The Ingleby Gallery is a beautiful space, with large windows making the exhibition rooms seem more expansive than they truly are. It is also a professional environment; two of the rooms double as offices and, alongside the artworks, the desks, books and shelving of the gallery’s staff are on display. Which perhaps means that they are taking a risk including Kevin Harman, a prize-winning ECA graduate, in their current Abjad exhibition, as he is most well known for smashing another Edinburgh gallery’s window with a scaffolding pole.
In true art student style, bordering on caricature, Harman shattered the front window of the Collective Gallery in 2009, videoing the event and later screening the film at The Old Ambulance Depot. The converted garage gallery was more than happy to maintain that Harman’s act was an art event – provocative, certainly, but what good art is anything else? Collective Gallery, however, differed on opinion and prosecuted Harman for breaching the peace.
Five years on and everything is a lot more peaceful. Despite the focus of this exhibition being abstraction (contemporary art’s favourite theme), and most of the pieces using found materials instead of traditional canvases, the works remain conventionally on the walls. While Harman’s use of double-glazing units in his works may raise a wry smile from anyone aware of his window-breaking past, no artistic boundaries are being shattered here. All four of the artists exhibited play with material and texture, but in fairly familiar ways.
Most of the works seem to be concerned with the artistic process, rather than finished product. The glossy sheen to Jeff McMillan’s pieces is restricted to the corners of the canvases, which have been found and recycled by being steadily dipped in paint, leaving some of the bare linen exposed.
Paul Keir’s pieces also announce their creation, but generally are less arresting than McMillan’s works. On the ground floor a wall is filled with sheets of paper, covered in green or purple patterns. They are strongly reminiscent of Louise Bourgeois’ Insomnia Drawings, recently displayed at Fruitmarket, but without Bourgeois’ scale or intensity, or the excuse of insomnia, to give them depth. His approach works better upstairs, where his purple drawings cover the wall itself – the closest the viewer will get to any kind of artistic vandalism.
Jane Bustin’s works are not given the gallery range of the three male artists on display, collected as they are in a single room of the show. Yet this scale works, giving Bustin’s small, delicately balanced pieces space and not forcing them to compete with the larger, more imposing works. The pale colours and tea stained edges give them a fragility and a depth that is somewhat lacking in the blocky coloured pieces found elsewhere.
However Harman continues to be the attention-grabbing artist, even without any performance element. His glass paintings are visually stunning, with layers of colour creating rich textures. There can be no dispute that these are, highly skilled, works of art. While the show may be livened up by some provocative act, Harman’s windowpane antics have certainly matured.