Callum Innes - From Memory (5 stars)

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 19 Nov


Let’s just get it out the way quickly - there are some bad paintings in this mini-retrospective of Edinburgh-based Callum Innes at the Fruitmarket Gallery. Well, two at a push. This exhibition continues to receive such high praise (he’s both a ‘painter’s painter’ and an ‘art historian’s painter’) that it is difficult to find fault with these untouchable works. The artist has set out his agenda, stuck with it and now arrived at a moment of equipoise where it just works.

The paintings in the downstairs gallery are all of the same high standard, and act as an impressive introduction to Innes’ style. Large canvases glowing with their own hard-won inner luminosity fill the space, each piece dealing with the same difficult task of keeping form in check, refusing to let it become either mere surface or a dead figure. This is the unapologetic language of High Modernism. This work is still valid and important because it is very good. If it wasn’t, it would not only be void, it would be a dead lie.

Innes is that most rare creature - an artist who can edit his own work. Not only do we see the best examples from his oeuvre here, but his paintings contain distilled passages that reference the best elements of the last 100 years of painting. It’s almost impossible to find fault with the myriad formalist tricks and tropes that he employs within these ‘gallery machines’; they are post-modern collages, but as seamless and effortless as the flattest minimalist plane and the most polished pop surface.

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