How many of us have bags of shells lying in a garage or sitting like a talisman on a window sill? Shells draw human beings of all ages and from all backgrounds into their intricate interiors, like moths to a light. They are a tangible reminder of the sea wind in your face. Of sand between your toes. Of freedom to explore. Picking them up, handling them, peering inside is, as William Blake said in his poem, Auguries Of Innocence, "to see a world in a grain of sand".
Frances Law's studio – a hut outside her home in rural Angus – is filled with a mix of flotsam and jetsam she has picked up on past beach-combing trips. In this small tranquil space, your eye dances from the views out to rolling fields, and back to shelves crowded with beautiful, carefully constructed assemblages of found treasure, bowls of shells and pebbles, bottles and brushes.
Then there are the large-scale oil paintings of the interior world of a shell. Among the cards, receipts and memos pinned on the wall, there's a typed quote from Marcel Proust's La Prisonniere, the fifth volume of Remembrance Of Things Past, which reads, "The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes."
I first saw Law's work in the summer of 2010, when she was a finalist in what turned out to be the last Aspect Prize. What initially struck me most about her work was the fact that, although there were no figures within its hidden depths, it was almost as though a figure existed there. Hidden, lurking, watching and waiting.
"I always feel like I am painting myself in these works," she replies when I tell her this. "Until 1998, I painted the figure all the time, but since then, I have been exploring the possibilities of structures such as shells or other natural forms. I like the way that natural forms become architectural."
The process by which Law arrives at her large shell paintings sees her looking through a tiny homemade viewfinder at small sections of shells grouped together. She then sets to work, using the dry brush technique she learned at Glasgow School of Art under her tutor, the acclaimed painter Sandy Moffat. "The style of painting suits me," she explains. "I wanted precision and Sandy opened a door for me which allowed me to paint in a very precise way."
Talking to Law about her work, it feels like her early interest in archaeology – gleaned, she says, from her history-mad father – has burrowed its way into her psyche. "I remember as a young child – maybe around seven or eight – being with my dad and my brother and sister, watching an archeological dig on the Antonine Wall outside Denny, where we lived," she explains. "I was fascinated by the process and I think, to this day, I'm uncovering: searching, unearthing my own archaeology, always looking for the light and looking at the ordinary, making it extraordinary."
It is this luminous aspect of Law's work, which makes it so intriguing. Like all good artists, she takes us on a voyage of self-discovery to places we didn't know existed.
This exhibition at The Park Gallery brings together Law's interest in working with assemblage and installation along with her large expressive figurative paintings and more recent ethereal shell works. Boxed assemblages will be placed throughout Callendar House and a tepee, handmade by the artist, will be set up in the cultivating earth garden within Callendar Park as an interactive art piece working with pupils of Laurieston Primary School.
The artist will talk about the influences which have shaped her work from her beginnings at Denny High School to the island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland, at Callendar House on March 28, from 11am-12pm. She will also conduct a family-friendly workshop on April 3, from 10am-4pm, when you can create a Law-style mini-masterpiece.
Frances Law: Beyond Appearance is at The Park Gallery, Callendar House, Falkirk (01324 503788, www.falkirkcommunitytrust.org) from Monday until May 20