The Scotsman Tue 9 May 2006
DIVIDED SELVES ****TALBOT RICE GALLERY, EDINBURGH
The self-portrait has a central role in the history of Western art as the vehicle for investigating the experiences which make up the individual. At the Talbot Rice Gallery a new show brings together a whole collection of Scottish self-portraits. It makes a nice gathering of old friends and familiar pictures - from George Jamesone claiming professional status for painting in the 17th century, to Beagles and Ramsay, for whom art and self are no more than a pair of black puddings hanging in the fridge.
Ramsay is part of a double act here, but if this is ironic self-contemplation, it doesn't improve on the work of an earlier and greater bearer of that name, Allan Ramsay, whose pastel self- portrait, done almost 250 years before, adumbrates all the doubts and complexities of the modern world. However, several noted female artists, including Ester Inglis, do not feature in this male-dominated gathering.
Meanwhile, a new gallery has opened at Mellerstain House in the Borders. The house was designed by Robert Adam, though his hand is not so obvious in the servants' quarters where the gallery is located. The show brings together a distinguished group of artists all living and working nearby: Jake Harvey, George Donald, John Mooney, James Fairgrieve and John McNairn. No sweet holiday pictures here. Harvey's Field, a landscape rendered in stone of red Borders earth ploughed in deep furrows and as elemental as any Vogler might wish to photograph.
Some of James Fairgrieve's exquisitely painted still-lifes include turnips that might have flourished in just such a field, while John Mooney's oblique, punning watercolours are as self-aware - but more elegant - than Beagles and Ramsay's black puddings as images of some of the complex conundrums art must contemplate if it is to reflect the world we live in.