Parallel Lines - Stephanie Spence
The Old School Gallery, Garth, St Margaret's Hope
11 July – 6 Aug 2015
The Old School Gallery just outside St Margaret's Hope in South Ronaldsay is a little gem of a gallery – it is housed, not surprisingly, in a beautiful old traditional Orkney building with stone, wood, hearth and views of the sea from the small sash window. Knowing this, and knowing Stephanie Spence's work from her degree show last year as part of the first cohort of Fine Art Textiles graduates from Orkney College UHI, I was intrigued. How would Stephanie's pieces work in such a traditional but domestic setting? My recollection of her work was large, clean, crisp, architectural paintings, black lines, sharp angles and bright colours. I was concerned – assuming this set of work was going to be similar, or a development on from her degree work – that it would look uncomfortable in such a homely setting.
Well, it didn't. In fact the domesticity of the surroundings enabled the twelve paintings and drawings to show more warmth, more humanity and more joy than I remember in her work previously.
Stephanie is showing work from Orkney and Belfast, the parallel lines being not just physical within the paintings but also the parallels of Stephanie's relationship with both places.
I do not know the buildings despicted from Belfast, but I do know the Orkney sites – the new Kirkwall Grammar School and Orkney College. And these buildings would clearly sit well next to the Belfast flats, alleys and office blocks. There is a natural fit which makes the viewer – at least this one – think about my preconceived ideas of Orkney, or what I think of architecturally, when I think of Orkney. I think of the kind of building the exhibition is housed in rather than our modern, sharp shaped and clean lined non-domestic buildings.
What I love about this exhibition is that the intimacy of the space and the ability you have as a viewer to get up close and personal means you do see the more domestic, the more human elements of the work. They look crisp and quite impersonal from a wee distance but up close you see the pencil lines, the slightly ragged edges as bright colour hits bright white, you see the slight wobbles in the linear features. And I really like that – these are personal portraits of beloved buildings. The warmth of the gallery supports and enhances this aspect of the work and I for one think it makes all the difference. In a white cube gallery I think you might miss the intimacy, the warmth that Stephanie has for her subject.
I particularly like the warm humour shown by the architectural lego pieces sat on a warm and worn wood shelf, and the anomoly of installing a painting of a contemporary school on an old school's stone wall. Being an old hand at building lego buildings I enjoyed seeing the bright colours of the lego reflecting the bright shapes and colours that cut through the paintings, and the simplicity of the lego making you see just how complex, despite being pretty minimal, the paintings are.
The shapes explored in the paintings were not all that different from the shapes made by the juxtaposition of ceiling, walls and windows in the gallery. So my leaving thought was that rural or urban, Orkney or Belfast, there are indeed an awful lot of parallel lines between the two, and Stephanie has confidently and carefully made those connections. It's great to see her work a year on and I look forward to more opportunities in the future.
The exhibition continues until 6 August.