. Computer technology allows Stafford to manipulate stencil designs digitally before applying them manually to his angled clay surfaces. His finished works often have a graphic, crisp quality not traditionally associated with ceramics. In the opening sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959)2 designed by Saul Bass, a New York building façade is reduced to an anonymous geometric surface, whilst the film portrays modern identity in a constant state of flux. The oblique angles and unsettling symmetry in Stafford’s sculptures reinforce this depiction of the post-industrial city not full of hope, but as a disorientating and emotionally detached place.

This desolation is also evident in Lesley Risby’s ceramic sculptures, which appear to be pieced together fragments from a lost world. T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land (1922),

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land.3

This contradiction between the living and the dead is explored in Risby’s ceramic sculptures which resemble skeletal, structural remains worn down by entropy. They are carefully constructed from nichrome wire which creates a robust armature to support delicate porcelain forms within. This wire also creates the visual effect of movement through space, as if their three dimensional lines are still in the process of being drawn. Risby relinquishes control of her final end products as the porcelain shrinks during firing.

Her monochrome colour scheme and semi-solid structure is echoed in my own drawings, in which complex forms appear to float in undefined space. The smaller works are a series in which deconstructed fragments are reconstructed in a variety of new ways to create monolithic forms; as a group they explore the infinite possibilities of repetition. Their ambiguity and carefully drawn, worn down surfaces suggest a corrosive process has taken place.

Oliver Barratt’s work appears on one hand to be more slick and robust, but this permanence belies the temporality of his subject matter; he attempts to grasp the esoteric traces left behind in space by the gestures of the body. He is the first to admit there may be a certain futility in this act, but calls his work a series of ‘carefully poised contradictions’ balancing solidity and fluidity, open and closed space, purpose and loss. Barratt finds more meaning in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943)4, which focus on the quiet, inevitable passing of time, recalling Heraclitus’ assertion that you can never step into the same river twice. For Barratt water in nature is one of the most apt visualisations of real time passing through space; it serves as a reminder that much of what surrounds us is fragile and will eventually fall victim to nature’s constantly eroding force.

Rosie Lesso is an artist and writer based in Scotland.

  1. Harald Szeemann, in Here Time Becomes Space: A Conversation with Harald Szeemann, by Carol Thea, Sculpture Magazine, International Sculpture Centre, Washington, June 2001, Vol. 20 No. 5
  2. Alfred Hitchcock, North by Northwest (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, 1959)
  3. T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems (Faber and Faber, 1995)
  4. T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, (Faber and Faber, 1998)


In the corner of a page of one of the hard-backed notebooks kept by Andrew Mackenzie while working on these paintings, there is a small scribbled sketch in black biro. It is of Dog Falls, a series of river-rapids that tumbles through the woods of Glen Affric in the central Highlands, on land currently owned by the Forestry Commission. The sketch is dense and dark, and would be hard to decipher were it not for two jotted captions. ‘Silverpoint waterfall’, reads one, set above a roiling flow of biro-lines. ‘Orange fence wrapped around’, reads the other, next to a snarl of cross-hatching. On the top of the next page comes a further note-to-self: ‘I find the waterfall genuinely awe-inspiring, but I am also excited by the orange plastic building-area fencing…the conflated “whole” experience – road overlaying waterfall overlaying toilet shed, courtesy of Forestry.’

This aesthetic conflation between the ‘awesomely’ natural and the ‘excitingly’ manmade is at the heart of Andrew’s new paintings. ‘Between’, in fact, is a word worth watching in his work: like all prepositions it is easily missed, but like all prepositions it undertakes powerful directive work. Silver Between The Falls is the title of this new show (recalling both Nan Shepherd and Neil Gunn), Between States was the title of Andrew’s second solo show in 1998. ‘Between’ preoccupies him intellectually – because he is interested in the lenses and frames that interpose themselves between us and what we might imagine as to be nature. And ‘between’ preoccupies him formally, because his paintings – arduously produced on birch ply by a series of applications and scourings – often possess a shimmering finish that, like the surface of water, both entices the depth-seeking onwards gaze and returns it unanswered. These are paintings that we look into, but are also thrown back from, and the resulting experience for the viewer is a fascinatingly uneasy oscillation between the apparently profound and the insistently planar. The eye is permitted no comfortable settling.

In this respect, as in others, I am reminded of the extraordinary art of Eric Ravilious, the English watercolourist and designer who revolutionized landscape painting in the 1930s and then died in 1942 off the coast of Iceland, where he had been posted as a war artist. An out-of-kilterness distinguishes Ravilious’s paintings, in which surface and depth (often conveyed respectively by flat falling light and eye-leading paths) contradict and interplay. Viewing his art, one has the sense of looking at overlaid acetate sheets of the same image, imprecisely matched – or of two intersecting paths that never quite achieve their vertex. Ravilious, like Andrew, was compelled by the relationship between the natural and the manmade, and like Andrew he was fascinated by fencing, block-houses, windows and railway tracks: the human constructions which the traditions of the picturesque and the sublime have taught us to edit and extrude from our perceptions, and from our records of our perceptions – but which shape them nevertheless. Ravilious’s best-known watercolour, ‘Chalk Paths’ (1935), shows ancient white trackways curving off towards a down-land summit. Following the route of the tracks in the foreground, though, is a five-strand barbed-wire fence, tense and insistent: a stark modern line to set against the Neolithic pastoral of the path.

In previous paintings, Andrew has been preoccupied with those ubiquitous aspects of the contemporary landscape upon which we bestow our daily inattention: carparks, roads, quarries, reservoirs and waste-water plants. Such sites of transit, treatment and infrastructure were influentially christened ‘non-places’ by Marc Auge in his anthropology of supermodernity: venues that are apparently impervious to history, and in which human relations tend to be defined only transactionally. These new paintings investigate how aspects of ‘non-place’ insinuate their way into some unlikely locations: in particular, how the experience of certain celebrated Scottish ‘viewpoints’ is structured as much by toilet-blocks, visitor platforms and orange plastic fencing as by granite, gnarled pines and tumultuous water. Thus Andrew’s preoccupation with waterfalls, which – along with belling stags, mist-wreathed crags and empty glens – have long been central elements of the Caledonian sublime as devised by Scott, Landseer and others.

One of the several interests these images hold for me, though, is Andrew’s refusal entirely to reject the experience of awe. ‘Drawing the falls’, reads one vivid aside in a notebook, ‘under falling water, cascading, threatening, roaring, shadow constellations’. This body of work is no arid exercise in semiotics, smugly smitten with its own tasks of decoding and deconstruction. No, the challenge set – and met – in these paintings is how to convey astonishment at the presence of wild nature, while also exhibiting the complications and messiness involved in encountering it?

Andrew’s answer is a formal one: we are brought to see through the structures that hover so startlingly upon the silverpoint surfaces and the greyscale backgrounds, standing clear due to their strident colours (hi-vis orange, fire-extinguisher red, warning-sign yellow, the colours of gunge, gunk and sign, of toxin and tocsin), but not banning the passage of sight through their forms. Neither quite superimposed nor quite embedded, these elegant modernist diagrams do not float upon these paintings so much as project into our visual field. They become, to adapt Le Corbusier’s famous phrase, machines for viewing: subtly impinging on and shaping our encounter with these powerful landscapes.

An attempt might, I suppose, be made to separate or striate out the paintings’ layers. There is the ghostly zone of boulder, water-rush, tree and landform, so finely rendered that it seems to have been done in pencil and lead, but which has in fact been worked up by brush and oil. There is the uncertain surface sheen or wash, usually in a reduced palette of dun hues and quiet shades. And there are the blue-printed structures: the trees (their branching forms reminiscent of capillaries or the dendrites of neurons), the bridges, the boxes…. But in the end the effort of separation proves only theoretically possible: in the act of looking, hierarchies of layer seem beyond determination. Space snaps shut to plane, plane flickers back open into space.

There is a moment in Nan Shepherd’s slender masterpiece about the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain (written in the mid-1940s but not published until 1977, and a book which has helped shape Andrew’s work), where Shepherd discusses how – in the mountain-world she loves so much – the human and the wild exist in a relationship of sharpening counterpoint, rather than mutually obliterating juxtaposition. ‘Up on the plateau’, she writes superbly:

nothing has moved for a long time. I have walked all day, and seen no one. I have heard no living sound. Once, in a solitary corrie, the rattle of a falling stone betrayed the passage of a line of stags. But up here, no movement, no voice. Man might be a thousand years away. Yet, as I look round me, I am touched at many points by his presence. His presence is in the cairns, marking the summits, marking the paths, marking the spot where a man has died, or where a river is born. It is in the paths themselves; even over boulder and rock man’s persistent passage can be seen, as at the head of the Lairig Ghru, where the path, over brown-grey weathered and lichened stones, shines as red as new-made rock. It is in the stepping-stones over the burns, and lower in the glens, the bridges. […] in the remains of the hut where the men who made the Ordnance Survey of the eighteen-sixties lived for the whole of a season […] It is in the sluices at the outflow of the lochs, the remnants of lime kilns by the burns, and the shepherds’ huts, roofless now, and the bothies of which nothing remains but a chimney-gable.

Like Shepherd, Andrew celebrates falling water as a ‘strong white stuff’ which ‘does nothing, absolutely nothing, but be itself’. But he is also alert to what the ‘water abstractor’ in Alice Oswald’s book-length river-poem Dart calls ‘the real work’ of water, which is to say the uses to which water is put, and the means by which we consume it with our thirsty eyes as well as our thirsty throats.

Robert Macfarlane is the award-winning author of Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination, The Wild Places and The Old Ways. He is Fellow in English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.


Scottish-born artist Andrew Mackenzie has embarked on a new series of paintings that challenge our perception of the archetypal landscape genre. By referencing historical artistic practice and the contemporary use of monochrome, he considers the relationship between the constructed and natural worlds. For example, the juxtaposition of an organic motif, a decorative tree, evocative of the seventeenth century landscape painter Claude Lorrain, with a diagrammatic trace of man-made structures, reminiscent of the British Modernist painter Ben Nicholson, reveals how the artist subverts the tradition.

The paintings are derived from photographs, memory, art history and sometimes invention. A combination of these elements fragment, float and overlap through complex layered surfaces of oil paint on panel. A delicate network of lines, shadows and form emerges and become concrete through the history of making. Such depth and resonance imbues the work with purposefulness – beautifully austere yet simultaneously romantic and thoughtful.

The final pieces are thus a residue of the many decisions taken in their creation, where the positive and negative forms become interchangeable. emphasising the abstract qualities of Mackenzie’s work. Ultimately the paintings exude serenity, yet an eerie uncertainty permeates the overall atmosphere, keeping his images firmly lodged in our minds.

Graduated with an MFA from Edinburgh College of Art in 1993, solo exhibitions include the critically acclaimed “Delicate Ground” part of the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival and “Ten Decades” at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. Other exhibitions include “Viewpoint”, National Galleries of Scotland, Banff, 2005; “Sunlight on Grey Painted Steel” at The Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, 2003; and “New work”, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Leeds, 2002. Collections include; Flemings, The London Royal Academy, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Halifax Bank of Scotland and the Bank of America.


One tends to see what’s in an Old Master before seeing it as a picture, (whereas) one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first…the Modernist way of seeing is, of course, the best way of seeing any kind of picture, Modernist or Old Master.

No one could argue that a painting is not an object first, a physical enactment of materials laid bare on a flat plane. Modernism brought with it this awareness for both painters and viewers. Clement Greenberg fought for painting as an act of purity and autonomy but many of today’s painters see these rigid paradigms as too removed from the intricacy of the world around us. Just as it is possible to see the abstract qualities of surface and line in Bassano or Raphael, isn’t it just as valid to search for meaning or narrative within abstraction? The painters in this exhibition wrestle with the dichotomy between surface and subject. They find common ground in the acknowledgement of modernism, whilst considering the ways to deconstruct, taint or expose its apparent simplicity.

James Lumsden and Andrew Mackenzie are both preoccupied with the monochrome surface. For Lumsden the flat surface takes on a photographic theatricality, suffused with illusionist depth and light. But wait: look closer and the perfect surface is disrupted; the layers of paint can be tracked in tiny, repetitious brushstrokes and edges or borders of canvas are stripped bare or left unpainted. Lumsden hereby draws us closer to the materiality of the surface, making his paintings more abstract than ever. But does this materialism simply draw us to their process of making, or is he picking apart modernism’s seamless vision, exposing it as a failed utopia?

Like Lumsden Mackenzie draws in the viewer with seductive surfaces but his process is subtractive, laying on paint only to take it away again. There is a tragic romance in his erasure, reminding us how much gets lost in the passage of time. His ghostly surfaces seem worn as if by nature, like walls gradually stained by the weather. This connection with nature is dually emphasised by his trees. Their intense colour contrasts starkly with the heavy ground to create depth, yet Mackenzie is also referencing botanical drawings and 18th and 19th century landscape painting as well as the many historical associations with trees, revealing further interplays between forms and meanings.

Where these artists use the painted surface as atmospheric field for Michael Craik, Sharon Quigley and Jo Milne the surface is a site for decoration and pattern, emphasising the flat autonomy of the painted object. Craik uses architectural geometric pattern as a framework on which to build up layers of paint into the subtlest form of relief. Painting onto aluminium further enforces the objectivity of the work, their slimness bringing them close to sculpture. His generic patterns are coolly detached from the specifics of place, seeming instead to recall the anonymity of the urban experience. Recent developments see Craik using Arabic patterns as inspiration, moving from the modern urban ideal to the primitive roots of abstraction.

As complex as the minutiae of ordinary life can be, a range of structures hold it together and these complex and varied patterns provide a starting point for both Sharon Quigley and Jo Milne. Quigley’s sources are richly varied, including kimono designs, arabesque and nineteenth century engravings and cellular structures. The sources are united in a personal vocabulary involving richly worked surfaces built up with wax and resin. This personal language could be likened to what philosopher and curator Nicolas Bourriaud has recently defined as the ‘altermodern’ – an attempt to gather together multiple sources into a personal and unified language, the preoccupation of many contemporary artists.

If Quigley starts broad and narrows down, Jo Milne’s practice could be seen in reverse; her paintings start with specific areas of language or coded symbols and expose a playful or complex spirit beneath. For example DNA structures, jacquard loom cards, pianolo rolls and Braille are exploited as starting points but broken apart into complex and layered patterns. In Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy systems of language come into question too, where a word can lose its meaning with the simple removal of one letter, bringing the tower of communication tumbling down. Like Auster, Milne references elements of language as technological constructions or ‘cyphers’, but they are grounded in the rich and human surface of paint, a near symbol for the human body.

The artists here explore the variable ways in which tautological paintings can be relevant and accessible to the contemporary viewer and find themselves scattered across the spectrum between process and meaning. But it seems they would all share art historian Meyer Schapiro’s stance:

‘…there is no ‘pure art’; all fantasy, and formal construction, even the random scribbling of the hand, are shaped by experiences and concerns…’

Rosie Lesso is an artist and writer in Scotland © 2009

  • Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 4: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969, ed. John O’ Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993)
  • Nicholas Bourriaud: Ideal Syllabus, Frieze Magazine, Issue 115, May 2008
  • Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy, (Faber & Faber, USA, 1987)
  • Meyer Schapiro, Pollock and After: The Critical Debate, ed. Francis Frascina (Routledge, New York, 2000)



Andrew Mackenzie’s well-ordered Edinburgh studio is tucked up high in an industrial conversion beside Easter Road football stadium. It faces northeast. On a good clear day, of which there are plenty, you get a magnificent view across the rooftops to the Firth of Forth and many studio visitors tend to find their eyes straying out of the window towards the sea. Since first noticing this pattern, the painter has wryly placed a sign across the glass. Viewpoint it says, in glossy letters.

Boxed in by the window frame, the view from Mackenzie’s window is a landscape in its traditional sense: a strip of city, an expanse of sea and the hills of Fife in the far distance. Observed from a static position, seen from the other side of glass, it is separate from us: out there, defined and definable. Mackenzie, whose own work proposes a deeper and much more ambiguous relationship with nature, often works with his back to the window.

Viewpoint has an echo of René Magritte’s 1933 painting La Condition Humaine: a soft, wooded landscape with a cumulus-clouded sky viewed through what seems like the window of a suburban sitting room. There’s a frame within the frame however, as much of what appears to be the outside world is in fact an oil painting sitting on an easel, so continuous with the view through the glass that it is virtually indistinguishable. “This is how we see the world, ” Magritte explained. “We see it as being outside ourselves even though it is only a mental representation of what we experience on the inside.”1

Landscape painting is a genre, an “invented tradition”, with its own rules and it’s own particular histories. Similarly landscape in its broadest sense, is neither neutral nor untouched: it is constructed both literally and culturally. Mackenzie’s work, which relies heavily on fusing his actual empirical experience of real places with the processes of memory and the physical act of intuitive painting, refutes the historical idea that landscape is something we only find on the outside, suggesting instead that the arbitrary boundary between nature and culture should be dissolved.

Similarly his work seeks to explore the way in which both city and country are “man-made”. Mackenzie was brought up in a farming community in the North East of Scotland, but for almost half his life now he has lived in the city. His painting negotiates his own journey from a rural to an urban identity. The country is now a place he visits for leisure. A place conditioned by memory, contemplation and pleasure. Like most of us he often views nature through the veil of a car window, and his work repeatedly uses visual devices from such journeys: the vertical streetlamp, the horizontal motorway bridge, and the punctuation of flat, cultivated land with buildings.

Untitled (reassuring orange glow) is a series of 18 panels triggered by the artist’s experience of driving South to Edinburgh from a Perthshire bird sanctuary at night. The back of each panel is mounted to create an inch space between panel and wall and sprayed with orange fluorescent paint. When the work is installed it gives off an orange backlight, analogous to the sodium glow one sees in the sky as one approaches a large city.

Untitled (credit) considers the way that familiar landscapes may play over and over again both in our lives (those endless, repeated journeys) and in our heads. Mackenzie sees memories of places as a kind of image bank: randomly filed yet accessible if the triggers are right, an idea he encountered in these words from Scottish writer Neil Gunn’s book The Atom of Delight: “possibly the whole of life is recorded and filed away, and only needs a scent, a tune, a few chance words to bring the forgotten file, the lost experience into conciousness…”2 The format of these works, each literally the size of a credit card explores Mackenzie’s interest in repetition, mass-production and also the way in which visual marks are coded information. In a sense the tiny surface of these paintings conceal as much as they reveal, the information they contain relating to the artist’s own memories, the time and technique used in their construction, as impalpable as the electronic data of the credit system.

Mackenzie’s paintings often recall obsolete objects or buildings. Untitled (Atlantic) is series of 9 coloured ellipses each taking their cue from plastic waste items gathered randomly on an Irish beach. Paintings like Untitled (obsolete lookout tower in the trees, recalled) and Untitled (water tower) refer to man made objects in the landscape. Buildings remembered from childhood that have changed over time, drawn from recollection and gradually obscured by layers of paint evoking the role of memory and a strong sense of impermanence.

There is a link here with some of the essentials of the classical landscape tradition, the temple or ruined folly you’d find in a painting by Claude Lorrain or Poussin from a period in painting in which the interrelationship between landscape cues, memory and cultural values was at it’s height. Unlike such follies however Mackenzie’s interest however is in utilitarian buildings that have now become anachronistic.

These paintings reveal an inherent contradiction: pared down and unsentimental in their intent, they are densely layered, worked upon and reworked and somehow surreptitiously suffused with emotion. It is somewhere in that tricky balance that they achieve an important insight into our relationship with landscape in both its senses. Mackenzie’s repetition, his marks, traces, and incisions evoke our own response to landscape: the human elements of intervention, recollection and recognition.

What remains fascinating about these works are the way in which they are in some sense circular. While revelling in the discovery that our relationship with landscape is as much cultural as physical, they continue to assert the importance of that relationship. His paintings reframe the words on his studio window. Landscape is not a fixed viewpoint, but undoubtedly remains a point of view.

Moira Jeffrey

1. From a lecture by Nagritte in 1938 cited in Sara Whitfield, Magritte, London 1992, p62

2. Neil Gunn, The Atom of Delight, Polygon, p139