Celebrating the Art and Design Library Artists’ Books Collection

Central Library are excited to invite you to the new exhibition on the Mezzanine: a showcase of the Artists’ Books Collection held by the Art and Design Library. The Art and Design Library Artists’ Books Collection comprises over 200 artists’ books and is part of the library’s contemporary special collections.

Artists books display on the Mezzanine at Central Library

The collection includes a significant range of works by Scottish artists, and artists working in Scotland.

The Art and Design Library began collecting artists’ books in the 1990s and has been gradually adding to the collection, with a more recent focus on the Scottish holdings. The Scottish artists represented include Douglas Gordon, Elaine Fullerton, Joanna Robson, Susie Wilson, Kate Whitford, and the late Ian Hamilton Finlay.

A selection of works by Susie Wilson
“Dr Jekyll and My Hyde” by Joanna Robson

The collection also includes many international contemporary artists’ books. Some of the earliest examples in the collection are those produced in the 1960s by the renowned Pop artist Edward Ruscha and celebrated Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. Indeed, many sources cite Rusha and LeWitt as pioneers of this art form. The Library’s collection contains a range of examples of their work, some of which are simple collections of photographs in a book form. Other prominent international artists represented in the collection include the Abstract Expressionist painter, Helen Frankenthaler, and the Conceptualist artist Joseph Kosuth.

“Every Building on Sunset Strip” and “Some Los Angeles Apartments” by Edward Ruscha

As you will see throughout the display, artists’ books are diverse in form and concept. This diversity makes them difficult to define, although typically, these books are printed on a small scale and with limited editions. Sometimes they are produced in a conventional book-type form, but some can be produced as scrolls or concertinas, and even paper sculptures handcrafted in unique editions. They can feature unusual materials: glass, tree bark, ceramic, and textiles. The display showcases the wide variety of forms contained in the Art and Design Library collection and runs until the end of December 2022.

“Mysterious Ink” by Li Huang

Dreams by Molly Kent – September exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The Art and Design Library are thrilled to have rising star of the contemporary art world, Molly Kent, as the September exhibitor with an exhibition of tapestry and weaving entitled “Dreams”. 

Dreams by Molly Kent

Based in Edinburgh, Molly is a recent graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, where she received a Master of Arts with First Class Honours. She worked throughout her college years as a Library Adviser in the Art and Design Library, so the exhibition also marks a homecoming of sorts!

Molly is a textile artist concerned with representing notions of mental and physical health through mediums such as rug tufting and weaving. She portrays contemporary existence regarding social media and internet living and the effects this has on our perception of self. This stems from her personal experiences of her mental health condition CPTSD but also reflects on wider anxieties and fears that have come to attention as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When will we be free? by Molly Kent

At the beginning of 2021, after experiencing an episode of ill mental health, Kent’s work shifted towards a new project Dream Weaving. Dream Weaving is a multi-award winning body of work that records dreams and nightmares experienced by the artist as a result of her mental health condition. This series of work features recurrent themes of falling, extreme weather and digital anxieties and offers a critical insight into how dream psychology can tell a lot about the inner workings of a person. The work is inspired by symbolism, mysticism, myths and legends alongside personal symbols of the trauma she suffered that led to her diagnosis. The Art and Design Library exhibition features work from this series.

Paranoia by Molly Kent

Molly has exhibited internationally, having contributed to exhibitions such as WORD OF MOUTH at the Venice Biennale 2019, which then toured to Australia, as well as various exhibitions across Scotland and the UK.

Her artwork is held in public and private collections worldwide, including the University of Edinburgh’s Art Collection, and the National Museum of Australia amongst others. She is represented by newcube, and if you are interested in learning more you can contact them at info@newcube.art

“Dreams” opens on 2 September 2022 and runs through the month in the Art and Design Library at Central Library.  We look forward to seeing you there!

What now? by Molly Kent

“I didn’t know Robert Motherwell made prints” – July 2022 exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The July exhibition in the Art and Design library is in full swing.  “I didn’t know Robert Motherwell made prints” is an exhibition of unique prints by Dilal Singh, an Edinburgh-born art student.

Untitled by by Dilal Singh

Dilal is in his 3rd year studying Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. He has been exploring a variety of traditional printmaking techniques in recent months and the exhibition is the culmination of this work.  Featuring prints made using Chine Collé, screen printing, waterless lithography and woodcut printing, the exhibition explores ideas and metaphors that mark Dilal’s evolution as an artist. He originally trained and worked as a gas fitter for 10 years, and in his own words, he states:

“This series of images evoke a very personal journey of self-realisation after the Covid-19 pandemic and a reflection of my journey to art and the freedom it has given me. The more abstract prints are inspired by the metaphor of a smashed mirror and my journey of becoming the person I want to be rather than what I thought society wanted. My evolution as an artist began with three years of life drawing evening classes taught by Paul Muzni and Claudia Petretti and some of the prints on display include human features and figures layered over abstract prints. As I progress through my degree, I plan to continue working with printing techniques alongside my painting practice, which is influenced by Kandinsky, Matisse, Joan Miro, Banksy and more. The title of the exhibition is a reminder of how much I still have to learn in the world of art.”

The exhibition is on display for the whole month of July and is well worth a visit to the Art and Design Library to see. 

Untitled by Dilal Singh

The Art and Design Library hosts 12 exhibitions a year within its beautiful space.  If you would like to learn more, please get in touch: central.artanddesign.library@edinburgh.gov.uk

New drawing and art books for children

For this month’s blog from the Art and Design Library, Jen reviews a few of our 


They’re exciting additions, and we have more to come. We’re planning a collection of travelling stock to send out to our community libraries – so do keep a look out for some smart new books on our shelves.  

For this year’s spring/summer exhibition, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art are showing a Barbara Hepworth show at Modern Two. It opened on 9 April and will run until 2 October 2022.  

Meet Barbara Hepworth by Laura Carlin therefore seems an apt title to begin with. Laura Carlin is an illustrator and ceramicist based in London, and the book feels so fresh. It’s a wonderful introduction, for anybody, to thoughts about form and shape. About what is it that we do in front of a sculpture; about how learning to see is a bodily thing; about how feelings and shapes collide; and how shapes talk to each other.  

I always love seeing the insides of books, so here are some sneaky shots. 

Meet Barbara Hepworth by Laura Carlin
Meet Barbara Hepworth by Laura Carlin
Meet Barbara Hepworth by Laura Carlin

As you can see, Laura Carlin’s illustration work is a fantastic medley of mixed media-collage-drawing/everything work. And as well as being about Barbara Hepworth and her sculptures, the book also includes prompts for how you might make your own sculptures inspired by the natural world.  

Some extra links – to the Hepworth Wakefield gallery and Barbara Hepworth’s biography page (great photos and snippets of inspiring thoughts); and her sculpture garden and museum in St Ives if you’re ever that end of the map.  

Laura Carlin won the prestigious V & A Book Illustration Award in 2011 for her illustrated edition of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man. And one of my favourite books of hers’ is A World of Your Own. On play and creativity, it just sparkles.   

There are more in this series. Tate Publishing is the publisher, and the series is called Meet the Artist. As with the Barbara Hepworth, Tate have commissioned a contemporary illustrator to respond to an older artist. Lizzy Stewart has made one on Turner; Rose Blake on David Hockney and Andy Warhol; Nick White on Giacometti; Hélène Baum-Owoyele on Frank Bowling, Helena Perez Garcia on the Pre-Raphaelites.  

They encourage observation and imagination, and they are brilliant creative introductions to art history, and to artmaking. 

(A further peek – these next couple of pictures are from the David Hockney book.)  

David Hockney by Rose Blake
David Hockney by Rose Blake

Another exciting little cohort in our new stock collection are several books by the French artist and educator Hervé Tullet . Art Workshops for Children; Draw Here; I Have an Idea!; andMy Stencil Kit: Draw, Colour and Create Your Own Stories.For sheer joy, energy, and a perfect explication of what it means to play, I totally recommend these books.

Here’s a look inside for you: 

Draw Here by Hervé Tullet
Draw Here by Hervé Tullet
Draw Here by Hervé Tullet
Art workshops for children by Hervé Tullet
Art workshops for children by Hervé Tullet

I find it endlessly interesting watching my toddler with his felt-tip pens. His compulsion and delight, the variety of things that need to be done to and with a felt-tip pen. Whoever knew. I can see the process of him learning – how do I hold this object; what can it do; it’s a tool, oh wow – and with that, comes his discovery of all kinds of concepts… His drawing is totally process-based, he’s busy exploring stuff (until suddenly he’s not!) but mostly he is, and it’s fun for him. What I love about the Hervé Tullet books is that he takes this boundless curiosity and intuitive need to create that all children seem to have, and he plays with it. It’s the visual equivalent of handstands or cartwheels, or just lying on the grass wiggling your toes. The books contain activities and workshops that are adaptable for pretty much any age group. It’s easy to forget how to play, and these books are a bundle of fun and cleverness that remind us how important it is.  

On this workshopping topic I’d just like to mention a couple of other books we have: Drawing Projects for Children; and Make Build Create. Both are by the artist-educator Paula Briggs.  

And here’s an endorsement for the Drawing Projects book by Quentin Blake – “A beautiful book, full of ideas and a vivid sense of materials – truly appetising and stimulating.”  

It wets my appetite too. The book is a collection of simple exercises and activities about making thoughtful and meaningful marks in all kinds of media. I find more each time I go back to them. There are also helpful notes for the facilitator/parent of an activity, and one of the tenets behind the books is that the facilitator need not be a specialist at all.  

Paula Briggs has also set up a charity called Access Art which is a treasure trove of resources for children’s art activities, both for Primary and Secondary age groups.  

And one more picture from some of our new children’s stock:

If you’re at high school reading this, or you’re the parent of someone who is, I thought I’d include a few gems from our stock – some personal gems anyway, from my personal canon, as I’m sure everybody has their own. 

The writer and illustrator, Mervyn Peake, creator of Gormenghast, wrote a little treatise on drawing called The Craft of the Lead Pencil. Originally published in 1946, it is full of the essence of what drawing is (or should be). It is a simple telling, just a few pages long. We have it compiled in another book, Mervyn Peake: Writings & Drawings. 

Similarly, Kimon Nicolaides’ The Natural Way to Draw, is a wonderful (old) how-to book. It is a year’s schedule of drawing that looks at the components of making a drawing – gesture, line, form, feeling, the materials you are working with… – and always with an eye on artists working in the past.  

Also in the 1970s, John Berger (1926 – 2017), artist, art historian, and writer, wrote his influential Ways of Seeing to accompany the BBC TV series of the same name. And in the early 2000s, he wrote a little book of essays and fragments on drawing. It begins,  

For the artist drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase, it is quite literally true. It is the actual act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of him, to dissect it in his mind’s eye and put it together again; or, if he is drawing from memory, that forces him to dredge his own mind, to discover the content of his own store of past observations… “

This is illustrated so well, I think, by the artist Sargy Mann in an introductory essay to a book on Bonnard’s drawings. It is about how the very best drawing is discovery, and about how we see. 

We have a lot of books on drawing, of course; on artists’ drawings and artists’ sketchbooks. Come and look at the golden oldies. (How does Rembrandt draw? How did he draw so much heart, I’d love to know that. And Hokusai – he draws with so much facility, so much life – we have his Manga sketchbooks in one of our stores. Originally published in 1814, they are a handbook of over 4,000 images. They contain drawings of everyday life, people, expressions, architecture; drawings of the natural world and animals; myths and stories.) 

And here are just a few extra pictures I pulled off the shelves from our drawing section to entice you: 

Drawing and Painting by Kate Wilson
Drawing and Painting by Kate Wilson
Drawing water by Tania Kovats
Drawing birds by John Busby
Drawing books from the Art and Design Library collection
Comics Sketchbooks by Steven Heller
Comics Sketchbooks by Steven Heller
Anatomy for the artist by Sarah Simblet
Anatomy for the artist by Sarah Simblet
Botany for the artist by Sarah Simblet
Sketching books from the Art and Design Library collection

What I mainly want to say though, is, we have lots and lots of great books. Please do come into the Art and Design Library and explore! 

LGBT History in the Art and Design Library

Today, we had over to Nicky from the Art and Design Library team to tell us about LGBTQ+ connections found in the department’s collections.

As February draws to a close, I’d like to share my – new-ish, LGBTQ+ member of staff – exploration of our collections using LGBT History Month Scotland’s 2022 theme, ‘Blurring Borders’, of thinking beyond borders and about LGBT community and liberation around the world. Some of my discoveries can be found in this month’s Art and Design Library book display.

Framing the picture

Why does it matter that an artist or designer is or was what we’d describe today as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (including non-binary and genderqueer), queer, intersex or asexual (LGBTQIA+)?

For some artists or designers their sexual orientation and/or gender identity have not been significant to their work. However, for many others, including those selected for the display, making visible aspects of their own life experiences, bodies, minds, feelings, identities, world views and spaces is crucial, and these lives and work often not only blur borders, but push and transgress artistic and societal, sexual or gender conventions and transcend geopolitical boundaries. Collectively, too, the act of making lives and work of LGBTQIA+ artists and designers visible can support community building, can represent shared histories and stories, desires, pain and joy that were previously ignored, censored or silenced by criminalisation and social and moral attitudes, can help counter stigma, and can enable and support activism and campaigns for liberation.

How do we know that artists and designers are or were LGBTQIA+?

Contemporary and 20th century artists and designers often explicitly acknowledge(d) or embrace(d) sexual orientations and gender identities that are or were not heterosexual or cisgender in their lives and/or as subjects of their work and so can be safely included under today’s rainbow umbrella. But, the language we currently use in English to recognise and (re-)claim the rich complexities of human sexual orientation and gender identity is relatively new, is continuously evolving and contested, and would be meaningless to like-minded folk of the past. For example, art created by LGBT+ people is often referred to as ‘Queer Art’, however, the term queer had, and for many people still has, negative and painful connotations, while for others still, myself included, ‘queer’ has been reclaimed as a positive term extending beyond sexual orientation and gender identity. Therefore, it’s important to consider the historical contexts in which artists and designers of the past lived and worked and, if they left behind any personal writing, how they described themselves or were described by their contemporaries. A film specially made by the National Galleries of Scotland for LGBT History Month 2022 addresses this topic and a resource created by Norena Shopland and Dr Daryl Leeworthy for Glamorgan Archives in 2018 explores the challenges of uncovering in historical documents the lives of people we would now describe as LGBTQIA+.

When considering artists and designers around the world it is also important to consider the cultural and geographical contexts in which they live(d) and work(ed) and the impact of imperialism and colonialism on people we’d today describe as LGBTQIA+ in those locations (more on that below). I also must recognise the position I’m viewing artists and their work from, as a white person educated in the UK with books, articles and interpretations about Western traditions and framings of art, design and architectural history. These themes have been addressed in a recent talk by Dr Churnjeet Mahn (University of Strathclyde) for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Finally, how much does it matter that I’m a queer person exploring LGBTQIA+ artists’ and designers’ lives and work? Does that give me greater or different insights and understanding than a heterosexual person? I’m still thinking a lot about all of this!

The display

Getting to know artists and designers whose lives and work could fit with this year’s LGBT History Month theme and then finding books that were both available and fitted in the display case took quite a bit of work! I eventually settled on a display that highlights three themes: artists and identities in 1920s and 1930s Paris; HIV/AIDS advocacy and connections to cultural heritage; and everyday lives and individual and collective liberation.

1920s and 1930s Paris was the European centre of avant-garde art and literature, and along with Berlin, also of LGBTQ+ life (before it was described as such). Paris-born photographer Claude Cahun, Czech painter Toyen and Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray were all part of that world.

Claude Cahun (1894–1954; originally named Lucy Schwob) chose a new name for herself which suited her attitude to gender: in her book Disavowals, she wrote, ‘Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.’ Her own, changing image, her identity and performance were all a focus of her photographic and written work. Featuring in many photos was Cahun’s life partner, Marcel Moore (1909–54; originally named Suzanne Malherbe), who an artist in her own right. They, two Jewish, LGBTQ+ women, later moved to Jersey where, as members of the local resistance, courageously fought the World War Two Nazi occupation of the island and experienced its liberation in 1945.

Toyen (1902–80; originally named Marie Černova) was a painter and member of the Czech avant-garde group of artists, designers, architects and poets, Devětsil, during the 1920s and 1930s. Toyen, like Claude Cahun, chose a gender-neutral name and also used masculine pronouns. Toyen’s surreal and symbolic paintings, subject of a recent exhibition in Hamburg, have been described as composed ‘of unreal beings and strange objects’, ‘materialisations of latent psychic states’, with ‘emotive value’, ‘disturbing impact’ and ‘in many cases these enigmatic objects have a clear libidinous subtext’ (The Czech Avant-Garde of the 1920s and 30s, pp. 74–5.)

Eileen Gray (1878–1976), whose partners included women and men, renovated her own Paris apartment using modern, up-to-date forms as well as materials and accessories that recalled earlier tastes and dark colours traditionally associated with masculinity. Her design choices and style have been described as hinting at the privileged decadent, male homosexual aesthetics of the late 19th century; as a critique of the exclusively masculine world of Modern architecture and design; and of ‘creating an imaginative space’ for ‘a community of kindred spirits’ to make their emerging collective identity, as what we’d now probably describe as lesbian and bisexual women, visible. (Jasmine Rault, Eileen Gray and the Design of Sapphic Modernity, pp. 49–50.)

Beyond the Art and Design Library you can borrow books and read more about Paris’s community of wealthy, immigrant women with women sexual and domestic partners in the 1920s and 1930s in Diana Souhami’s books Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho and Art and No Modernism without Lesbians.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s (1955–89) 1987 photographic print with graphite and coloured pencil, Sonponnoi, brought together personal experience of HIV/AIDS, the skin lesions of AIDS-related Karposi’s Sarcoma and associated stigma at the height of the AIDS epidemic and his Yoruba heritage on his own body. In the figure of Sonponnoi, often also known as Shapona or Ṣọ̀pọ̀na, a Yoruba God of smallpox shunned by other Gods, Fani-Kayode ‘found a resonant symbol of an outcast God: one that embodies infection, carrying the threat of death, yet also offering protection.’ (Alex Pichler, A Queer Little History of Art, p. 99)

The rainbow, red-heart and denim costumes designed by Peter Minshall (b. 1941) for the ‘Sacred Heart’ band,  to ‘play’ at Trinidad Carnival 2006 are featured in the book Erotic Islands: Art and Activism in the Queer Caribbean. The band’s performance showcased creatively political messages about mending the heart of Trinidad and Tobago broken by corporate greed and corruption and tackling stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Frida Kahlo’s (1907–54) powerful body of work, most famously her self-portraits, share many details from her life including her family and her Mestiza and European heritage; her revolutionary, left-wing politics; her marriage with painter Diego Rivera; and expressing the pain and vulnerability associated with her physical disabilities and miscarriages. Kahlo was known to have had relationships with men and women outside her marriage, including with Mexican actress Dolores del Rio, but few of her paintings seem to address this. One painting which has been interpreted in this way is Two Nudes in a Forest (1938): one of the women could be Kahlo herself with her lover. Other, different interpretations for this painting also exist.

The paintings of Bhupen Khakhar (1934–2003) celebrated everyday life in India and also provided a space for the artist to explore his own sexuality. His 1981 work ‘You Can’t Please All’ is considered his coming-out painting. It features a self-portrait and the re-enactment of a fable which is believed to reflect Khakhar’s desire to accept his sexuality.

In his book From Here to Eternity, Sunil Gupta (b. 1953) documents his everyday life as a gay man, with friends and family, his HIV+ status and his involvement in LGBTQ+ activism in Canada, the UK and India. He includes a photograph of a poster announcing a 2013 demonstration against the Indian Penal Code Section 377. This legislation was introduced by the British colonial government in 1860 and criminalised ‘unnatural offences’ such as ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. The penalty for these offences was imprisonment for life. Activism in and beyond India and a case at the Indian Supreme Court finally achieved a repeal of the Penal Code in 2018. For LGBT History Month 2022, the Human Dignity Trust has created a timeline showing the history of LGBT criminalisation around the world. In many countries including India, 19th century colonial legislation, such as the Indian Penal Code, imported moral standards that outlawed locally understood and accepted diversity in gender and sexuality. The repercussions of this aspect of colonialism continue to be felt today.

Find out more

In the Art and Design Library, you can find many more books on the lives and work of artists and designers under LGBTQIA+ umbrella and on wider themes:

A Queer Little History of Art (a very useful introduction!)

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Lubaina Himid

Tove Jansson (did you know that Moomin’s friends Thingummy and Bob represent Jansson’s relationship with Vivica Bandler and Too-ticky her long-time partner Tuulikki Pietilä?)

Zanele Muholi

Raqib Shaw

Amrita Sher-Gil

The Two Roberts: Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde

Art and Queer Culture

Decolonising the Camera

Sunil Gupta’s work as a curator in Disrupted Borders

Passions: Discourses on Black Women’s Creativity

A Queer History of Fashion

Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960–85

Trans Exploits: Trans of Color Cultures and Technologies in Movement

Beyond the Art and Design Library and links in the text above, I used the following resources to inform this blog post:

Art UK LGBTQ+ resources

Tate Queer Lives and Art online guide

Association for Art History resource portal on anti-racism and decolonial approaches to art history and visual culture

Disability Arts Online

Queer Migration and Intersectional Activism, London Borough of Newham LGBT History Month 2021 panel featuring artists including Sunil Gupta

Queering Black Britain, University College London

Carissa Chew, Inclusive Terminology: Guide and Glossary for the Cultural Heritage Sector, National Library of Scotland, May 2021

Churnjeet Mahn and Rohit K. Dasgupta, ‘Cross-border queers: how we’re digging up lost histories of LGBTQI+ South Asian migrants in Britain’, gal-dem, 24 February 2021

Arya Karijo, ‘Stop imposing your imperialist Western transphobia on my people’, openDemocracy, 31 March 2021

Kerstin Olsson, ‘Layers of (In)visibility: Remembering Eileen Gray’, Master of Architecture and Planning thesis, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, 2021

Many conversations with LGBTQ+ friends, former colleagues, and project contacts at West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, Edinburgh Caribbean Association, Thistles and Dandelions project and Next Step Initiative – thank you!

Printed people, plants and places – February 2022 exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The February exhibition in the Art and Design Library is a riot of colour from the self-taught Edinburgh artist, Keith Murray Allan. “Printed People, Plants and Places” features bright and expressive line and wash watercolours ranging from flower studies to lively portraits.  

“Porty Buskers” by Keith Murray Allan

Allan’s influences range from Van Gogh to comic book favourite Dudley D Watkins, mixed with what he describes as “the explosion of Punk’s anarchic colours” which marked his coming of age in the early ’80s.  Allan finds inspiration everywhere and loves to delve into collage and photography. The results of this heady aesthetic mix are spirited and vibrant and the Art and Design Library is looking fabulous thanks to his paintings.

“Pink flowers and jugs” by Keith Murray Allan

The exhibition runs throughout February – don’t miss it!

Did you know we host 12 exhibitions a year in the Art and Design Library? Feel feel to drop us an email if you would like to exhibit your art and photography with us – we would love to hear from you. Contact the Art and Design team via email: central.artanddesign.library@edinburgh.gov.uk

Exhibitions resume in the Art and Design library

The Art and Design Library is very excited to announce that our programme of exhibitions resumes this month. 

The Cool Sax Man by Mhairi Chambers

Edinburgh Photographic Society are displaying their annual exhibition throughout November. A regular exhibitor, the Society was established in 1861, and has close to 200 members.  Their exhibition features an array of different styles and photographic techniques, including intentional camera movement and polaroid transfer. The exhibition includes examples from the spectrum of photographic genres including portraiture, nature, landscape and street photography. The exhibition runs for four weeks from 1st to 27th November 2021.

Ptarmigan In Deep Snow by David Wolfender

The Art and Design Library hosts 12 exhibitions a year and we encourage artists who are interested in exhibiting to contact us for more information:  central.artanddesign.library@edinburgh.gov.uk

Elizabeth Blackadder, 1931 – 2021

Elizabeth Blackadder would have been 90 years old this week, and here in the Art and Design Library, staff have been saddened at her recent passing. She was one of Scotland’s most loved artists and she achieved recognition and success across the UK. She was the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She was honoured with royal recognition too: an OBE in 1982 followed by a DBE in 2003. She was even appointed Painter and Limner to the Royal Household in Scotland in 2002.

Ruby Rose from the Art and Design Team has been spending some time with the Elizabeth Blackadder books in our collections and shares her thoughts. 

The artist at work in her studio by Elizabeth Blackadder, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

I have an abiding fascination with artist studios, materials and methods, so am particularly drawn to the Royal Academy Masterclass publication, “The Artist at Work in Her Studio” which conveys a sense of her approach to her work as a painter. In this beautifully illustrated book, she describes some of her processes and artistic choices in creating still life and flower paintings. She provides insight and opinions about painting in her own words, and it reminds me that she was a teacher at her Alma Mater, Edinburgh College of Art, for much of her working life. I find a quiet generosity to her commentary, and perhaps some sense of the pedagogical impulse in her straightforward descriptions of elements of her techniques. The book is laced with little snippets: the paper she uses, the colours she chooses, her approach to arranging a still life, even how she uses a paintbrush.  There is a complete lack of pretence, and in a wealth of photographs we get a wonderful insight into her studio and practice.

Morning glory : haiku and tanka by Alan Spence, illustrated by Elizabeth Blackadder, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

Another favourite of mine from the Art and Design Library collection, is Morning Glory by Alan Spence, a collection of poems in the Haiku and Tanka forms.  This tiny book of tiny poems is exquisitely illustrated with tender drawings and paintings.  Blackadder’s mid-life interest in Japanese culture comes through in delicate drawings such as a Matcha Whisk and blue green Matcha bowl with a wisp of steam rising from the warm tea within. There are Japanese fans and a kimono. These are echoes of her larger work with Japanese themes, and throughout you can sense an expressive evocation of the subjects.  There are several paintings of peacocks, including on the cover as you can see. I find the lively drama in her expressive brushstrokes delightful. Nothing has been overworked or laboured in the illustrations, and they appear almost effortless precisely because of the underlying skill of their creator. There is a resonance here to the immediacy of the small form of the poetry. The deceptive simplicity of the poems hides the process of creation.

This same sense of evocation and expressiveness comes through in one of her (and my) perennial favourite subjects: cats.  She drew cats in pencil and pastels, painted them in oils and watercolours, and they feature in her print work too.  The popularity of her cats was recognised in 1995 with a UK release of Royal Mail stamps featuring 5 especially commissioned cats.

Elizabeth Blackadder by Judith Bumpus, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

Happily for feline afficionados, several of the published monographs about her reproduce many examples of her cat paintings and studies. These include Duncan Macmillan’s 1999 survey of her career, and the first book dedicated to her by Judith Bumpus features a charming green cat amongst the foliage (“Cat and Orchids”, 1984) on its cover. 

Elizabeth Blackadder by Phil Long, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

My final favourite is the book that accompanied the 2011 retrospective exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, “Elizabeth Blackadder” written by Philip Long, and reading it feels both appropriate and poignant at this time.  The exhibition celebrated Blackadder’s 80th birthday, and surveyed her entire career.  The book remains a perfect introduction and review of her work as she developed through the decades.  It contains a lush abundance of images ranging from landscapes, portraits and intricate pen and ink city sketches of Italy and Scotland created in the 1950s through the subsequent decades.  It gives an amazing insight to how the artist’s early subject matter evolves and develops, whilst new themes emerge, such as her interest in Japan.  I’m particularly drawn to a duo of detailed shells in watercolour painted in 2011.  Blackadder’s work belongs in many public collections, but she was extensively acquired by private collectors too, and this exhibition gathered together many artworks from private collections.  We are lucky to have the accompanying catalogue to let us have a glimpse of them now.  Indeed, amongst the collection in the library we also have a few exhibition catalogues from her solo shows that are a joy to look at.

These titles and more are available to browse and borrow in the Art and Design Library. Do pay us a visit soon – there’s no need to book. 

December’s art exhibition: Noni Choi

The December exhibition in the Art and Design Library showcases artist, Noni Choi, whose work is a gorgeous celebration of nature, colour and energy.

Noni Choi is a botanical artist and illustrator based in Edinburgh. She is from South Korea and trained in ceramic arts in Seoul. Noni worked as an art teacher in Korea until 2009.

“As a painter and an illustrator, flowers and stars are a rich source of inspiration in my art. My work captures the precision of nature creating meditative studies of the beauty of the natural world I see around me.  To me painting is a return to nature. I hope that my paintings which are created with bright colours, full of happiness and vibrant energy help people to return to innocence.

I love nature and I hope to protect nature with my works someday.”

You can learn more about Noni on her website: www.nonichoi.com and follow her on Instagram: @artistnoni

The exhibition runs from 3rd December until 31st December.

Art and Design Library exhibition – November 2019

Edinburgh Photographic Society returns to the Art and Design Library in November with a group exhibition by their members. The exhibition showcases a wide variety of work across a range of photographic genres – including portraiture, nature, still life and landscape. Members of the society work with traditional techniques as well as creative digital photography, so the exhibition will have something for everyone.

A Walk Through Time by Alistair Cowan

The Society are based in the New Town and welcome new members who can participate in courses and attend lectures.  Please visit www.edinburghphotographicsociety.co.uk to find out more.

Gone Fishing by Edinburgh Photographic Society

The exhibition runs from 4 November to 29 November in the Art and Design Library.

‘Here and Now’ in the Art and Design Library, September 2019

The September exhibition in the Art and Design Library is called Here and Now and is a solo show of works by Edinburgh artist Brian Samwell. Here is how he describes the exhibition and his artistic practice:

“Here and Now showcases sculptures and images developed over the past five years. My art is driven by social concern and a need to explore human experience – birth, love, aging, conflict. The sculptures and images are off-kilter and playful yet aim to challenge and reach for an emotional reaction. Whether figurative or abstract, structure and form are important to me: the curves of a baby’s body, a spiral of teacups, the pattern of waltz steps across a floor.  I particularly enjoy discovering the sculptural potential in everyday objects. Recycling and re-use helps me step a little more lightly on the planet.

I came late to making art, leaving a 30-year nursing career in 2016 to study Foundation Art and Design then Contemporary Art Practice at Edinburgh College (no, not Edinburgh College of Art!).  I make figurative and abstract sculpture from stone, metal, wood and rubbish, and create 2D images in a wide range of media. I continue to experiment, learn, and work with a diverse assortment of materials and approaches. One day I might settle down.”

Here and Now runs from 3 September to 28 September in the Art and Design Library within Central Library.

Fine and Dandy – August exhibition in the Art and Design Library

Fine and Dandy sees a group of recently graduated and current Edinburgh College of Art students come together to exhibit selected works. Evie Edwards, Molly Kent, Jody Mulvey and Rebecca Tarrant shared a studio within ECA’s painting department, yet the work on display represents the breadth and versatility of painting as a medium.

Intricately detailed paintings with subtle layers that re-invite lost intimacy, Rebecca Tarrant’s work implores notions of power through the subversion of the phallic symbol. Molly Kent brings focus to notions of doubt and the feelings connected with this by presenting the chaos these feelings emote through digital printing and physical collage methods. Jody Mulvey’s work aims to blur the boundaries between artistic specialisms by creating immersive environments which consume viewers in an array of vivid colours and ambiguous shapes. Evie Edwards draws from traditions of appropriation within art history as well as myths and fairy tales. By combining the past and present Evie reimagines objects and texts for our contemporary culture.

Fine and Dandy runs from Saturday 3 August until Thursday 29 August 2019 in the Art and Design Library.

Art & Design Library October exhibition

The Parrots by Edward Lear: an exhibition of fine art prints of Lear’s illustrations of parrots opens on Monday 8th August in the Art and Design Library in Central Library on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. The exhibition runs from October 8th to October 31st.

Edward Lear is famous for his nonsense poetry and travel writing, but before his literary career, he was a talented ornithological illustrator.  In 1830, when Lear was still a teenager, he embarked on an ambitious and comprehensive series of hand-coloured lithographs.  This remarkable series of fine drawings was published under the title Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots and consisted of 42 drawings published in an edition of 175.

The exhibition features fine art prints of all 42 of these beautiful drawings, bringing a gorgeous splash of colour and life to the Art and Design Library.

Art Library exhibition for September 2018

Pink Palimpsest, a mixed-media group exhibition, opens today in the Art and Design Library.

The artists, Jessica Gasson and Fionnula Mottishaw are recent graduates from Edinburgh College of Art.  We asked them to tell us a bit about their work and exhibition:

“Of the many strange and mysterious things which inhabit our contemporary world none are more bizarre or inexplicable than those which we create and re-create ourselves, enclosed here are our contributions to that unruly mass.

Image by Fionnula Mottishaw

Springing from a range of contexts, logical or otherwise, these objects represent a reaction to our daily environment and attempt to rationalise that over-whelming influx of visual noise…

A Palimpsest is a ‘re-scratched’ surface from the Greek palimpsēstospalin ‘again’ and psēstos ‘rubbed smooth’. Palimpsests were popular in Archaic and Medieval practices of scroll or book making, where a previous text was scraped away with oats bran and milk so that the paper could be reused for another document although it would still bear visible traces of its earlier content.

A Pentimento is the Art Historical cousin of a Palimpsest – traces of an alteration in a painting or showing an artist has changed their mind during the process of painting. Pentimento derives from the Italian Pentirisi ‘repent’, this approach takes a negative approach to these changes as mistakes, in contrast to a Palimpsest in which the traces of its past leave the object with a richer surface. The term has colloquial uses in architecture, archaeology and geomorphology to indicate that an object has been made for one purpose and later reused for another.

Recycling and reusing materials to reduce consumption of fresh raw materials is a process that resonates today. We enjoy reworking and remaking traces, and this practice forms the basis to this exhibition.”

Come and browse the Pink Palimpsest exhibition on display in the Art and Design Library throughout September.

Art and Design Library exhibition – July 2018

Creative Coverage Mixed Exhibition, a new exhibition of landscape paintings from some of Scotland’s prominent artists opens on Tuesday 3 July in the Art and Design Library.

Painter Aileen Wrennall, an elected member of the Glasgow Society of Women Artists, is joined by Michael Mullen, Mary-Clare Cornwallis, Anthony Barber, Priscilla Brightman and photographer Sarah MacDonald in this group show.

“We’re really excited to be working with Edinburgh Central Library and thank the Art and Design Library for their help and interest,” says Tim Saunders from www.CreativeCoverage.co.uk.

“This architecturally important building has to be one of the grandest libraries in the United Kingdom. It is a privilege to be collaborating with this venue and we hope that lots of art lovers enjoy the paintings and photographs.”

The exhibition runs from 3 to 30 July in the Art and Design Library at Central Library.

Art Library exhibition for June 2018

The exhibition in the Art Library this month is Face Your Beauty: Feel Your Power.

The exhibition is a series of fashion photos by Joanna Jarzymowska and Michal Pocwiardowski.

Face Your Beauty: Feel Your Power runs until 30 June 2018 in the Art and Design Library.

Art Library exhibition for May 2018

A new exhibition of paintings opens today by the blind Edinburgh-based artist Alan McIntyre, entitled ‘Moments in time’.

Shown together for the first time, Alan’s paintings are based on remembered cinema moments in time. They aim to capture moments of isolated individuals or fleeting gestures between the interactions of couples as frozen shadows and blurred images.

Alan has had a lifelong passion for art. He was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and is now registered blind. He maintains his passion to produce art despite being both constrained and liberated by his altered experience of the world.

All paintings exhibited are for sale and a percentage of sales will go towards the recording of an audiobook from Calibre Audio Library. Calibre Audio Library produce audio books for people with sight problems, dyslexia and other disabilities.

The Moments in Time exhibition runs until 30 May in the Art and Design Library.

Visit Alan’s website for more information.

Art and Design Library exhibition 2018

Mixed Media Work by Monique Van Aalst

For her exhibition in the Art and Design Library, entitled ‘Cosmic Vibes’, Dutch artist Monique van Aalst explores her interest in otherworldly themes such as celestial and mythological creatures, astrology and the universe. Working with miscellaneous media and depending on her mood she takes an intuitive approach in her mostly abstract artwork never quite knowing the end result.  Serendipity plays a hand – whilst applying different layers an image may suddenly arise. A happy accident indeed!

Monique started drawing in her childhood, usually portraits of family members and celebrities in pencil. When starting her life in Edinburgh ten years ago, a few art tutors encouraged her to take a paint brush and be bold. She began experimenting with different techniques. She is inspired by painters who use vibrant colours, intuition and uniqueness in their paintings, including Jolomo, William Gillies, Marc Chagall and Jim Dine.

Monique has previously exhibited for Cancer Research UK in Adam House (2009-2014), Gallery on the Corner (2010), Art and Design Library (2010) Bethany Christian Trust (Methodist Church in 2014), Leith Library (2015), Stockbridge Library (2016) and Out of The Blue drill hall (2017).

The Cosmic Vibes exhibition runs from 2 to 27 February 2018 in the Art and Design Library.


Art and Design Library exhibition – January 2018

The latest exhibition in the Art and Design Library is ‘Transition of Fear – a collection of photographs’ by Isaac Benjamin.

We asked Isaac to tell us about the inspiration for his fascinating work:

“Being an artist has its ups and downs, on one hand you have people genuinely interested in your work, but then you’re asked to actually show some of it! The photos you will see are mostly taken straight after having a spiritual/alien vision or episode, I then recreate how I had seen things.

Image from Transition of Fear – a collection of photographs, by Isaac Benjamin

I was quite recently diagnosed with Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This does not affect my spiritual beliefs and experiences, however, I can now conclude that my psychic abilities are possibly not actually happening. At the beginning of this long journey, I felt like I was trapped inside a cocoon. I was absolutely terrified… Something drove me to keep challenging this fear and recreate the experiences through various art forms, which was a major part of my healing process.

Music is so important in my life, I couldn’t imagine creating pieces of artwork without music to help inspire me. My taste in music is very eclectic… From The Smiths to Kate Bush, David Bowie to Roxy Music and Leonard Cohen, I feel so much more comfortable if there’s music playing in the background.”

Come along to the exhibition which will be on display in the Art and Design Library from 4 – 30 January 2018.

You can also see more of Isaac’s work on instagram @thewalkingartists

Art Library exhibition for December 2017

The Art and Design Library’s new exhibition ‘Inscape’, is a joint exhibition by three artists, Frieda Dyson, Fiona McLachlan Powell and Clive McLachlan Powell

Here we hand over to the artists to tell us about their work.

Frieda Dyson writes:

`Born in Glasgow, and with a background which is half Hebridean, water in all its moods, has always featured large in my work. I have painted roaring water in the Western Isles, and calm, building reflected water in Cambridge, where I lived for many years, but it is always a challenge. Watercolour, acrylics, oils and dry pastels all have their different difficulties. Recently, trees have figured in my work since I have been spending time in Edinburgh’s wonderful Botanic Gardens. My work is in various collections in the UK and, also Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus and the USA.’


Fiona McLachlan Powell writes:

`My work explores thresholds through my experience of mental health and also in the contexts of philosophy and culture. Sometimes the materials I use are domestic or tied in with labour. I grew up in a farmworking family near Duns in the Scottish borders. The rhythm to the days and seasons in that life and its improvisations influence my work and my way of working.  The hessian my shepherd grandfather used as a kirtle to protect him from the rain, transcends its initial use.

Working in the disciplines of sculpture, photography, film, drawing and installation I like to create a sense of journey through liminal space and approaching thresholds. I explore thresholds through process and through experimenting with various materials that spoke to me in the past and that I respond to now.

I have come to a way of creating sculptural work that can be dismantled then reconstructed, and reconfigured. I place my work in different environments; in woodland or architectural spaces for dialogue, each location transforms the work’.


Clive McLachlan Powell writes

`My work lies between sound, form and place; bringing transforming elements of materials, sound and gesture into space to explore the liminal. This transformation reflects a somatic experience, the feeling of sound beyond what is heard through the ears alone. Ways of making include creative foraging, casting as a way of transforming materiality, drawing with objects, photography and film. Other methods include singing of archaic songs, using my skull as an aeolian resonator, and placing contemporary sound composition alongside collaborative improvisation with dancers. I like to feel the spaces where I work – art spaces, nature, dance clubs become welcoming, finding still points in sounding and moving forms alongside the sonorous’.

Come and see this fantastic new exhibition of art work on show in the Art and Design Library from 2 to 29 December.