The Vigorous Imagination: Then and Now
- Susan Mansfield
- 13 November 2017
Revisiting landmark 1980s Scottish art exhibition
The Vigorous Imagination, staged at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as part of Edinburgh International Festival in 1986, remains a milestone in the history of recent Scottish art. This ambitious revisiting of the show 30 years on is a valuable reminder of the breadth of its scope.
While it is associated with launching the careers of the New Glasgow Boys, Howson, Wisznieski, Campbell, Currie and Conroy, the show was not all about painting: Calum Colvin and Ron O'Donnell, who work principally in photography, were there, as was sculptor David Mach (with an epic cascade of newspapers which would resurface in some of his later work). Nor was it all male: Kate Whiteford, Sam Ainsley, Gwen Hardie and June Redfern were all well represented.
The two galleries, working with one of the original selectors, Clare Henry, have worked hard to pull together a selection of recent and 1980s work by all 17 artists. The Fine Art Society shows both periods while Roger Billcliffe concentrates on newer work. Inevitably, the selection is patchy: there are superb new large-scale works by Howson and Wisniewski, but little by Currie, and Steven Campbell's beautiful, ambitious final paintings are sadly absent, being in the clutches of a London gallery.
But, given that they have neither carte blanche to pick all the works they want, nor as much space as would be ideal to show them, Vigorous Imagination mark II is a valiant attempt. It is also a valuable chance to become reacquainted with the fine, light-drenched paintings of Jude Redfern and the intriguing symbolist works of Joseph Urie.
What is interesting, above all, is that one can recognise almost every artist here by their work from 1986. Outlooks have matured, skills have been refined, but the essential vision of each has altered little. What has changed is the context: even as The Vigorous Imagination was closing its doors, another generation was starting art school who would take Scottish art in a very different direction. If this work looks dated – as it occasionally does – it is not because these artists do their work less well, but because the ground has shifted under their feet.
The Fine Art Society, Edinburgh and Roger Billcliffe Gallery, Glasgow. Until Sat 18 November.