Sue Spark - Confection (5 stars)

The Corn Exchange Gallery, Edinburgh, until Thu Nov 16


A carved frieze high on the exterior of the Corn Exchange building shows the stages between planting and harvesting grain and its eventual route to market. The exuberant quasi-Baroque narrative is populated by putti-esque figures - small, plump children often found in Rococo paintings with a religious theme. Sue Spark’s paintings - by well-placed happenstance - also use the same kind of figurative device, often in the form of a subtle ‘under-drawing’, and these delicate lines therefore act as the starting point for her delicate, complex and immensely feminine paintings.

Spark’s works are really declarations of their own composition and conception: they lead the viewer gently but firmly through the various layers and stages of their making. Spark is a superb draughtsman and her figure-drawing - which is firmly at the root of her work - allows her to develop and extend her artistic and painterly vocabulary in a number of important directions.

In the large oil, Untitled (Pink/Brown) two angelic figures embrace and wave - they have been painted using a white line on a denser, coloured ground. But underneath these lines are other blocks of colour, while, on top, a variety of shapes, forms and motifs (flowers, ‘palette’ marks and stencilled spots) show that these elements were painted at a later stage. Solely painting the human form may be seen as artistic stasis. But here Spark uses the history of figure painting as an essential component in the evolution of her own sophisticated painterly language.

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