Callum Innes sits in the lounge area of the i8 gallery, looking at a flyer while he thinks. He picks up a pen, and unconsciously presses it to the card, about a third of the way in from the left edge. He moves the pen to the centre, and tilts his head slightly, regarding the flyer, now split in two by his line. He shifts the pen to the right edge, then shifts in his seat uncomfortably.
“Therapeutic?” he says, in a softly -spoken, Scottish-accented voice. “I wouldn’t say painting is therapeutic, no.”
Based in Edinburgh, Callum has been painting for over thirty years. He maintains regular hours in his studio, going in every day at 8am, eating lunch with his staff, then staying until 7:30 at night, lending a quotidian aspect to his practise that encompasses its high and lows.
“There are moments in which you’re very happy, and you’re high,” he says. “But there are also painful moments, when you work on something for a day, then destroy it. Sometimes it’s boring! But I wouldn’t say it’s therapeutic. I used to teach a lot, so I know that artists come to art for many different reasons. But… it’s what I do, it’s as simple as that.”
Series of series
Callum’s style has varied widely within his artform, from making hundreds of squares of watercolour on paper, to white canvases combed by brush marks, to the natural irregular geometry of drip painting. But he’s perhaps best known for making differently configured oblongs of colour, often with the paint applied and then removed with turpentine in an act of “unpainting.”
His latest show at i8 combines work in several of these styles. “I make many series of works,” he explains, “so it’s quite interesting for me putting new work next to things I made two or three or four years ago, and seeing how they sit. I really enjoy standing in the gallery and putting a show together. That’s when it’s really formed—when you make editing decisions, and see it in a different light, outside the studio.”
A space in time
I wonder how Callum feels, having been painting for three decades, about how abstract art has been affected by the general acceleration of culture.
“That question starts to get political,” he says. “I live and work in Scotland—we’re tellers of stories, and not a visual culture. It’s difficult to survive as an artist, and especially for young artists. Everything starts with culture, whether it’s writing, philosophy, theatre, or visual art. That’s a very important thing to realise, and possibly for governments to realise.”
“I don’t know how my work fits into it all,” he finishes, thoughtfully. “Maybe there’s a sense of a space in time—an opportunity just to pause. I think that’s really important. The proliferation of culture is fast, fast, fast. And if you can create something that slows it down for a second or two—that’s nice.”
Callum Innes is showing at i8 on Tryggvagata from June 9 until August 6 2016.