Helen Flockhart is talking to me about Beasts over a Zoom phone call. As she does so, on my laptop, I'm feasting my eyes on a series of high resolution images of 27 works for her forthcoming exhibition of the same name. This is the way we art writers tend to roll in 2020, especially during 14 days of self-isolation.

The oil paintings are all destined for The Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh, where Flockhart had a hugely successful show in 2018 based around the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots. Most of the new works have been painted since the start of the year; a period which has seen Flockhart, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, work throughout with her usual focus.

"As an artist, 2020 has not been insurmountable," she says. "It was good to have the focus of this exhibition. I tend to work on small paintings at home and I was able to work through Lockdown," she explains. "The only problem was getting a hold of new art materials. When things eased off, I'd walk to my studio in Glasgow city centre and work on bigger canvases there."

Creating a Helen Flockhart painting is a slow burn affair. She is usually working on two paintings at the one time and says that, on average, a small painting takes around a month while a larger painting can take up to five months to complete.

One of the largest paintings, Asterion, is just under two metres wide and a little over a metre high. Two figures bookend the canvas, which is dense with deep green foliage and dangling fruit. A red-haired woman in a flowing gown emerges from the undergrowth on the left-hand side of the painting. In the right hand bottom corner a small naked human figure with a bull's head toys with a ball of twine. He is her son, Asterion, known as The Minotaur, a bull-headed monster born to Queen Pasiphae of Crete after she inadvertently coupled with a bull. It happens. In Greek mythology, anyway.

Our hero, The Minotaur, features heavily in Beasts, trapped in a swirling blood red Labyrinth from which there is no escape.

There is no mistaking a Helen Flockhart painting. Her attention to detail is microscopic but never clinical. Figures are marooned in spartan interiors or set within nocturnal landscapes heavy with foliage. There is very little interaction between figures, be they human, animal or even half man, half beast. The paintings are carefully plotted. They beg more questions than they ever answer. Her rich colour is seductive, as are the swathes of patterns – much of which stems from nature.

Many – but not all – her new paintings stem from Greek mythology, which has provided a rich seam of inspiration to artists for centuries. For this new body of work, she has been drawn to women who have been sorely used. Eve in the Garden of Eden being tempted by an ever-present serpent and St Enoch, mother of Glasgow's patron saint, St Mungo both feature.

Flockhart said that she discovered after reading Gerda Stevenson's poem, Teneu, that St Enoch – described as “Scotland’s first recorded rape victim" – was sexually assaulted by a Welsh prince, Owain. After the rape, St Enoch (or Teneu as she is also known) the would-be suitor, who confused her by disguising himself as a woman tells her: "Weep not, my sister, for I have not known thee as a man is used to know a virgin. Am I not a woman like thyself?" St Mungo, known as the patron saint of Glasgow, was the result of this union.

The painting, Weep Not My Sister, could be a viewed as a #MeToo moment in painting. A full moon floats in an inky black sky in the background as a flame-haired Teneu leans against a lone rock in a luminous green field, staring blankly at the viewer. Her dress has ridden up to reveal a white lace petticoat. The figure of Owain is partially obscured but a woman's gown is visible – as is what is clearly a man's bare leg. In the background of the field, a chorus of beasts with humanoid faces look on.

With titles such as Labyrinth, Daedalus and Icarus, Pallas Athena and Bacchant, time and time again, Flockhart returns to Greek mythology. Influences range from Renaissance greats such as Botticelli and Lucas Cranach the Elder to the nineteenth century French painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme.

"In the case Queen Pasiphae's lust for a Cretan bull," she says, "one wonders how and why people came up with such stories. But I often come back to the thought that every monster was once a child. That's why we are endlessly fascinated by these stories. They are a metaphor for human behaviour."

Several times during our discussion, Flockhart mentions books which have triggered an idea which subsequently led to a painting. Madeleine Miller's Circe and Natalie Haynes A Thousand Ships are two novels which have been filling up her head with imagery. "Sometimes a snippet that I remember reading in a book leads to a painting," she says. "It suggests an image which coincides with another image bubbling up in my mind."

"There's a sentence in Sarah Perry's novel The Essex Serpent in which character talks about wounding the main character, Cora, so that he could mend her wounds with gold" she explains and this led to a painting called Fill My Wounds with Gold.

In the painting, a lion with a man's face and a roaring open maw of a mouth stands next to a naked woman in a clearing on a dark night. The woman's body is tattooed in gold with the wounds of pregnancy and childbirth.

Like most artists, Flockhart wants her work to speak for itself but having worked as a professional artist for more than 30 years, she still finds the process of putting her paintings out into the world agonising. Stag Jump depicts a red-haired woman (her woman are always red-haired, like the artist herself) leaping into a room where an audience of indifferent and identikit humanoid stags sit randomly in chairs.

"That whole idea of being in front of an audience and being crippled with self-doubt is behind this painting," she laughs. "Creating a new body of work, you are continually trying to impress."

Helen Flockhart's paintings are not easy to pigeonhole. Neither surreal nor real, narrative or figurative, they are almost surhuman. Slow paintings require slow looking, even if, like me, you only get to see them on your laptop. And in your dreams.

Fittingly, Beasts also features six new pieces from sculptor Beth Carter, marking the first joint show for the artists. Like Flockhart's paintings, Carter’s work morphs the human figure with animal, creating mythological creatures and fictional compositions.

Beasts by Helen Flockhart with work by Beth Carter, Arusha Gallery, 13A Dundas Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6QG, 0131 557 1412, https://www.arushagallery.com/, From November 26 to December 20. Mon-Sat, 10am to 5pm, Sun, 1pm to 5pm. Check website for details of any changes due to restrictions.

Critic's Choice

To celebrate the 80th birthday of the Dalbeattie-born force of nature that is Dame Barbara Kelly, Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries has staged an exhibition of her work which melds together paintings and drawings by Kelly and the artists who have inspired her love of art down the years.

Dame Barbara is one of these individuals who is hard to pin down because she has done so blooming much in her life. Currently chair of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival, she is also a past Chair of the Scottish Consumer Council as well as the Millennium Forest for Scotland Trust. And much, much more…

A gifted amateur artist, Dame Barbara describes Eighty years of Pottering with Paint as "a record of the journey I have made, reflecting on the extraordinary number of people in the art world who have passed through as friends, teachers and acquaintances from my early beginning.”

Also featuring work by the likes of Willie Rodger, Joh Maxwell, Archie Sutter Watt, husband and wife, Murray Tod and Marjorie Lucas, the show highlights artists and friends now living locally, such as Freda Blackwood and Silvy Weatherall.

"Despite living in a small rural community I realise what an inspirational upbringing I had and how richly I was to be conditioned to tackle the world and to value the arts, music and literature," she says.

Her own paintings in oil, watercolour and gouache are inspired by her immediate surroundings; from gardens flowers, her local landscape or the landscapes of holiday destinations such as the Isle of Harris, or Italy, when time away from her busy life gave her the opportunity to create her colourful studies.

All her paintings pop with joie de vivre. Although the artist insists she is merely "pottering with paint" she clearly has a good eye and an open heart.

A Celebration: Eighty Years of Pottering with Paint by Barbara Kelly, Gracefield Arts Centre, 28 Edinburgh Road, Dumfries, DG1 1JQ, 01387 262084, www.dgculture.co.uk/venue/gracefield-arts-centre/, Until December 12. Tue-Sat, 10am to 5pm. Check website for details of any changes due to restrictions.

Don't Miss

Nichol Wheatley last featured on these pages as part of a group show at Sogo Arts in Glasgow's Saltmarket. Figures featured at the heart of that exhibition, but Wheatley's spiritual home lies in landscape painting. In this new solo at the Grouse and Claret, near his home in Kinross, the Glasgow School of Art-trained painter takes the viewer on a wander down his Strange Path. From dawn to dusk, it's always about chasing the light, which Wheatley does with a curious blend of heightened awareness and subtlety.

Strange Path: A Solo Show by Nichol Wheatley, The Grouse and Claret, Heatheryford, Kinross, KY13 0NQ, 01577 864212, https://www.nicholwheatley.com/, until December 6, Wed-Sun, 10am to 4pm. (Check website for details of changes due to restrictions)