Having the artist present while you look at the body of work they have been slaving over for the best part of a year can be an uncomfortable experience for both parties...
especially when they know you are there to write down your impressions on the pages of a newspaper. As one artist put it a couple of years back, it's like standing around watching someone look at your underpants hanging on the line.
Last week I went into Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) to find Moyna Flannigan supervising as the last of her paintings were hung on the walls of Gallery 3, an interior space with no natural light. As technicians fussed around with lighting and touched up walls with white paint, I could see from the look on her face that she was having an underpants-on-the-line moment. Happily, from what I could see from a glance at the 20 or so paintings and works on paper, she had nothing to fear.
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The female figure lies at the heart of all this, none of which is painted from life. Flannigan has a fine sense of the figure which can only come from someone who has studied life drawing within an inch of their life. There is nothing prettified or portrait-like about her figures. They are all long skeletal limbs and spikiness. Slashes of scarlet across mouths, spider-like eyelashes and black tears cascading from wide eyes.
There is an almost epic sense of space surrounding her figures, which don't always stare at you. They cast their eyes sideways or to the heavens as though seeking an answer from infinity. Standing in front of them makes me feel like I'm caught in an indie film made by a cult director - and it comes as no surprise when Flannigan tells me later that the work has been influenced by the 1979 art film, Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. "Stalker has that feeling of being on a journey but you never get there," she tells me. "Time slows down almost to a halt. The stalker stares right at you. This hardly ever happens in film, and I was trying to get across that sense of a common collective memory."
The majority of the new work for Stare, as the GoMA show is called, has been created in 10 feverish months at Flannigan's studio in the east-coast seaside town of Dunbar. The 50-year-old is one of more than 100 artists taking part in Generation 2014, a Scotland-wide celebration of the last 25 years of contemporary art to tie in with this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. At GoMA, she is in good company, as there will be work on show by fellow Generation artists Sara Barker, Nathan Coley and Douglas Gordon.
Although not a household name, Flannigan has forged an international reputation in the three decades since she entered Edinburgh College of Art in 1981. Immediately following graduation in 1985, she studied for a masters at Yale University School of Art in Connecticut and, since returning home, has exhibited widely at here and abroad. Her most recent major show in Scotland was What You See Is Where You're At: Part 3 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh in 2010.
The roots of this show were forged as she worked in the gallery. She was drawn in particular to the work of surrealist sculptor Alberto Giacometti, whose work Femme égorgée (Woman With Her Throat Cut), portraying twisted limbs seemingly caught in the throes of dying, fed its way into her subconscious.
The small body of work at GoMA is all new apart from The First People series of drawings which Flannigan made in 2012. She drew inspiration for this series from Masaccio's masterly 15th-century fresco, Expulsion From The Garden Of Eden in the Brancacci Chapel, Florence, which she visited during a residency in Rome that year.
"It stuck in my mind," she explains. "The First People series is a direct riff on that interpretation of Adam and Eve. It came to represent other couples under duress, such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Bed-In series. The First People drawings led me on to become much more interested in Eve and that's where the paintings and subsequent works on Japanese paper spring from. In times of crisis, classical themes seem to resonate and people seem to view Eve in this secular era as a figure under duress more than anything.
"But I don't want to tell a story in my paintings. For me, they're only interesting if you can take the figure out. What I learned at Yale was an emphasis on space. What is that bit in middle? How can I represent it? I start with an idea. Not an image or a scene. I physically imagine being in a place and then find the form. I go through lots of changes and additions. That way you find things you could not have predicted at the beginning."
This is a small exhibition which packs a punch. If you have some time to spare when you're in Glasgow city centre, I urge you to visit it and take some time to stand and Stare.
Moyna Flannigan: Stare, Gallery of Modern Art, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow (0141 287 3050, www.glasgowlife.org.uk) until November 2