In art, as in life, the devil is in the detail. Lesley Banks has spent a lifetime looking closely at fleeting scenes she comes across during a day’s walk, be that a rainbow, dew on a spider’s web or patterns made by leaves on the surface of water. As she says herself, many people don’t notice the little things… they’re too busy concentrating on the bigger picture.

“If you just stop, you notice more,” she says. “It’s a bit like the whole slow cooking movement, there should be a slow looking movement where you just take the time to look closely at things.”

Of course, we all slowed down as a species earlier this year during lockdown.

Many of us did start to look slowly as we went about our daily government-prescribed walks, but Banks – as ever – was way ahead of the curve with her Landscapes of Water series of paintings. In this new body of work, hung at The Museum of Industrial Life in Coatbridge just before lockdown hit in March, Banks expands on her ongoing fascination with pinning down the ever-changing nature of water on a two dimensional surface.

Landscapes of Water expands on a 15-month-long residency which Banks undertook in 2016/2017 as the first artist-in-residence at Scottish Canals.

The resulting body of work, Gongoozler (meaning a person who idly watches canal life from the sidelines), represented a sea-change for the award-winning Glasgow School of Art-trained painter.

Instead of looking closely at interior life and domestic scenes, as she had been doing, she travelled along canal tow paths, looking and drawing.

Often accompanied by her husband Mark and dog, Bella, she traversed the Forth and Clyde, Union, Monkland, Caledonian and Crinan Canals, creating paintings which told the stories of Scotland’s 250-year-old waterways.

As many canals begin and end their journey into the gateway of the sea, she began to broaden her perspective to include coastlines; swapping static waterways and tow-paths for jagged rocks and crashing waves.

One of the paintings which emerged from her Gongoozler series, Sunday Afternoon at the Helix, has been borrowed back from Falkirk Community Trust for this show at Summerlee. It’s a big painting which acts as a kind of touchstone for the exhibition. It depicts a wet Sunday at the home of Andy Scott’s vast Kelpies outside Falkirk.

A mix of landscape and figurative painting, this is a prime example of Banks’ skill as an artist able to distill a scene down to a sense of place and atmosphere, while conveying scale at the same time.

The Kelpies painting sits alongside other works from her Gongoozler series and newer work which reveals a growing interest in the abstract effects of water. In the coastal paintings, dramatic rocky jagged outcrops stretch out to the sea at Castle Lachlan in Argyll. It’s almost as though you can hear the crashing of the waves and taste the salt in the air as the seagulls scream overhead.

Summerlee, by the side of the Monkland Canal, is a particularly apt venue for this exhibition. It’s a family-orientated attraction packed with fascinating exhibits harking back to a bygone era of steam-power and heavy industry. On the sunny Saturday afternoon I visited, it was busy with small groups both outside and in. Hours are reduced and pre-booking online is essential but it’s clearly a popular place with locals and visitors from further afield.

Staff actively encourage children to engage with the paintings and it’s fascinating to see examples of Banks’ process on show. Easels, sketchbooks and notes jotted down on her travels make you look upon the paintings differently. I particularly liked tear sheets from her studio and quotes from Banks on panels.

One reads: “I’m always searching for the perfect sky and sea blue. I’m always excited when I find a new make of blue paint because although they’re cerulean blue, they’re all different. I’m looking for that elusive transparent blue that feels like a cold sunny day, really rich in colour. I’m obsessed with trying to recreate a bright blue sky!”

Much of the work in this exhibition focuses on The Monkland Canal. This canal is no longer navigable as a complete waterway and only three disconnected stretches remain at Calderbank, Drumpellier Country Park and Summerlee Heritage Park. The M8 motorway has obliterated much of the waterway and follows some of the original route of the canal.

Sometimes called The Ghost Canal or The Forgotten Canal, in its heyday, it was Scotland’s busiest and most commercially successful canal. The tow path now offers a rural environment to which nature has returned and it’s the surface of the water which has captured Banks’ imagination as a painter.

Her abstract works in this new series not only mirror the reflections but also depict nature’s detritus floating aimlessly yet elegantly on the surface of the water.

These pictures are particularly beguiling. Light, pattern and colour fill the canvas from edge to edge; vibrant notes of colour creating flashes of unexpected beauty. As Banks says, “It’s as if the layers of the canal contain the world in reverse – sky and landscape come together to produce new abstractions.”

If you haven’t visited Summerlee before, then this exhibition should provide the perfect excuse. Visiting hours are limited but build in time to wander round outside the museum and allow yourself to look slowly.

Lesley Banks: Landscapes of Water, Summerlee – The Museum of Industrial Life, Heritage Way, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, ML5 1QD, 01236 638460,, Wed – Sun, 10am – 12pm & 1pm – 3pm. Until November 1. Free. Advance booking essential.

Critic's Choice

Like many artists, including Eardley, JMW Turner, William McTaggart and Welsh painter, Kyffin Williams, Ian Rawnsley is constantly pulled towards the point at which land meets the sea. And like all these artists, Rawnsley chases the light in his seascapes as though it were a capricious child.

For this new series, depicting abstract scenes along Scotland's east coast from Moray all the way down to the East Neuk of Fife, Rawnsley is definitely winning as he pins down its cool clear light.

Rawnsley has built up a reputation as a sensitive and instinctive painter of seascapes. Having studied geology before pursuing a career in IT, around a decade ago, his boyhood love of drawing and painting bubbled to the surface and he changed direction again.

As a geologist and as an artist, he is endlessly fascinated by the way light plays with the rocks and the shoreline; nowhere more so than along this coastline.

The forced restrictions on travel this year changed Ian’s plans for this new exhibition at Gallery Heinzel in Aberdeen and has undoubtedly affected the work. He explains: “My original intention in this celebration of the coast of the east of Scotland was to augment my many previous journeys with a new single visual travelogue, a journey encompassing the diverse eastern geography from the Moray Firth to the coastal resorts of the East Neuk region of Fife.

"Little did I know in the planning back in 2019 that the world would be turned on its head. This Journey is as much one of the imagination as geography, a celebration of a coastline that conjures magic and mystery at every turn. The pull of the east coast for me is a different kind of light, a bluer, somehow thinner light, coupled with a powerful energetic sea.”

You might not necessarily recognise the place, but in paintings like Solitary Tide, Roome Bay High Water and Red Seas, you'll recall the tang of sea spray in your nose and the power of the wind around your ears. It's almost as if you are there...

Ian Rawnsley's Journey: Moray to the East Neuk, Gallery Heinzel, 24 Thistle Street, Aberdeen AB10 1XD, 01224 625629,, Opening hours Tue – Sat 11am – 4pm and also by appointment. Until October 10. Free.

Don't Miss

Let there be light! LeithLate is bringing back its Light-Up Leith History Mural for a run of ten nights. The projection event breathes new life into the Leith History Mural, which was painted on a gable end at North Junction Street by Tim Chalk and Paul Grimes in 1986. Leith-based Double-Take Projections have now animated this artwork and created a soundscape to play underneath. The event, which is free but has to be booked in advance, has been made in collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Curating Conversations across the Arts research project, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Light-Up Leith History Mural, North Junction Street, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6HR,, until Sunday Oct 4, 8pm-10pm. Free.