This instalment of the National Galleries’ major series on modern Scottish and international art, centred on Jenny Saville’s large-scale oils, is the least successfully balanced of the three NOW shows to date.

Saville’s work is a dominant force in any setting, the paint liberally, graphically worked, horror stories written on faces, colours brutally applied, features both obscured and defined, bodies piled up in an antithesis of traditional life model poses.

The cue for the exhibition is the purchase in 2017 of one of the few works from her 1992 Glasgow School of Art Degree Show that was not snapped up at the time by Charles Saatchi, if only because a fellow student bought it before the degree show opened.

That work, Study for Branded (1992), is shown here alongside such well known works as Propped, the oil that prompted Saatchi to make his move.

The rooms here are a swathe of Savillian directness, close-up heads with viscerally applied paint in reds and maroons, a catalogue of harmful intent and violent beatings and emotion laid bare. Saville’s inspiration ranges from medical textbooks to real-life flesh, and it is all here in her typically direct style.

Her recent work is more abstracted, scribbled, drawn and charcoaled, the bodies ghosted over each other, a coherence of incoherence.

Saville’s new work, Aleppo, inspired by the Syrian war, is rather like a

three-part pieta, although the mother is only hinted at by hands clutching the children’s bodies, and then, more obliquely, simply by a pair of adult legs that are draped as lifelessly.

It is an affecting work, more thoughtful, with less of the oil paint bombast that drew Saatchi to her bold, challenging figurative works, although less of the impact, too.

Elsewhere, although metaphorically squashed by Saville’s giant forms, there are some fascinating pieces, linked in to her work through various themes which emerge from her own, although it’s a tenuous thing and the artists sit uneasily side by side, as if the central tenets of the exhibition just don’t hold up. When an exhibition is so clearly a major survey of one artist, indeed the artist’s first museum show in Scotland, it should perhaps be staged as that, and not as part of a group exhibition which consequently, while containing some interesting work, does none of the participants full justice.

Sara Barker – also a GSA graduate (BA Hons, Painting, 2003) – first became known for her spindly wire wall and floor sculptures, delicately painted in acrylic and automotive paint as if watercoloured, the thin lines escaping from the wall as if delineating some unknown human or spatial geometry. That spare earlier work still stands out, while later work has become more substantial in form, the forms themselves grown out of painted wall panels, sometimes in painted vistas, most recently with figurative elements.

There is video work from Markus Schinwald, his stylised diptych of figures, clothed with somewhat 1950s repression, engaged in odd

inward-looking motions. Here they are itching themselves or clambering up a door as if unable to work out its more usual functioning – some find life difficult – or trying to get their foot out of a crack in a wall, detached, frustrated. This is a film of odd repetitive ticks and close-ups on the weirdness of human propensities. It is strange, mildly disturbing stuff, as deliberately alienating in its way as some of Saville’s oils, all played out in an old factory ruin, running on a repetitive loop, a displaced normality, a skewed hell.

Christine Borland’s Positive Pattern (2016) is the space inside the sculpture, specifically the internal spaces of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpted forms, a work made in honour of organ donors for the Institute of Transplantation, Newcastle.

These are wonderful things, truly strange, ethereal “organs” conjured into space, suspended in glass cases. And yet in this context they lose their impact, as does the more ephemeral work of Catherine Street on the surrounding walls. The most successful in this context is South African artist Robin Rhode’s brilliant and emphatic photographic series. The work is a strange dance between geometry and the human body, an interaction between the body in motion and the image on the wall he has graffitied and photographed– or not on the wall, as the visually deceptive case might seem.

There are five works here, a series of brightly-coloured posed photographs, the protagonists captured straining to reach for a drawn door just out of reach on the wall or embrace or define a sphere or other shape. The movements are dance-like, the images striking, capturing the crossroads between the real and the imagined with wit and thought. You do not need to know that the images are graffitied on walls in an area known for gang violence and gang culture, to understand the drivers behind these images – like the best art, it speaks entirely for itself.

NOW: Jenny Saville, Sara Barker, Christine Borland, Robin Rhode, Markus Schinwald, Catherine Street. National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern One, 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, 0131 624 6200,, until 16 Sep, daily 10am-5pm

Critics Choice

Hospitalfield, the artist’s retreat and workspace in Arbroath, is opening its doors for its Spring Season Open Weekend, an annual event which this year sees the house and gardens being taken over by two artists interested in how we interact with space – the recently graduated Daisy Chetwin, who will transform the Study Room and Studio, and sculptor Mary Redmond, who is making a

semi-permanent sculpture in the gardens of the old house.

Chetwin, who graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2017, is now based in Berlin and works in sculpture, sound and video to create immersive environments that react to the viewer moving through them. Redmond, a creator of large-scale sculpture, is also a GSA alumnus (1998) and is still based in the city. For Hospitalfield, she is working on a sculpture that uses component materials of the building process, both formal and informal.

As usual on these open weekends, there are a number of workshops and events, from a jewellery workshop with Chetwin on the Saturday (£35, book in advance) to an artists’ supper on the Sunday (free) and various heritage tours, drawing workshops and illustrated talks on the work of both artists.

You only have this short weekend to catch it all, although plans are afoot to transform the space into a year-round venue for exhibitions

and residencies over

the next five years –

an exciting

development which will hugely expand the programme.

Hospitalfield: Spring Season Open Weekend, Hospitalfield House, Arbroath, 01241 656 124,, 28-29 April,11am-5pm

Don't Miss

Innovative applied arts at the Pier in Stromness this month, as five early-career artists are showcased in the touring Jerwood Open Makers exhibition. From a ceramicist working with a chainsaw in wood to an artist who has created work on calf vellum inspired by the crossroads between the personal experience of illness and its scientific explanation, this is a diverse and fascinating exhibition and well worth catching before it closes.

Jerwood Makers Open Exhibition, Pier Arts Centre, Victoria Street, Stromness, Orkney, 01856 850 209,, 24 Mar to 9 Jun, Tues to Sat, 10.30am-5pm