Stenton Gallery


Just our scene

The East Lothian village of Stenton may be quiet but there are plenty of bright lights in its new exhibition of landscapes, writes Elisabeth Mahoney

STENTON, an immaculate cluster of 17th- and 18th-century houses, is a place of "few pretensions", according to a history of its architecture on a notice board on the main street. Deep in rural East Lothian, surrounded by fields and rolling hills, the peace of this sleepy-looking village is disturbed only by the purr of swanky cars as they pass through.

But if it has few pretensions, Stenton is a long way from any humble beginnings and the description is no more apposite for the one lively, thriving place in town, the art gallery. If there are other shops and businesses, they remain well hidden, but the Stenton Gallery is hard to miss. A series of small rooms in a handsome stone building, complete with a roaring log fire for bright, sharp winter days, it is larger and more ambitious than many rural galleries.

Showing 12 exhibitions a year, both solo and mixed exhibitions, it has chosen to kick off the new year by inviting the top 30 or so artists who show here to submit a special painting to an exhibition entitled Scottish Art In The Year 2000. The resulting 50 works certainly have few pretensions - this is not the place to track down the latest conceptual, avant-garde offering - but also have a pleasing diversity and warm charm. You may find yourself imagining how well some of the paintings might sit on your own walls, or taking the plunge to buy. It's that sort of show.

Much of the work is intimately connected to place, about half to dramatically different Scottish locations, many others to places further afield. There is Sheila Macmillan's Sand Dunes, North Uist, a smudgy composition of bluey-green and pea-green tones, or the almost air-brushed quality of Pam Carter's Over Collieston Harbour (is the sea ever that deep Mediterranean blue at Collieston, though?)

Wendy Sutherland's Island Of Coll, a small, simple work in graphite, is among the most evocative, capturing that moment when a swirl of fog, a sheet of mist, descends, while Georgie Young's Passing Place, Wester Ross, presents the drama of the sky and the land, flooded in bright, endless light. As far away from this in style and tone is Perpetua Pope's Peat Cutting, Islay, all creamy brown tones and flat for as far as the eye can see.

At this time of year, paintings focusing on warmer, milder climes may be the ones you find yourself looking at longest and most longingly. Tom Watt's Three Boats, Martigues, not only brings the deep-blue sun-drenched sea to Stenton, but also the way the sun glints on the brightly painted fishing boats as they bob in the harbour. The same mood, enough to make you book a holiday even if you don't buy a painting, is found in John E Kingsley's Terraced Gardens, Ménerbes, Provence, and Joe Hargan's New Moon, Majorca.

The works that most stand out, however, are the paintings that free themselves from place, from the known or easily imagined landscape in some way. The terrain that Christopher Wood conjures in Sea Fishing might feel familiar, but his approach is also flamboyantly abstract. In the midst of fields and an easily recognisable horizon and shoreline, sit wild fizzes of colour, like liquorice allsorts or sweet pebbles.

So do Ingrid Phillips's pieces in glass dotted around the gallery, the only exceptions to paintings in this show. Phillips works in two styles here: glass spheres, like gold-fish bowls with coloured glass running through them, and long vase-like structures in single colours. The light from outside touches them and suddenly both are about the liquidity of glass, its diverse forms.

Diversity, light, elegance and style: not a bad start for Scottish art in the 21st century.

Scotland on Sunday, 23 January 2000