Work in progress in Lisa Scrimgeour’s studio
Meet the Makers | Blue Noun Visit Lisa Scrimgeour
Hello English language learners and friends of Blue Noun Language Hub in Scotland!
Today, I’m sharing about a recent studio visit to artist Lisa Scrimgeour’s workspace in Perth Creative Exchange WASP Studios.
We’re writing about it because if you join our English language school on our English Immersion Holiday for Creative Professionals, we’ll take you on a guided tour to meet some great artists in their studios across Perthshire. We specialise in teaching English to creatives – and we organise Meet the Makers trips for all our language school guests.
We think having a chat with Lisa is a must for your English language holiday. Let me tell you here why I love her artwork. I suspect her paintings incite different emotions between men and woman. parents and non-parents – but we can discuss it when you get here – or live during our on online membership calls.
Lisa Scrimgeour talking about her work during Perthshire Open Studios
Kids are ‘Minging’
Lisa paints adult and child portraits. Her adult faces are clearly beautiful people, but dripping with melting stage makeup or other unsettling, thick substances reminiscent of the aftermath of violence and/or sex. Their eyes however remain untraumatised, clear and strong producing a disconnect between what seems to have happened to the people and what the subjects seem to know about. Perhaps they are performers, or otherwise disconnected with their own image – somehow unaware that they have been subject to an assault.
It’s Lisa’s children’s portraits that I particularly want to discuss. As with her adult portraits, they too are often oversized and theatrical – and finely balance a compelling and revolting scene.
In one sense, it’s her same formula – beautiful creatures with strong, defined features somehow subverted by a crass layer of some unappealing substance.
However, where her adults seem to have had bad things happening to them, the children relish doing it themselves.
Where her adults represent generic people rather than individual portraits, Lisa has very much found a new niche for child portrait painting that celebrates each individual child by giving you the whole cutesy-cute, disgusting package that they are – and it’s up to you whether you are repelled or not.
Anyone with young children knows, the person that you love most in the world is regularly shining out of a self-created veneer of mud, honey, poo, glitter, glue, makeup, moss, snot and ketchup.
From finding a fish finger in your handbag to adding sentences like, ‘stop poking the dead pigeon’ to your regular lexicon, kids can be a bit horrific.
Yet their horror is also their charm. Which parent has not taken a photo of their toddler enthusiastically painting themselves with yoghurt?
It’s oddly endearing when it’s your own kid. Or worse, (like me) you discover that having your own baby has unlocked the door to finding all other children magical – even at their crustiest. What is this madness?
I can remember my pre-motherhood days. Backing away from sticky fingers. Watching in horror as apple puree mixed with the flowing channel of upper lip snot, the combination swiftly scraped off with the plastic spoon and rammed into the waiting, trustful mouth.
Kids are bogging, minging, and parenthood is the perpetual fight against sticky stuff and glitter spreading beyond its creator and across your own clothes and house (or worse, someone else).
We’ve all got horror stories. Mine is a near miss story of flat sitting a lovely minimalist home, and finding my child naked and halfway through a Cadbury’s Cream Egg she’d pinched out my bag (a rookie error leaving that within reach) still perched in the middle of the pure white sofa I’d safely left her (clothed) on, her face and her knees smeared with melted chocolate – but not one single spot on the sofa!
Loving the Creature Under the Crust of Goo
Visiting Lisa’s studio made me wonder about Kenny, my partner, who shares my daughter and I’s life without ever having had the 9 months of mentally preparing for parenthood – or living the fragility and powerlessness of those first weeks of a child when even their breath seems a miracle.
Instead, Kenny got launched straight into sticky horror phase, like when she squatted down for a wee in the midst of decorating his Christmas tree – or when a poo randomly fell out one of her trouser legs. He deals with it very well, but I’m sure its harder to find that unconditional adoration for the creature under the crust of goo, as I do know that it was the process of having my own child that seems to unlock it in me.
Lisa paints her younger sister a lot – as well as a selection of random Weetabix splattered kids she finds on Instagram. She also paints commissioned portraits for people wanting to immortalise that strangeness of not just loving your kid even though they have smeared banana into their own eyebrows, but actually being heart-burstingly proud of them because of their skill at getting themselves dripping with food gunk.
And it’s there that lies the mystery. It’s like we are programmed with an over-enthusiastic auto-immune response: to compensate for the grubbiness we must face for the first several years of a child’s life, endorphins kick in and we get a rush out of it.
We find it cute. Hilarious. Adorable. There’s no other person in my life that I would find more enchanting if they were sticky, sweaty, smelly or smeared with food – and I certainly wish that endorphin rush extended to dirty dishes or housework, but it doesn’t.
And is it going to fade away when I no longer need it? Will I regret my lack of pristine baby photos? (I’m already regretting ones of the toddler/noodle incident).
Which moment would I commission from Lisa?
During the lockdown, we had a lot of birthday parties for toys and pets. On our dog’s turn we ‘dressed up’ as Oscar the dog. I added some whiskers to my face with an eyebrow pencil.
Young Blue disappeared for quite a while and came back coloured in. Completely. Because he’s a black dog. Only she’d stopped quite wide of her eyes (thankfully) and skipped under her fringe, so (to me at least) it looked like a bizarre cutout collage of daughter and toy dog.
There’s an unfortunate element of blacked-up minstrel show performer – that is beyond her years to understand, but for me adds a pinch of the disquiet that is in much of Lisa’s work. (Somewhere in the middle is also mild annoyance at the use of a costly eyebrow pencil and admiration and pride at the dedication it took to colour herself in so completely).
I Don’t Even Want to Know What That Is
In her adult portraits, Lisa’s work captures the chilling sinisterness that we widely acknowledge clowns have: real eyes staring out at us from behind masked features. In all her work, exquisitely pained eyes and picked out facial features are her main hook: her subjects’ eyes shine out, thoroughly worked and beautiful in a sketchy face. (As every cartoonist knows, the more exaggerated in scale, the cuter the effect).
Lisa doesn’t shy from fuchsia pinks and fluffy ears and unicorn horns, but she does counterpoint them with mucky layers of baked beans and congealed, I don’t even want to know what.
Sometimes she works the surface of the canvas so the blobs of gunk are actually thick layers of paint. She uses gold paint too, but in crassly smeared chunky blobs that are a bit repellent in their quantity.
Even her use of gold leaf in one painting is a bit indecent (like Luminol showing up in a crime scene).
It should all be a bit too sickening, but her mastery of paint is admirable her work just has to be taken very seriously as it’s so well executed in luscious oil paint with confident, expressive painterly marks.
Good painting compels you to keep looking. Interesting subjects do not automatically make good art (and distasteful subjects bad art) – it’s also about the composition, pathways, lines and marks of the paint, which (if you are into painting), you fall in love with and keep looking at – finding new pleasurable things happening on the canvas – and repeatedly being joyous about the familiar marks too.
The tension within Lisa’s work is that you can be mesmerised by the beauty of paint within an image with repellent elements. I absolutely don’t believe that an artwork has to be beautiful, but it’s still a very powerful card to hold in your hand. As a painter, Lisa uses it as top trump.
“The idea of beauty, the poet Bill Berkinson wrote me recently, is a “mangled, sodden thing.”
But the fact of beauty is quite another.”
The Abuse of Beauty, Arthur C. Danto., Daedalus, 2002,
MIT press, Vol. 131, No. 4, On Beauty (Fall, 2002), pp. 35-56
At Blue Noun we love chatting about all things art and celebrate having excellent, talented people all around us to do it with. We facilitate real cultural and creative exchanges happening, whether it’s in our language learning space – the Blue Noun Hub – or out and about visiting studios and workshops.
We also love showing off the beauty of Perthshire and the food and craft produce that is making it world-famous. Our whisky tastings are legendary!
Our business is also intended to be of benefit to the artist/maker economy of Perthshire. We bring our international creative guests into studios for a genuine exchange of cultures and art-making. Yes it’s an English lesson, but it is so much more! (Plus we pay all our artists and guest speakers for their time)
Come and join us for an English language learning holiday and grab a taste of Perthshire!
We hope that you have enjoyed this close look into local artist Lisa Scrimgeour’s studio.
We cover a broad range of topics in our language school blogs – some a lighthearted look at Scotland, others an in-depth look at art and culture. There’s something for everyone.
Did you read our first Perthshire Open Studios Special?
Your Blue Noun English Language Challenge is:
There are a lot of adjectives in this text to describe messy children and Lisa’s painting style(s). There’s even overlap between the words.
Describe the last mess you made. Did you spill your dinner? Did something break?
Use the past tense to describe what happened.
Use the present perfect to describe any lingering results (I still haven’t got rid of the mark).
Throw in a couple of adjectives to describe the mess too!
“What a mess!…”
Write as much as you like, and if you would like us to check & correct your English, write CP (correct please) at the end.
Live language learning!