Earth Day: Destruction over time

The environment plays a huge role in our everyday life, and our perception of it has changed massively over the past few centuries. Let’s take a look at some of the works in Glasgow Museums’ collection by Scottish artists that showcase the beauty of the earth, challenge the narrative of Scotland’s environmental history and raise awareness of the growing climate crisis. By taking a closer look at some of these works, we can examine the role that the landscape has played in understanding the natural world and humankind’s relationship with it.

John Knox, First Steam Boat on the Clyde (c. 1820)
oil on canvas
1118 mm x 1585 mm

This painting by John Knox depicts a sweeping landscape along the river Clyde, which flows through Glasgow. The work portrays a richly saturated view of the river from the shore framed by lush trees and bushes on Dalnottar Hill. There are also signs of human intervention in nature; for example, there are boats sailing along the Clyde, including the famous paddle steamer ‘Comet’. There are also people and a building dotting the foreground. Although this painting is composed largely of landscape, the title focuses on the presence of the steamboat, which functioned largely to transport passengers down the river. This painting shows the early interaction between people, the environment, and emerging technology, but ultimately frames this in a positive light.

Bessie MacNicol, A Galloway Landscape (1889)
oil on canvas
508 mm x 686 mm

Bessie MacNicol’s A Galloway Landscape is an idyllic scene of human existence within nature. The valley in the background is depicted in a variety of greens, emphasising the liveliness of the natural world. In the foreground, there are three female figures, who seem to be enjoying the nature around them. Unlike the painting by Knox, MacNicol composes her image without any obvious signs of human settlement in the valley. This evokes a feeling of leisure, as the figures are removed from the ‘industrialised’ world. The similarity of the women’s clothing colours and the surrounding landscape create a sense of the two blending together, perhaps speaking to a communion between humans and nature here.

Land Levels and Rises 2010, Carol Rhodes © and courtesy the artist
Land Levels and Rises 2010, Carol Rhodes © and courtesy the artist

Carol Rhodes, Land Levels and Rises (2010)
oil on board
400 mm x 440 mm

This painting by Carol Rhodes takes a slightly more abstract portrayal of landscape to commentate on the interaction of humans with Scotland’s environment. This ariel perspective depicts a vast, flat landscape, intersected by thin roads that cut through the green plains. Rhodes often works with more conceptual representations of landscape that are contrived compositions which combine real places with her own memories. Her paintings are often slightly unsettling and concerned with thresholds or ‘edgelands’ that illustrate the periphery of areas inundated with industrial infrastructure. The lack of visual representation of buildings and human-made structures provides a source of contemplation about the role that these structures play in everyday society, and the significance of these peripheral areas surrounding them.

Kate V Robertson Better Versions #1 -8 (2017)
newspaper ink transferred on paper
297 mm x 420 mm

Kate V Robertson’s series of framed works on paper, called ‘Better Versions’ -shown above in Drink in the Beauty, is the most abstract image in this small online exhibition, but reveals great insights into perceptions of Scotland’s environment in a contemporary setting, especially in the wake of climate change. Robertson’s works are made of paper with ink transferred from source images in newspapers. Through these images, the artist explores the relationship between humans and landscape, especially concerning how the landscape is presented and advertised in contradiction to the effects of climate change. This connects further to the use of newspapers in her practice, commenting on mass production and growing waste. The abstract composition in Robertson’s images gives the viewer a place to contemplate these ideas.

Destruction over time.

Rileigh Pack, University of Edinburgh, MSc History of Art and Theory of Display & Curatorial Intern at GoMA 2023

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