Toast to the Lassies

Toast to the Lassies: Robert Burns & the Role of Women || January 20- February 10, 2016

‘Toast to the Lassies’ explores the dynamic between artist and muse for our exhibition celebrating Scotland’s most famous poet. Robert Burns (1759-1796) had a complex and sometimes contentious relationship with women, seeing them both as figures of inspiration and objects of desire. Avidly promiscuous in his relationships, it was not purely a physical pleasure for him, despite the fact of Burns having at least thirteen children, the majority born out of wedlock. Yet conversely, Burns has also been heralded as an early feminist, advocating for women’s rights close to a century before Emeline Pankhurst. Moreover, he freely celebrated female contributions to his work, crediting them with inspiring him to become a writer: “I never had the least thought nor inclination of turning poet until I got heartily in love then rhyme and song became the spontaneous language of my heart.” Though Burns’ poem, The Rights of Women, may seem dated and patronising today; in 1792, it was considered shocking and groundbreaking. Burns’ poetry reveals a man who genuinely adored women and wrote some of the most famous declarations of love ever immortalised in the English language. Addressing notions of femininity, masculinity, and the power struggle between artist, viewer, and subject, this exhibition offers fifteen contemporary artists the chance to explore the dynamic of artist and muse and to present an alternative view of Burns and his legacy. Has the concept of the muse (or source of inspiration for creativity) changed since Burns’ time? In 2017, following a year of great political change and social upheaval, we offer our own “Toast to the Ladies” and invite viewers to make their own assessment.

Addressing notions of femininity, masculinity, and the power struggle between artist, viewer, and subject, this exhibition offers fifteen contemporary artists the chance to explore the dynamic of artist and muse and to present an alternative view of Burns and his legacy.

NPG x126403; Calum Colvin by Norman McBeath



Calum Colvin, Deaf Man’s Villa (triptych), 1989, Digital photographic print (A/P)

Born in Glasgow, Calum Colvin was awarded one of the first SAC Creative Scotland Awards and is a holder of a Royal Photographic Society Gold Medal. He was awarded an OBE in 2001 and is Professor of Fine Art Photography at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee. Internationally renowned and widely exhibited, Colvin is a practitioner of painting, sculpture and photography. Bringing these diverse disciplines together utilising the unique fixed-point perspective of the camera, Colvin creates a unique style of assembled tableaux of three-dimensional objects, which are then painstakingly painted and photographed. Terming his method as ‘constructed photography’, Colvin’s elaborate scenarios present a complex narrative tableau rich in association, spatial ambiguities, clever puns, and intellectual associations with art, history, and philosophy.

As the artist himself explains: “I was always interested in the idea of being Scottish, being from this little country that didn’t even have its own parliament in a wee tucked-away corner of the UK. But I was also interested in the idea people had of Scotland, which people in England could never understand…I would say most countries have a sense of national identity. They have a sense of asserting identity, sometimes in adversity. But they also have a concept of Scotland itself. It might be tied to Brigadoon, whisky labels or golf, but at least you’ve got an in, you’ve got an imaginative world to play with.”

Colvin’s work appears in numerous prestigious collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Art, Houston; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London as well as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery in London.

Negative Sublime II (or Portrait of Lord Byron), 2008, Digital photographic print // Negative Sublime I (or Portrait of Robert Burns), 2008, Digital photographic print // Burns Country, 2012, Digital print on canvas


Tiffany Barber, Issues of Beauty (Series of 2), 2015, Oil on canvas

Addressing issues of the perception of female body in social and political issues, Barber employs imagery that is consciously both ambiguous and provocative, thereby turning the focus onto the viewer’s sexualised response. Highlighting aspects of our preconceptions in order to provoke a dialogue regarding the unrealistic depiction of the female figure and the media’s bombardment of such images, Barber’s paintings invite us to question our preconceptions of the proliferation of female nudes in contemporary society.

Linda Rosalia Kosciewicz, Stillness (1), 2011, Photogravure // Without You (2), 2011, Photogravure

Linda Kosciewicz’ The White Series (2011, 40 images & video) is the artist’s own self exploration of the cultural and symbolic aspects of the colour white – the myriad permutations of which have traditionally represented sexuality, innocence, life, death, purity and transience. The artist’s selection of white is also significant because the colour that our brain perceives as ‘white’ is actually made of a mixture of many other colours (wavelengths) because our optic receptors cannot capture it.

Olivia Irvine, The Infanta Cannot Decide, Egg tempera on wood // Misfits 2 (Let’s Play a Game?), Egg tempera on wood // The Infanta is Tempted 1, Egg tempera on wood

Irvine’s subjects here illustrate her recent investigations in the struggles of girlhood. Appropriating iconic images from visual and literary sources, Irvine’s Infanta series draws on Velazquez’ many portraits of the tiny princess Margaret Theresa of Spain (who also appears in the artist’s masterpiece, Las Meninas from 1656), and pairs her with one of literature’s most famous personifications of childhood. Uncomfortably wearing the restrictive trappings of a future royal bride—she was married to her uncle (Leopold, The Holy Roman Emperor) at age fifteen–Irvine posits an imaginary meeting of Margaret and Alice in Wonderland.

Catherine Sargeant, Typewriter scroll, 7/20 Limited edition digital print of installation // Burnes – ‘drop the e’, 1/8, Multilayered limited edition screen-print on 300gm somerset velvet // ‘Flamboyant Burns’, Screen-print, type and paint on 250gm black somerset

Visual text-based artist, Catherine believes words have an inherent beauty all their own and is fascinated by the way in which our environments are saturated with text in every aspect of our lives. Sargeant employs a variety of traditional and modern tools and techniques in creating her works and installations, including typewriters, vintage type lettering, and screen-printing variations.

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