15 Apr 2011

Art review: Sam Ainsley & Roger Wilson by Susan Manfield - Scotsman

At Glasgow Print Studio, two artists delve into the scientific past referencing a biology text from nearly 100 years ago. Sam Ainsley, a co-founder of Glasgow School of Art's visionary MFA course, and Roger Wilson, current head of the School of Fine Art, relate their work to On Growth and Form, by Scottish biologist and mathematician D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson.

Thompson's book, published in 1917, was crucial in pioneering understanding that natural growth followed mathematical principles. A new edition in the 1940s featured in the writings of art critic Herbert Read, which alerted many artists to its importance, including Henry Moore, Le Corbusier and Wilhemina Barns-Graham. It provided a valuable link between abstraction and the figurative world.

Ainsley and Wilson don't tell us what its importance is for them. They offer no preface or introduction to their show, indeed the labels don't even tell us whose work is whose (though it isn't hard to separate the two styles). Anyone who wants to know what the title means will have to discover D'Arcy Thompson on Wikipedia.

That aside, there are striking works here. Ainsley's large paintings, which combine acrylic with elements of print, are vivid and beautifully coloured. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was looking at microscopic images writ large, the secret geometry inside a leaf, the fantastical landscapes inside the human body, or the sub-microscopic maps and patterns of DNA. The poetic titles - Making a Heart Like Stone, Out of Redness Comes Kindness, The Beauty and Density of Life - suggest metaphors at work.

Her smaller collages feel more raw and personal. "I am scared" says the small silver handwriting in a piece called Ashes to Ashes. In The Crying Woman, the figure crouches, sobbing, under a vein-pattern of grey tree branches. A skull grimaces at us in Death Becomes Her.

I was left with feelings of vulnerability, sadness, resilience, as though a personal journey lurked not too far below the surface.

In Wilson's work, any such journey is much harder to trace. There are shapes and occasionally patterns here - often his canvases are oval, with interlinking ovals or circles - but whether they draw on elements of pattern in the natural world, we aren't shown. There is the abstractionist's refusal to yield to metaphor, stripping back to pure colour and form.

Two large works, Streaming and Arboretun, combine gesso and acrylic on board, layering up colours to create marble effects. They balance a sense of spontaneity and a sense of structure, as if the artist is striving for the freedom of the random, but finds that he brings his own structure to it, balancing one colour with its opposite.

These are mature, accomplished works, but a little background information wouldn't hurt. The artists are determined not to interfere in the relationship between the viewer and the work, but as a result there is nothing to introduce one to the other either. As viewers, we look for connections, patterns, narratives. D'Arcy Thompson would probably have said as much himself.

•Sam Ainsley & Roger Wilson until 15 May

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