Reveal: Three contemporary artists respond to Durer's Apocalypse and Goya's Los Caprichos.
The exhibition, at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh features work by Rowan Dahl, Alan Grieve and Derrick Guild in collaboration with Blackie House Library and Museum. The three artists worked with the original copies of Durer's and Goya's work, being inspired by each others perspective as well as the images themselves.
Throughout humanity the idea of the apocalypse, the dreaded destruction of humanity, has always been an ever present threat. Even today we are surrounded by our upcoming death, our phones flooding with information of the latest war, mass shooting or political drama that threatens our way of life. The latest books or biggest blockbusters dramatize the end as an uninhabitable land with fear lurking in the shadows ready to pounce, so when we go to see an exhibition about the apocalypse we are usually expecting work about fire, darkness, death and despair but the artists reveal another way to approach the coming doom, forcing us to reconsider what we actually know about the subject.
Grieve's work confronts us as we step through into the exhibition space. An explosion of eighty small drawings scattered along the wall as if it was left in a sense of urgency or panic. This urgency is emphasised by the drawings themselves, created with haste in a cartoon style. His childlike quality that he brings to the work is a nice juxtaposition to the original panic that hits you at first glance. Goya's and Durer's apocalypse is now seen through a child's eye. Grieve adds satire to each piece, allowing humour to enter an otherwise depressing conversation, giving us permission to laugh but with the empathy a child would have at each scenario conveyed across the wall, protecting themselves from greater harm.
On the opposite side of the room is the work by Derrick Guild. Turning away from the noise of Grieve's work the viewer is greeted with quietness, entering into a space of timelessness. Guild explores the methods of creation of the original pieces instead of solely looking at the image itself. Each piece delicately made, the paper embossed and the layers faded together in a coat of gold or black. We are encouraged to pause and spend time with the artwork, to look closer, waiting for the hidden image to fully reveal itself to us. Each piece made precious in it's simplicity. The Magnificent 7 series, fragile gold frames encompassing the gold embossed paper, hang in a row on the wall, ready to be admired and cherished by their subjects, the end not something to be feared but respected and handled with care. The destructive, chaotic end balanced by the Guild's delicate, timeless, considered works. He finds the beauty in the apocalypse.
Lastly, turning to the side wall is Dahl's work caught in the middle of the two artists. Fewer in works but no less powerful, Dahl displays several almost blank pieces of paper in a row. The paper blending into the background the eye is naturally drawn to the line work forming the mythical creatures present in Durer's work. Uncertainty lies beneath, the creatures subtracted down to their basic form, almost bare bones, makes us wonder if the creatures are growing, the doom quietly creeping up on us, or if they are fading away and the end is nothing more than fragment of our imagination. The eeriness of the creatures is unsettling but if they are nothing more than our imagination then should we not then let the apocalypse die so we can go on living?
The works explore the relationship between humanity and the world's destruction. How would we respond to our end? How do we treat the idea itself in our minds? Is it something to be feared or to be admired? Are we the cause or simply a helpless spectator? From the child like humour to the beautiful silence we should step out in contemplative thought, considering what each artist has to say, and if we're prudent we will take them with us out into the world and maybe look at the future in a different light.
Picture Below: Derrick Guild RSA, The Magnificent Seven (III)