Graham Fagen (4 stars)

Doggerfisher Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 9 Dec 2006


Graham Fagen has painted the walls in the main gallery black, immediately setting an ethereal, theatrical tone to this dimly lit exhibition, entitled ‘Closer’. Three silkscreen prints, simplistic white linear studies of 18th century ships are initially shown in succession, ‘Nancy’, ‘Bell’ and ‘Roselle’, each bearing details of their separate departs from Scotland to Jamaica in 1786. These seemingly fictional ships are plucked from a small but significant moment in Robert Burns’ history. His near emigration from Scotland to Jamaica resulted in three bookings, one on each of these ships, the first two falling through for insignificant reasons, the third because his first published poems finally brought him success within Scotland just before it set sail. Complementing these works is ‘West Coast Looking West (Atlantic)’, a seductive, crisp colour photograph of a timeless sparkling seascape.

There is tragic sadness in its beauty, pure sky and sea so full of hope and promise, seemingly depicting Burns’ fantasy of a journey into the great unknown that never materialised. Fagen creates a romantic, if sentimental, sense of mystery with this group of works, reminding us that twists of fate can intervene when least expected - are we really so in control of our own histories? ‘Clean Hands Pure Heart’, facing the group, adds a much-needed sinister dimension. A colour photograph of a faceless toothy white grin emerges from a pure black background mocking us like the devil at work or perhaps the face of fate itself, meddling and messing with best-laid plans.

The back room features two unrelated, appealingly obscure works. ‘Annual Perennial’, reveals Fagen’s continuing interest in the localised significance of plants; a bronze cast of a spindly, pathetic fir tree decorated with coloured fairy lights sitting on cheap table, a tragic/comic contrast to the lush Christmas trees already beginning to decorate the shops. In the colour photograph ‘Self Portrait as the Devil’, Fagen is dressed as a harlequin, identifying himself with this sinister mute character who constantly shifts between scenes and situations as if up to no good. There is a compelling theatricality here which echoes that of Clean Hands Pure Heart, revealing Fagen’s fascination with the dark, unexplainable forces at work under the surface of ordinary life.

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