Taking its title from Patrick Geddes’ multidisciplinary journal, established in 1885, Evergreen celebrates the range and diversity of visual art shown at Inverleith House over the past 19 years. The show is a fitting acknowledgment of the work of the gallery’s curator, Paul Nesbitt; by turns quirky, surprising and intelligent, it reflects a personal and collective journey and a strong desire to share with and educate its audience. Perhaps inevitably, there is an eclectic mix of work here but the qualities inherent in much of the art, suggested by the aptly chosen title—endurance, hope and a certain spiritual connection—allow ideas to coalesce and reverberate.
This spirit of optimism is suggested by Douglas Gordon’s text positioned above the gallery’s main entrance which states simply but enigmatically: ‘I believe in miracles’. As you work your way around exhibits by Cy Twombly, Callum Innes, Alan Johnstone, Carl Andre and Agnes Martin—all still, abstracted forms and images—the magic of art takes hold.
Johnstone’s is a very light touch—through deftly applied graphite wall-markings he suggests architecture: openings, enclosures and unseen vistas.
Ruth Vollmer’s work (shown here previously in 2002) was a delight then and continues to be now. ‘Sunflower Head’ 1973, and ‘Reciprocals’ 1968, demonstrate a fresh, child-like wonder in the natural world and a deep curiosity about the mathematical principles which form the foundations of natural form.
Two voices from the past remind us of the garden’s history and the scientific work which underpinned its existence then and now. John Hope 1725-1786, was Regius Keeper of the garden and Professor of Materia Medica at the University of Edinburgh. The drawings here—commissioned by Hope—show the architectural scheme for the garden when it was sited near the present day Leith Walk as well as images of plants undergoing experimental analysis in relation to light and gravity. Almost a century after Hope, John Hutton Balfour was Keeper from 1845 to 1879. His botanical teaching diagrams and models (rescued from a bonfire in the 1960s) have been shown in the past but continue to be an inspiration and are objects of great beauty as well as functionality.
The art of botanic illustration is also represented by the work of Stella Ross-Craig, b.1906, who shows that art, beauty and practicality can be easily combined. Often working from flattened, dried specimens Ross-Craig’s drawings are revelatory in that they show plants (for example, the rare Artemesia norvegica) from all angles and in all seasonal states.
Right on cue, the second part of Gordon’s textual work re-emphasises his simple credo: ‘I still believe in miracles’. It’s a sentiment which bears repetition as its implications reverberate both inside the gallery walls and outside to a garden where natural miracles and wonders proliferate.
Giles Sutherland is an arts writer