Divided Selves is an intriguing name for this wide ranging exhibition, though it’s subtitle – “the Scottish self-portrait from the 17th century to the present’ – underlines more explicitly what is actually found in the gallery. The idea of ‘the divided self’ refers most directly to the work of controversial Scottish psychiatrist R D Laing, but is sufficiently self-explanatory (an identity, composed of more parts than one) to set the visitor’s imagination running without recourse to the catalogue’s (generally excellent) essays.
This show offers an impressive spectrum of Scottish art, from George Jameson’s 17th century self-portrait, in which he poses as his own salesman, to the diverse approaches of the present day. That said, the sheer quantity of ‘selves’ on display, and their close hanging, makes this an intense, tiring experience, like a polite and intelligent discussion in which no-one stops talking. The works that stand out most, then, tend to be those with the most unusual compositional approach: Elizabeth Blackadder’s humorous and modest ‘Self-portrait with a cat’, in which her Abyssinian takes centre stage, or Angela Palmer’s stunning, layered glass engraving or MRI scans of her head.
Under the flexible definitions with which the curators have worked, the identity of the Scottish self-portrait is shown to be something of a ‘divided self’ in it’s own right, particulary in some of the more recent manifestations. Kenny Hunter’s ‘Non Progress’ turns conventional notions of the portrait bust almost literally on their head – his plaster sculpture is displayed upside down, scalped by it’s contact with the plinth. The exhibition concludes with Beagles and Ramsay’s charming, meaty ‘Black Pudding Self-Portrait’, which includes photography and video, as well as an in situ star turn from the puddings themselves, in a fridge.