What does an artist do when they’re not painting? The answer is “look at stuff” and, in the case of Lee Robertson, looking at stuff for a long time. Then painting it.
Reflections On A Night Out, on now at Veneer on Glasgow’s Argyle Street, is Robertson’s first exhibition for several years. And it’s apparent she’s been “looking at stuff” very closely. Mainly, it seems, alcohol.
But her focus is not the beer-sticky carpet and kebab-stained concrete of a classic Glasgow night out. It’s not the vodka-blossomed cheeks or tattooed shoulders. It’s not the first punch thrown or the last bus home. A night out with Robertson is a tipsy technicolor pub crawl, where everyone is your best mate and there’s always time for just one more.
Robertson studied at Glasgow School of Art, with the initial intention of becoming a filmmaker, a fact that could help explain the cinematic feel of her work. The compositions are mostly tightly cropped and the focus is shallow. Giant drinking glasses (usually empty) are pin sharp and in extreme close up. The bar and the people beyond are soft focus, offering context and colour, but distorted and dismantled by the refraction of the glass. These carefully rendered images are almost photographic but, strangely, photos don’t do them justice – you need to see them up close. As one approaches the canvas mundane details become magical and prismatic: the dregs of this martini, the glow of those nightclub bulbs, the smile of that pretty stranger – they all fragment into a woozy neon kaleidoscope.
The canvasses vary in size and shape and are hung so that a clockwise walk around the space reveals the story of a night on the town, edited like panels in a storyboard. And like any good night, the end is also the beginning.
Robertson’s titles are the wry mantras of the dedicated drinker: “Just The One Then”, “Maybe I should Ask Her Out” and “Eatin’s Cheatin”. She has an ear for dialogue as well as a cinematographer’s eye.
This larger narrative is interspersed with a separate storyline; a handful of paintings with the cleansing theme of water. Here a bath, there a beach. One to wash away the grime of a long night (“Man That Feels Good”) the other to refresh one for the night to come (“Beer O’clock”). They have the same wit, but the natural lighting lacks the technicolor vibrancy of the rest, which I guess is the point.
“Reflections On A Night Out” made me want to sit in a pub (make that several pubs) and just “look at stuff”. Luckily this part of town is full of places to drink. This exhibition is not on long, so catch it while you can. I suggest you have a cocktail afterwards.
Reflections On A Night Out is at the Veneer Gallery 1184 Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8TE, from Friday 23rd September to Sunday 9th October 2016. Original canvasses and prints available from the artist’s website.