A Studio Visit

Hogmanay traditionally involves ‘first footing’, or the arrival of the first guest after midnight on New Year’s Eve. Whilst this hasn’t been possible this year, let’s visit some modern Scottish artists in their studios instead.

John Bulloch Souter (1890-1971), Goddess in Portland, 1931, oil on panel
Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums (c) Artist’s Estate

A place to work

An artist’s studio is primarily a place in which they can work. This is demonstrated in Goddess in Portland of 1931 by John Bulloch Souter (1890-1971).  A sculptor is seen working on a female nude, which towers over him as he shapes her right thigh.

John Bulloch Souter

Souter was born in Aberdeen in 1890. He studied at Gray’s School of Art and the Allan-Fraser School of Art at Hospitalfield, Arbroath. After serving in World War One, he settled in London. Souter established a reputation as a portrait painter and exhibited widely, including at the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1952 he retired to Aberdeen, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Goddess in Portland

Although titled after the work seen being made out of Portland stone, Goddess in Portland is a visual homage to artistic endeavours. The unidentified, seated sculptor is calmly absorbed in the task at hand, his expression belying the physical effort involved in carving limestone. His hat and expansive protective overalls contrast with the nudity of his subject.

An atmosphere of calm reigns over the sizeable studio. Its large window or windows are indicated by the floor to ceiling-length curtain on the left, through which natural light streams. A cropped bell jar in the very foreground covers a maquette of the work now being realised in life size. A bust in the very background represents other work made by the artist. The punch bag-like object at the left may be a leather cushion to hold smaller items on a ‘banker’ worktable hanging with a pulley system for lifting heavy items. They, along with a jumble of well-used pedestals of varying sizes and heights, a white screen and draped material contribute to this portrait of an artist in the midst of the creative process.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

The painting was purchased by Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1932, the year after it was made. The Gallery also owns Souter’s archive, including a substantial number of works on paper.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), The Blue Studio, c.1947, oil on canvas
The Fleming Collection, London (c) Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

A studio with a view

An inspiring view from a studio can be as helpful to an artist as its interior. Indeed, in The Blue Studio of about 1941, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) has set up her worktable looking out over the Atlantic Ocean at Porthmeor Beach in St Ives.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Barns-Graham was born in St Andrews and studied at Edinburgh College of Art. In 1940, she moved to Cornwall where she became a member of what is now known as the St Ives School. Five years later, she moved from no. 3 to no. 1 Porthmeor Studios, which face north over the sea. It was whilst working here that she established herself as a pioneer of British abstraction. Barns-Graham maintained this studio until the early 1960s, when she bought moved to the nearby Barnaloft development.

The Blue Studio

Despite the stormy weather made clear by the overcast sky and rough waves visible through the window, the atmosphere of The Blue Studio is one of anticipation of work about to be made. In the foreground, a table is laid with still life objects, a notebook or journal and a pencil box. Further materials have been placed on the red stool to the right and on top of the cupboard behind it.

The image has a strong geometrical structure, based on rectangles of both portrait and landscape format. Moreover, horizontal and vertical lines are emphasised throughout, from the window glazing to the spindly legs of the stool. Rhythm is provided by the contrast of bright and muted colours, from yellow, orange and red to grey, green and brown.

The Fleming Collection

The Blue Studio belongs to the Fleming Collection. This ‘museum without walls’ is based in London and promotes Scottish art by way of its collection, publications and educational activities.

Walter Graham Grieve (1872-1937), In the Studio, late 1920s / early 1930s, oil on canvas
Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Edinburgh

An artist’s model

A frequent visitor to many studios is the artist’s model. The sitter for In the Studio of the late 1920s or early 1930s by Walter Graham Grieve (1872-1937), is depicted sewing in a peaceful domestic scene. Although intimate in subject, the painting measures an imposing 151 x 126cm.

Walter Graham Grieve

Grieve was born in Kirkliston near Edinburgh. He studied at the Life School of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in the Scottish capital. He contributed work to many group exhibitions, including those held at the RSA and at the Royal Glasgow Institute. He was elected a member of the RSA in 1929 and of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour six years later. He died in Edinburgh in 1937.

In the Studio

The setting for In the Studio is more sitting-room than artist’s place of work. Its narrative centres on the model’s task in the centre of a detailed interior. Dressed in dark clothes and with her face in shadow, she reaches out to a chair draped in material to the right. A patterned coverlet is held on to her knees by her other hand, at the point at which it requires attention. The rest of it flows down and over the floor, where its neighbour is a striking red uniform, presumably also requiring repair.

A glowing fire in the fireplace suggests warmth, whilst objets d’art and pictures on and beside the mantelpiece reveal the occupants’ sophistication. An ensemble of brushes, tubes of paint and bottles on the table to the left reveal the true use of the room.

The David Muirhead Memorial Fund

In the Studio was purchased from the artist’s family by the RSA in 1938, the year after Grieve’s death. It was acquired with the assistance of the David Muirhead Memorial Fund. Named after the artist David Muirhead (1867-193), the fund was established in 1933 to help the Academy acquire contemporary art for its collection.

Alberto Morrocco (1917-98), The Studio with Lay Figure, 1993, oil on canvas
Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Edinburgh (c) Artist’s Estate

Tools of the trade

In contrast, Alberto Morrocco (1917-98) puts the tools and results of his trade at the centre of The Studio with Lay Figure of 1993. It is a mature work by a giant of twentieth-century Scottish art.

Alberto Morrocco

Morrocco in Aberdeen and studied at the local Gray’s School of Art. Travel scholarships allowed him to work in France and Switzerland before the outbreak of World War Two. After the war he taught at Gray’s before being appointed Head of the School of Drawing and Painting at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee; he remained in this post until retirement in 1982. Morrocco maintained his own practice alongside his teaching responsibilities and spent many summers painting in Italy, from where his family originated.

The Studio with Lay Figure

The bright colours of The Studio with Lay Figure perhaps owe more to the brilliance of Mediterranean sunshine than the gentler northern light of Scotland. Orange and yellow dominate an joyful image. They appear in the paintings within a painting seen propped on easels, as well as playing a formal part in the studio’s decorative scheme, from wall paint to painted stool.

Morrocco reveals the multiple pursuits which take place here – from the messy palette to the guitar and favourite still-life objects displayed on the table, which is tipped towards us in the foreground. The titular lay figure, or dummy model, is not seen itself, but may be depicted in the displayed works.  Layers of furniture, space and colours add to an atmosphere of creativity in which the artist clearly revelled.

Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

Morrocco gave The Studio with Lay Figure to the RSA in 1993, five years before his death. He had been elected an Academician in 1962 and sent work to the RSA’s Summer Exhibitions throughout his career.

Here’s hoping that now the COVID-19 vaccination programme has begun, we will be able to pay a studio visit to artists – and to visit others – before too long.

To find out more about Souter, please read this blog, for a feature about Barns-Graham’s studio, follow this link and more about Morrocco can be found here. You might also enjoy ‘A Stay at Home Tour‘ and ‘Working from Home.

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