A big welcome back for Maxie Bain

ARTIST Maxie Bain is back at the Bonhoga Gallery, no doubt repeat­ing the success of his last show in the venue.

Again the paintings are all water­colours and here I must confess to an overwhelming obsession with this medium. For me and I suspect for most painters in watercolour it is because of its uniqueness.

It is the most natural, most direct, most unpredictable and most chal­lenging of the painting media. It can produce the freshest and airiest of paintings but equally can turn your work to watery sludge in seconds. It demands respect, an element of spontaneity, but also, ironically, a necessary amount of pre-planning.

It is exactly this planning that is noticeable when you take a closer look at Maxie’s work and it’s relevant that A Closer Look is the show’s title. The work features a variety of watercolour paintings from Shetland and his adopted home around Salisbury.

But first take in the whole view. The large paintings of Fitful and Croft, Rerwick dominate one wall and their concern is the effects of rain on the Shetland landscape. In Fitful, water has been brushed across the paper dragging down the pigment, distilling the colour over the beautifully detailed rocks. In the Croft, Rerwick, the effect is to almost reduce the landscape to blocks of washed out colour, the foreground croft showing us the scale of things.

July Sky
out on the stairwell, is a broad panorama of the South Mainland of Shetland set under a classic watercolour sky, full of wet-in-wet and running washes with a riot of flowers and buildings below.

Under these seemingly spon­taneous effects there lies a strong structure dominated by precise drawing providing a framework for the painting on top. Or rather within as watercolour, unlike the other painting media, is a staining process building up from light to dark in translucent layers. And you need that lightness because the under­lying paper and its whiteness become the first layer.

The importance of planning and drawing is most noticeable in the paintings of flowers and under­growth. These paintings strike me as the more complex and elaborate. That’s not necessarily a criticism. Indeed by taking that closer look you get to see the mastery within the medium. Without resorting to that abominable masking fluid Maxie creates the effects of myriad wild flowers.

Woodland Floor is a stunning tour-de-force of over-lapping leaves, flowers, weeds, undergrowth and branches. The very same is seen in other works inspired by the countryside around his adopted home in Salisbury.

Maxie seems to prefer the flatter surfaced papers than heavily textured ones. This aids the drawing but also allows the wash to spread more evenly. White or very light areas such as clouds are achieved in the traditional watercolour way by leaving the white paper exposed as in Red Campion and Watermeadows, Salisbury.

I have only a few regrets that Maxie didn’t get the mounting perfect; ragged edges on a mount are totally at odds with the per­fec­tion achieved within the rectangle.

Where Maxie scores is in his Shetland landscapes, not I feel the Lerwick harbour scenes; these can be too coldly objective, stunning though those observations and reflections are.

The minimal qualities of the landscapes are thoroughly explored here. Boats, Ireland and Low Tide, Channerwick complement each other well. The sea, sky, shore and a boat or two is all that the composition needs.

But what I like in these is the element of the spontaneous, the unpredictable freedom that water­colour really gives the artist. The cloud low on a hill, the wash suggest­ing mist, heaviness of rain, the depth of a valley or purple-blue shadows on a distant cliff expressed in a couple of well-placed blobs of coloured water.

And here I return to where I began in the painting of Fitful Head. This for me is the best in this collection.
Many of the paintings have already been snapped up so get along and judge for yourself. The exhibition continues until 3rd August. Peter Davis


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