Elegance and Brutalism: Edinburgh’s Skyline attends “A Night at the Opera” at the Union Gallery

Three of my city paintings are exhibiting in the fabulous Union Gallery, Drumsheugh St, Edinburgh.


I’ve long loved this gallery – which used to be situated on Broughton St, and now has moved to a larger premises in the West End on Drumsheugh Place. Run by Alison Auldjo, an a painter of sensitive dreamlike landscapes, the gallery is daring with a wide range of styles –  from delicate and equisite watercolours, to wild faux naive and back to the tightest of uncanny realism. But its the strong strand of expressive painterly works such as the wonderful Audrey Grant and Henry Kondracki, or the exciting expressive draftsmanship in the lovely work of Joyce Gunn Cairns that particularly speaks to me. So, I’m really delighted to be part of this group show.

A Night at the Opera includes works by Frank McNab, Christine Clark, James Newton Adams, Imogen Alabaster, Drysdale Scott and many more. The theme offers a little bit of a crossword puzzle-like mystery for some paintings. Some are more straight-forward, like collages of operatic themes and pictures of the Usher Hall (such as one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition – this lovely collage by Lucy Jones http://www.uniongallery.co.uk/artists/lucy-jones).

The Usher Hall by Lucy Jones, showing as part of A Night at the Opera

Others are more obscure. I’m still trying to work out the theatrical/operatic connection of the two amazing fish paintings – though I’m assured there is one!

My link is to do with architecture, with three paintings featuring the McEwan Hall. Here it is in the top centre in the picture below – sheltering under the cranes.


The lead “characters” in most of this series has to be those University sixties’ high-rise monsters – the David Hume and Appleton Towers. The erection of these huge buildings at the cost of the destruction of half of beautiful George Sq, happened in the sixties. There are some incredible pictures and history on this link here that show the Georgian architecture. The sixties was a time more interested in the new than the old: in looking forward not back, declaiming the future and washing one’s hands of the past. (There was even a grand plan to slice a multi-lane motorway through the centre of the Meadows.) People had not yet fallen out of love with concrete and the highrise was still the stuff of Utopian dreams.

But when the wrecking-ball reached George Square, the public were so horrified by the senseless destruction of Georgian Edinburgh, that it served as a catalyst and there was a huge upsurge in the conservation movement. People flocked to back a campaign headed up by the Cockburn Association. In the end, half the square was saved and is still there today – nestling at the foot of its Brutalist neighbours.

Ironically, one of those brutalist interlopers – the David Hume Tower (the dark block below and in Crazy City, above) has become an important historic landmark in its own right, granted Category A listed status from Historic Scotland. I thought the Appleton Tower was also listed, but, seemingly, moves by Historic Scotland to do so were met with such hostility, the idea was dropped. According to Wikipedia, the “ugliness of the Appleton Tower” was nominated by geneticist Steve Jones as one of the wonders of the world!

I’ve been fascinated by this area of the city for a long time. By its oddness, its incongruity and peculiar drama. The strange juxtapostion of these architectural styles. The McEwan Hall is  sadly less visible than it was, due to the addition of the informatics building. But you can still see it from certain angles from Arthur’s Seat peeking out from amongst the blocks. The large painting, Blue City (below), shows both the controversial David Hume and  Appleton Towers rising up drunkenly from the waves of tenements, a stubborn church spire poking up between them. The cranes, as always, still out in force.

This is my city. And I love it.

(Note. You might spot the low-slung sandwich-like white buildings at their feet are actually two versions of the same building –  in a straight and a distorted version. For compositional reasons, and a bit of fun!)


A night at the Opera continues to mid-October at The Union Gallery, Drumsheugh Place, Edinburgh.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s