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The Pica Pica Project: Looking Back on Edinburgh

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The Pica Pica Project: Edinburgh
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After London came Edinburgh. Although there is undeniably a wealth of things to enjoy in Edinburgh, with only a couple of nights there I really wanted to focus on enjoying the National Galleries. Even so, I did manage to sneak a couple of other things in there too, not to mention a lot of walking!

Day One

On day one I visited the National Gallery. The Inspiring Impressionism exhibition was on, offering a fascinating look at the work of Monet, Daubigny and Van Gogh. The exhibition was brilliantly constructed, featuring many wonderful works. A particular highlight was a reconstruction of Daubigny’s Studio Boat:

I’ve not always been the biggest fan of impressionism, largely because I haven’t had enough understanding or appreciation of it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t really get it. This exhibition, alongside many other striking works I have seen this summer, really helped me see things in a new light. I took away a copy of the stunning exhibition book and have been delighted to have my views challenged and be able to see things in a new way.

I also visited the Royal Scottish Academy. At the time the Open Exhibition was on and this was an impressive collection of work with something to suit all manner of tastes.

Showcasing a unique selection of collectible artworks by artists from Scotland & beyond, the RSA Open Exhibition has a long history of celebrating the best of contemporary practice. After having been part of the RSA Annual Exhibition for over 180 years, it now enjoys its own slot in the RSA Calendar. Drawing from artists across the whole of Scotland and beyond, this exhibition showcases around 400 works annually and features a wide range of small and medium sized works (max. 80cm in any direction) selected through open submission including paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints and photographs.

~ Royal Scottish Academy

I then moved on to the National Portrait Gallery. Once again this was a challenge to my views. I’ve never considered myself particularly drawn to portraits, barring a few. I wanted to see if visiting a gallery devoted to the art of portraits would allow me to reconsider and appreciate this form more fully. There was a special exhibition on – Facing the World: Self-Portraits Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei – so this was a great opportunity to see portraiture in a new light. Seeing how these artists see/saw themselves, how they represented themselves or their thoughts or values in their own work, definitely challenged my views. I began to see how powerful portraits can be, how much can be shown in the work. Works where the artist had also included friends or family members were particularly interesting. Seeing how these artists represented their own relationships gave me an extra element to consider. If I went with the view of opening my mind, this trip was 100% successful. I will definitely never dismiss portraits as ‘not for me’ again.

Facing the World
Facing the World (via Scottish National Portrait Gallery)

In addition to the Facing the World exhibition, the gallery was showcasing work from the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2015. As the highlights show, this was a very varied and interesting collection with some excellent work.

Day Two

I’d set aside the full second day to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery buildings are a 15 minute walk from Edinburgh Haymarket or easily reached by the gallery bus, which runs throughout the day. Made up of two buildings set in a very striking sculpture park, it is very easy to spend a day here and never run out of things to do.

Once again, there was a special exhibition on: Surreal Encounters | Collecting the Marvellous. National Galleries Scotland really does seem to excel at wonderful exhibition curation.

Surreal Encounters
Surreal Encounters (via Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)

Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous brings together some of the finest Surrealist works of art from four legendary collections, those of Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch.

The ways that Surrealist art has been collected display many of the idiosyncratic passions of Surrealism itself. This exhibition will examine the different impulses behind these four extraordinary collections presenting a fuller and richer picture of the Surrealist movement as a whole.

~ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

This exhibition alone would have been enough to get me excited about my Edinburgh trip. The chance to get up close to Dali, Miró and Magritte alone was worth the travel. Unsurprisingly, given my great experiences at both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, this was another great exhibition, brilliantly curated and, once again, with a superb accompanying book.

Aside from this, the visit to the gallery offered me the opportunity to enjoy Bridget Riley | Paintings, 1963-2015. Bridget Riley’s work fascinates me. Not just the finished product but contemplating how she developed an initial concept through to its final, clever conclusion. The beautiful space and lighting of the gallery allows these works to be shown to maximum effect.

The grounds surrounding both buildings feature many beautiful sculptures. I was delighted to see Hepworth’s Conversation with Magic Stones, something I had not expected to see in advance of my visit. It made for a wonderful surprise to approach the gallery building and suddenly see this beautiful work.

Lovely grounds around the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art buildings. Had a great day there!

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Other highlights of my day included the ARTIST ROOMS Joseph Beuys A Language of Drawing exhibition, not to mention the chance to see Eduardo Paolozzi’s work, including Vulcan. It was also an opportunity to see the Paolozzi studio:

Paolozzi Studio
Paolozzi Studio (via Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)

By looking closely at material from his studio, you can discover more about the man and the source of his ideas. The studio is divided into areas for different types of activity: desks for reading and working with paper, shelves of reference books, a large central table for modeling, and working with plaster casts, and a bunk for resting.

Paolozzi was interested in a number of themes and by seeing his studio you can get an idea of the ways he worked and the inspiration he drew from the world around him.

~ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Gallery exploring done, my last stop was back to the grounds for the chance to enjoy some ice cream from the Pig Rock Bothy. Blue lemon sorbet seemed like a great choice after the surrealism exhibition!

Day Three

I checked out of the hotel and dropped my bag off at the station early to allow me some time to walk and take a few photographs. Edinburgh is a beautiful city and I was lucky to be visiting during some very dry days!

Quick look back at Edinburgh…

A video posted by Donna Brown (@donnambrownuk) on

I then made my way to the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. As well as the building affording excellent views of the city from the upper floor, the camera obscura allows you to see Edinburgh in a very unique way…

The Camera Obscura show is a fascinating and highly amusing way to see the city and learn about its history. This unique experience has delighted and intrigued people for over 150 years. It is a ‘must’ on any visit to Edinburgh.

From inside this mysterious Victorian rooftop chamber, you see live moving images of Edinburgh projected onto a viewing table through a giant periscope. Pick people up on your hands, squash them to a pulp and even make the traffic climb over paper bridges.

~ Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

I had a lot of fun in this attraction which, alongside the camera obscura, features many exhibits to do with perception, illusions and/or imagery. Also, the chance to step into the Ames room was a real treat, considering I had been discussing it with students just a couple of months previously but had never had the chance to see the setup in real life.

I was catching a train in the afternoon but that still left me with a couple of hours to visit the City Art Centre before heading home and see the William Gillies and John Maxwell exhibition. Spread across two floors, this exhibition featured a wealth of work from both artists. I wasn’t very familiar with either artist but this exhibition was a compelling introduction to both and very well presented.

William Gillies & John Maxwell traces the careers of these two artists, exploring the parallel development of their work and their enduring friendship. It showcases some of their finest drawings and paintings, including the Fletcher Collection, a group of 43 artworks that has been on long-term loan to the City Art Centre since 1995. This is the first time in over twenty years that the Collection has been displayed together in its entirety.

~ City Art Centre

Also on display was the Paper Trail exhibition:

Paper Trail: Drawings, Watercolours, Prints explores some of the many ways that artists create works on paper. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the City Art Centre’s permanent collection of historic and contemporary Scottish art, and spans the period from the late 18th century to present day. A variety of creative processes are showcased, from the use of sketchbooks to etching plates, and artists’ individual working practices are examined in depth.

~ City Art Centre

I loved this interesting look at how different artists have used different materials in their work. Had I had more time, I am quite sure I would have returned for a second look.

And so, that was Edinburgh. A lovely city that I feel I barely scratched the surface of. I enjoyed every minute of my visit there and hope very much to go back again before too much time passes.

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Donna Brown
Avid reader/audiobook listener, fan of podcasts, prone to the odd Netflix binge. Mum to six crazy and incredible rescue cats. Occasional writer of short stories and poetry.