THE SPIRIT OF GLASGOW ~ mural commission for the Beresford Hotel, Glasgow 2020 November 22 2020

Catherine Abel’s instinctive ability to move a viewer through time, story, city and the harmonisation of feminine/masculine symbolism, is demonstrated in her extraordinary mural rendition, The Spirit of Glasgow.

The artist has described its breadth of scope, ‘as a voyage of industry and transformation.’ The composition’s narrative is both arresting with its bold geometry of multiplicity and direction, and contemplative, with the mood set by a glamorous, enigmatic woman – the only featured human being in the painting.

We see the interplay of Art Deco’s signature style combining luxury with a sense of faith in technological progress, as it evolved during the 1930s. And worlds-within-worlds emerge like collage, inviting dialogue with a city steeped in historical richness. Notice the zeppelin and the harbingers of Steam Punk. The painting’s vastness grants the eye ample opportunity and space to explore and question.

Emphasising prismatic shapes, elements of Cubism and the traditional mural arc illustrating the urban environment flanked with emblems, it also pays homage to iconic marks of culture and evokes a tangible sense of destination. Abel has masterfully captured a Post-Modern impression of Glasgow’s character, and yet, a presence of unnameable, mystical significance saturates its entirety. 

The solitary female figure casts an omniscient gaze across all of creation. She is positioned above The Beresford Hotel and its cinematic spotlight – the energy of the British and Scottish liaisons are palpable behind doors; the grand dame, RMS Queen Elizabeth ocean liner of distinction, takes her pride of place; the splendour and sleek arrangements of ‘planes, trains and automobiles’; and the stately Streamline Architecture definitive of the day.

Poised and in tune with her own power and sense of place, her soulful, majestic presence belonging to this world and the next is pregnant with worth and meaning. The gradual transition from her feminine grace to the placement of trade, shipbuilding and bridges generates reflective yet rapid movement; a very real sense of travelling across multiple timelines and interpretations throughout the painting, simultaneously.

During its 12 week composition, Abel ‘felt her way through’ each 8 hour stretch of skilled labour. Guided by her own imaginings, her love and knowledge of Art Deco and ocean liners, and with trust in the story unfolding around the iconic Beresford Hotel, it was important for her to act upon her instincts rather than any preconceived notion of what needed to happen. She learned that, ‘No matter how much you plan the outcome, the muse may lead you elsewhere. And that it’s best not to fight the flowing river.’

At any point of connection the viewer enters the artistic conversation, it could be said that with all historical and aesthetic appreciation aside, other faraway places of the mind and senses are stirred. The presence of a muse, a mystic, a woman as paragon of beauty, all combine within a streamline-city backdrop, to form a spectacular painting that is both an invitation and a statement, all at once.