Cabbages in an Orchard: The formers and forms of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Graham Fagen (4 stars)

Cabbages in an Orchard: The formers and forms of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Graham Fagen

Highlights of Fagen's responsive GENERATION show include tense, confrontational teeth portraits

Graham Fagen says he fell out with Mackintosh at the Glasgow School of Art. However, when invited back more than 20 years later to spend time in the Mackintosh archive, he discovered he had more in common with the man than he expected. The body of work that he has produced in response is shown now as part of GENERATION, hastily relocated from the fire-hit Mackintosh building to the new Reid Building across the street.

Fagen has long been interested in the factors that form us, as human beings and as artists, and he was quickly drawn to Mackintosh’s early work, watercolours produced for a one-off student publication, The Magazine, where he was working out his ideas by drawing on the symbolist tradition.

Trees and plants were important symbols for Mackintosh, as they have been for Fagen, and Fagen has responded to the paintings by making two tree sculptures: a bronze cast of a fir tree left out to ‘weather’ for a year (‘Scheme for Nature’), which manages to look both fragile and monumental, and the more stylised ‘Scheme for Conscience’, a diagrammatic tree that implies the working-out of ideas.

But perhaps the most immediately striking body of work here is ‘Scheme for Consciousness’, more than 60 drawings in Indian ink that cover the walls of the gallery. Thinking about the uniqueness of our teeth provided Fagen with a way of creating a portrait from the inside, drawing his teeth according to their feel on his tongue, and adding colours to map out the rest of the head.

They sit alongside three sculptures that are casts of his teeth and clenched hands, mounted on concrete architectural frames. They are tense, confrontational, like portraits turned inside out – fresh, distinctive work that shows that contemplating Mackintosh can take an artist in all manner of new directions.

Glasgow School of Art, Reid Gallery, until Fri 29 Aug.

Graham Fagen: Cabbages in an Orchard

Graham Fagen has been researching the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his peers, and this exhibition presents work by Mackintosh and others, selected by Fagen, alongside new work.