Stephen Murray and Kate Orton - New Work Scotland Project (2 stars)

The Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 4 Nov


The work of Stephen Murray and Kate Orton shares some startling similarities. Both work in a variety of media - sculpture, drawing and mixed media constructions. Both, too, are interested in postive and negative form and each of the artists’ works forms part of an inter-related sequence. An example of the latter can be found in Orton’s sculpture, ‘En Dürer’s Font’ and her mixed media assemblage ‘Labourers’. The sculpture (which portrays a stylised ecclesiatical font and also contains an oblique reference to the German artist’s advocacy of Roman typescript) contains a three- dimensional shape.

This form is echoed in ‘Labourers’ where it has been drawn - here the artist has combined the shape with an ashtray where the cigarettes continue to smoulder. The rest of the work shows a table with a checked table-cloth, a scribbled fragment of a poem or song and a real pen. A suited, headless figure sits at the table - the author of the song? The smoker of the cigarette? The work is puzzling, perplexing even. It’s part narrative and part intellectual game. The questions it provokes - such as the identity of the characters - never really get answered.

There are copious hints and references to the relationship between smoking, death, and a kind of film-noir sexiness but the small poetic narrative text which accompanies the work smacks of art student intellectualism which descends, unfortuntaely, into bathos: ‘We roll on. Breaching the peace in the colonnade and crowding the bin-top ashtray on George the Fourth bridge’, etc.

Murray’s work uses a combination of positive and negative to create work whose meaning is more abstracted than Orton’s narratives. In the four pencil drawings which make up ‘From Teat to Cheak’ a stylised breast is shown providing milk to an open mouth, and each of the two sets of the images are almost mirrors of the other. But despite its, no-doubt serious intent, the work fails to convince, forever locked within its own set of oblique references and never quite breaking through into the outside world of shared meaning and understanding.

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