Christmas is coming. In fact, it’s very much here, if the house of one of my neighbours is to be believed – and so, too, the collages of Mark Hearld at The Scottish Gallery, a wild and colourful scrummage of foxes and chickens, pheasants and ospreys, with the odd monkey thrown in for good measure.

It is a motley menagerie, a carnival of incongruous bedmates, but a joyful one, too, and just the panacea for the grey days and thin winter sub-song of the city at large.

Hearld spent the first lockdown in “splendid isolation” – difficult, he tells me, if you’re “an extrovert type who gets your energy from interactions rather than introspection”.

When lockdown eased, he went back to his shared studio in the centre of York, where he still works now, listening to baroque trumpet first thing in the morning, or some “lively Monteverdi” – “a bit of a studio joke,” he grins – to energise the atmosphere.

It has always been animals and birds for Hearld. Born in York, he moved to the outskirts as a teenager. “It was the 1980s, and there were still working farms there,” he tells me.

“I spent all my teenage time on farms with ponies, chickens, Muscovy ducks. I got fully involved in it. And I did lots of drawings from life of poultry.” He tells me about the painting, Remembered Farm, which is part of the exhibition, a chaos of chickens and corrugated iron, which alludes to those years and the place that, now built over, no longer exists as he knew it.

“It’s no longer the magical, ramshackle farm, with sheds put up in the 1930s, the 1950s, no longer the mysterious place to explore.”

And yet lockdown, and walking the new family dog – a lively whippet which he shares with his parents

– brought him back to that time, taking him out into the countryside for a few hours a day, minutes from

his parents’ door.

“It was a complete joy. I noticed snipe displaying – things I’d not noticed since I was a teenager.”

Memory plays a strong part in Hearld’s work, and his sketches,

once made from life, are now largely done from memory. “I don’t sketch often enough, but I do look really acutely. I draw from memory mostly, and I do think you end up getting

more of the spirit of the beast,

whereas if you’re using too much reference material it can be too flatly naturalistic, too slavish.

But I’d love to find a fairytale farmyard and spend months drawing, revivifying. I look long and hard at things, but getting back to doing

some spontaneous drawings again would be a good thing to do, I think. I should be more rigorous.”

Hearld’s work is collage, the intricate cutting out and putting together of disparate parts to make a whole, a rearrangement of material until the right form comes to life.

“It’s all about placement and flexibility. It’s a wonderfully improvisatory medium, a moveable feast. You just have to know when to commit,” he says. Hearld’s images are loose yet bold, full of painted splashes, cut-outs from exhibition posters, silhouettes.

“Collage is how I think creatively, but I didn’t do that at all at art college,” he tells me. Hearld studied illustration at Glasgow School of Art, where one of his tutors was the illustrator

Mick Manning. “There was that nerve-racking thing about learning at art school, then I’d be at home on my own and doing it for myself, with the space to find my own voice. I did a collage and it was an epiphany moment. I thought, “this is my medium”.

What’s wonderful is it’s an inherently abstract process. You want the piece of paper to still look like a piece of paper as well as a representation of a chicken, and I found the graphic-ness a great foil for expression and gesture.

“You need to find clarity and sharpness, bring visual equivalents into the mix and add your own energy. It’s really exciting.”

This freedom, now, has moved on to the frames of his collages, one of which Hearld is elaborately decorating as we speak.

“They’re getting wilder and wilder,” he says, with some glee, telling me of the red paint he is daubing on the frame around a striking silhouette of a jay,

“an abstracted take on a fake tortoiseshell frame, using painted slip”.

It has but scant hours to dry for the following morning he will pack it and some 40 other collages into his Skoda Yeti for the four-hour journey to Edinburgh, a riotous envoy from another lockdown.

Mark Hearld’s Menagerie, The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, until Dec 23, Tues-Fri 11am-5.20pm; Sat 11am-1pm, by appointment only. Meet the Artist event, Dec 8, 5pm, book on website.


Critic's Choice

The winners of the Scottish Portrait Awards were announced this week, before the exhibition, currently on show in Edinburgh, tours to Glasgow and Banff in 2021. An open fine art award, for anyone over the age of 16, born, living or studying in Scotland, it attracts, by its nature, entries that are many and varied, covering both painting and photography, as this exhibition of 
a whittled-down 61 works shows. The interest in the Portrait Awards from artists this year has significantly increased, says Gordon Mitchell, director of the SPA. After all, with only four walls and our nearest and dearest – or our own selves – to look at for months on end, whilst the emotional and psychological ravages of enforced lockdown took their toll, what more immediate, more accessible subject? If ever there was a time to analyse the human condition, it was then, whether in the feeling of taking off a face mask after a long day at work – the subject of Steamin’ Aff a Sair Fecht, the work of joint winner of the Young Fine Artist Award, Bethany Cunningham – or overall second prize winner Brian Barclay’s Starting the Day: Self-portrait in Lockdown. And so, then, to the first prize winners, including Li Huang, currently doing a PhD at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, whose double portrait, Between This World and the World Beyond, is an imagination of a conversation between himself and his late father. And Robert Andrew, who photographs Meadhoin Trefor in the midst of the strenuous work of building a path on a windy day high up in the Cairngorms.

Scottish Arts Club, Rutland Square, Edinburgh, until today, then touring to Glasgow Art Club (Jan 15-Feb 20, 2021) and Duff House, Banff (Apr 1-Jun 30, 2021),


Don't Miss

THERE can be few late 20th-century childhoods that didn’t intermittently cower to the terror of a Ray Harryhausen monster. The Sinbad films, Jason and the Argonauts, The Clash of the Titans and all their ilk were the fare of Saturday afternoon TV, terrifying in their stop motion horrors, as the hero (always a hero) tried not to be eaten by a skilfully animated figment of Harryhausen’s imagination. Now these terrors come to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in their Covid-delayed blockbuster, starting 
with Harryhausen’s fascination with the 1933 film King Kong, and his teenage stop motion experiments in his parent’s garage, and ending with some sword-wielding skeletons.

Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, 73 Belford Road, Edinburgh,, until Sep 5, 2021, daily 10am-5pm. Tickets £14/£12, concessions available. Pre-book tickets and timeslot on website.