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James Cumming
The Talbot Rice Gallery reflect on the achievements of James Cumming through his thirty year career
Pippa Atkins
Tuesday, 20 March, 2012 | 08:37
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Credit: Private Collection

The Talbot Rice exhibition of Scottish artist, James Cumming, spans a period of thirty years. This chronological collection of paintings, comprised of over twenty pieces, is complimented by two large glass cabinets in the centre of the exhibition space, containing preliminary sketches and drawings as well as objects and artefacts that both surround Cumming and influence him. The exhibition groups his work into his different artistic phases. The first series of paintings are expressive and abstract, largely comprising of his work executed during a 14-month stay in the remote Scottish community of Lewis in the 1940s.

Cumming paints portraits of individual figures that are representative of the entire community. These paintings are dynamic; the paintwork applied, and scraped away again, with a pallet knife – exposing layers in the painting that are symbolic of the individuals they depict. The viewer is forced to interact with these paintings to make sense of the whole. Cumming employs restricted colour pallets: Hebridean Boatman, seaman dressed in white, as pale as the light in the sea, camouflaged with the landscape – his occupation is integral to his life.

Later on, Cumming turns away from this expressive ambiguity towards a graphic, linear style with a series of scientific ‘Chromosome’ paintings. Towards 1985 Cumming’s work changes again: he focuses on still life - ‘families of china and glass and the relationships between them’. The exhibition draws to a close with a return to the individual and their environment – he combines the pallet knife and high-definition; he seems to have come full-circle.

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