Exhibitions in Edinburgh

I have been to see three excellent exhibitions that are currently being held in Edinburgh, and if you are here I would thoroughly recommend going to see them (all if possible).

The first of these was the major exhibition of works by M.C. Escher at the Gallery of Modern Art.

Possibly best known for his impossible staircases, but there was so much more. The works are grouped into four rooms, covering early work, Transformation and double imagery, the 1940s, and finally his later works. I had seen quite a few of the prints before, but it is great to see these alongside the preparatory sketches he made.

I was also surprised to learn that the idea for the impossible staircases was not his, but the inspiration apparently came from Lionel Penrose and his son Roger Penrose[1]see Penrose Stairs on Wikipedia. I find this interesting as I know of Roger Penrose from his work on non-periodic tiling[2]see Penrose Tiling on Wikipedia, which links back nicely to Escher’s drawings and prints of tiled shapes metamorphosing across the page. The most impressive of these in the exhibition is the 4m long ‘Metamorphose II’ in the final room.

The drawings and prints are exquisite in their detail, and Escher’s grasp of three-dimensional geometry is impeccable. It is easy to see how, with the aid of a computer, drawing intersecting translucent crystals, or spherical reflections from a mirrored globe, would be straightforward. But to do this by hand is amazing.

Particular highlights for me were: Phosphorescent SeaStill Life and StreetUp and Down, CrystalThree Spheres II, and Snakes.

My flatmate told me about this free exhibition on at the botanic gardens, in the gateway building at the west entrance. I was expecting a few photos of plants and trees, so was pleasantly surprised by both the scale and diversity of the exhibition.

There are about a hundred images of different styles, a few examples of each. Ranging from scanning electron microscopy of pollen grains, hand tinted X-rays, traditional photographs, and multiple photographic exposures of the same tree from different angles. This latter technique is kind of like a reverse panorama, where the artist walked around each tree photographing inwards, and this highlights the underlying shape and structure of the particular tree.

Personally I would have liked a bit more description about some of the techniques, but this does detract from the quality of the exhibition. All of the works are pieces of art in their own right, as well as being technically interesting.

The third exhibition, which I went to see today, was work by world renowned photographer David Bailey. This was predominantly black and white fashion portraits, for which he is probably best known, but included a wealth of other subjects too as well as some of his sculpture and mixed media pieces.

Of the three exhibitions, I think this was the one I enjoyed the least. In general, portraits are not something that I find grabs my attention. I also found the hanging of the exhibition to be slightly awkward, with descriptions hidden round the corner from the works, some strange juxtapositions, and a few smaller pieces that were hung too high to appreciate fully.

That said, there were a lot of amazing portraits, which beautifully capture the famous and not so famous people David Bailey has worked with over the past few decades.

As with all exhibitions, seeing the works up close or at full size, is so much more impressive than looking at an image on screen, so I would definitely recommend trying to get along to see these in the next couple of months before they close. I will almost certainly be going back to the Escher and Photosynthesis exhibitions.