Andrew Mackenzie is an intriguing artist. His cerebral approach and beautiful, controlled drawing take his landscape paintings well beyond a genre that is all too often enslaved to the palette knife and the extravagant colour spectrum. He said recently, `I now feel less clear about what "landscape" actually is, and about what we mean by "nature" and "manmade", than I ever have.´ His unusual methodology sees him confront the landscape armed with a notebook as much a sketchbook and then construct his preparatory drawings on the actual painting surface, building the painting on top, so that the `finished´ painting retains the ghostly marks of the exploratory drawing.
In creating these complex, layered paintings, Mackenzie produces a distortion of perspective and spatial reality, conflating disparate elements of the environments, such as trees and car parks or motorway footbridges on show. He uses an understated palette, occasionally enlivened by a searing bright cadmium red or lemon yellow, applied strong and flat to further obfuscate the actuality of the landscape. The resultant paintings, despite being filled with the most accurate and meticulous drawing, are almost abstract in their overall design. They are reminiscent in some ways of some Japanese printmaking, containing a similar complicated flatness and well-ordered compositional balance. They are undeniably beautiful.
Andrew Mackenzie - Delicate Ground
Mackenzie revels in the seductive, snaking patterns which his trees create.
In these works Mackenzie combines an astute eye for design - the subtle placement of text and the dynamic interplay of colour - with a delicate painter's touch. The surfaces of his paintings are ingrained with a secret visual history; with evidence of mark making (and subsequent erasure) creating a ghostly sense of embedded experience. On top of these delicate composites he depicts - mostly in flat colour - fragments of landscapes which possess a pleasing and enigmatic decorative quality. Like many an artist before him, Mackenzie revels in the seductive, snaking patterns which his trees create, here augmenting his compositions with carefully painted words - "bridge", "underpass" - which nod towards the labelling of 19th century botanical drawings and create a thoroughly modern dialogue between the viewer and the ersatz representations of the text. Introducing type into traditional painted works is always something of a gambit, but the bold certainties of these words find a useful foil in Mackenzie's shifting, skeletal backgrounds. On an aesthetic level, these are superbly well judged works and the artist displays great relish in creating vibrant oppositions of colour and pattern. A very satisfying show.
If group shows seem to pull the mind in several directions at once, Andrew Mackenzie's solo show at Amber Roome has a certain edgy tranquillity. Mackenzie's work is shifting from abstraction towards moody contemporary landscapes, skeletal tree forms layered against richly coloured backgrounds.
Sometimes a faint line of buildings remains where one has been painted then removed, the ghost of a street lamp, a pavement, a pylon. Titles like Underpass and Winter New Build, which sometimes appear in the paintings in copperplate, speak of unseen man-made presences which only increase the desolation, like a lone tree in an urban wasteland.
Mackenzie interacts with the historical idea of landscape; some of these paintings follow the most traditional of rules, a vista framed by trees, although the trees frame nothing but colour.
In Artificial Paradise, a fallen tree lurches towards another against a blood red sky which seems illuminated by lightning, cutting off the middle distance. It's beautiful and unsettling, paradise perhaps, but poised on the edge of a darker, more threatening world.
For further proof that contemporary Scottish painting is alive and well, you could do little better than walk down the hill to Cumberland Street where in its brave little outpost of contemporary art, Amber Roome is showing the work of Andrew Mackenzie.
Roome's stable of artists falls somewhere between the Ingleby's big names and doggerfisher's cutting edge, readily filling a gap in the Edinburgh art scene. Mackenzie's work is typical of its quality and for further evidence you might wander downstairs for a group show by other gallery artists.
Mackenzie paints landscapes, but he does so in a highly original way. Like Rae, he is concerned with the intervention of man, although in Mackenzie's case these are not the archaeological accretions of past civilisations but the more mundane, less welcome evidence of contemporary society. At first glance his images appear as nothing more than calm, sparsely evocative portrayals of single trees against a ghosted ground. Look more closely, though, and you become aware of other, more regular lines tracing a path through this wilderness. In works bearing such revealing titles as Underpass and Artificial Paradise, Mackenzie scars his landscapes with suggestions of a human presence, employing the callous precision of an architect's blueprint. Then, with some delicacy of touch he retraces the outline of a tree with a blue line suggestive perhaps of some manufactured, creeping virus and inscribes in fine, period script the single, sinister and subversive word 'Transmission.'
Sparsely hung to encourage our contemplation, Mackenzie's thoughtful paintings demonstrate, like Ford's knights, that at Festival time, as always, often the most modest of shows can yield unexpected, welcome surprises.
Andrew Mackenzie - delicate ground
As much about rehearsing the movement of your hand whilst drawing, as the visual imagery it creates, Andrew MacKenzie's paintings explore the romantic detachments from the real, when we choose to represent something through memory.
Surfaces are reworked, layered, scraped back and covered, ghosts of line drawings emerge as shadows. There is something print like, even photographic, in the images created, as if they've been impressed upon the surface.
Images from Andrew MacKenzie - Delicate Ground
The paintings, or rather drawings, describe locations possibly well known to the artist, and familiar to us all: kerbside trees by empty streets, bridges, the edge of a building site. MacKenzie states that the actual locations are no longer relevant, but it is the almost symbolic representation of elements together that drives the work. Often texts are inserted, describing human process within the environment.
By erasing and redrawing, the works become more about retracing paths on the surface of the painting, and the images persist through their own familiarity.
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The simple beauty of Andrew Mackenzie's most recent paintings belies the time and effort that goes into making them. Layers of paint create a textured, time-altered surface, like the armrest of a much-used painted chair. Floating on top are delicate traceries of twigs and branches, trees at crazy angles, the untended woodland of the hard shoulder; sometimes the hint of a concrete structure, and words: 'Phonemast', 'Underpass'. These interventions into the anonymous, urban treescapes capture a tension between abstract pattern and reality, the point where nature meets human. In 'Transmission' the urban environment emerges, the kerb drawn with the accuracy of an architect's schema, like a city planner attempting to impose order on chaos.
Larger paintings are bordered in wide, white canvas, like Polaroid photographs. If Mackenzie has used photographs to provide the bones of his compositions, carefully selecting the lines he will modulate and bend to his vision, the resulting paintings evoke the shadow images of double exposures, or even calotypes disappearing after exposure to light. Blue paper looks as though the drawing has been blotted out of it. A harmony of reds is like a retinal pattern dimly seen. The delicate grey lines of silverpoint are little snowscapes on white ground; see-through serif calligraphy hovers at the front of the picture plane, bringing us back to dayglo urban reality: 'Yellow Plastic', 'Distant Humming'. Memory and romance are in a dialogue with the necessities of modern life and its own particular aesthetic beauty.
The recently opened Merz gallery in Broughton Street takes its name from Kurt Schwitter's use of merz, or rubbish, for his art. It is a pun, for the site used to be a junk shop - so the spirit of Schwitters lives on. Schwitters was an abstract artist at one level but because he used scraps of material discarded from our daily lives, his art also retained a very positive link with the quotidian. Andrew Mackenzie, currently showing, is in this tradition.
His art has all the purity and simplicity that one looks for in this kind of visible music. But his lovely compositions of balanced shapes in grey and white, and subtle variations of surface have titles such as Untitled (power station, hidden wires), Untitled (pier), or Untitled (suspended walkway). The use of "Untitled" is a convention of abstract art, but in the bracketed bit the artist seems to direct us to the actual landscape experience that was the original grit for his pearl. And, indeed, pearls they are. Exquisitely made, they seem to be the record of a process of gradual refinement; the distillation of the essential music as all the interference and ambient noise is stripped away to leave the eloquence of simplicity.
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