Euan Gray: Journey

Euan Gray was the 2004 recipient of the Alastair Salvesen Art Scholarship. He used the opportunity to travel to the South Seas, following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson. This exhibition will be Euan’s first solo show in Edinburgh.


“Throughout his life Stevenson travelled continually. In the latter half of the 19th Century, his attitude was seen as adventurous. However, throughout the 20th Century, with lower costs, it has become common to travel and with that, the idea of tourism has been born. Furthermore, as the late Susan Sontag suggested in her book, On Photography, tourists now want to record their travels to offer indisputable evidence of the trip. These images take many forms but many tend toward what the individual sees as exotic and as Borges stated, “exoticism” relates directly to one’s own background. An Arab, for example, would not think of sand as striking but to many in Northern Europe, the desert very much is. The subjects that I have chosen acknowledge this trend toward the tourist idea of the extraordinary. The “exotic” tree was chosen as a subject to mirror the ubiquitous postcards of palm trees, lining the stalls of every market in Tahiti. The “building” images likewise illustrate tourist views as seen from Sky Tower in Auckland or the postcard shot of the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas.


On another level, the work deals with the effect of globalization on the islands. The West has had a stake in the Pacific islands since the first traders landed there over two hundred years ago. Indeed, over 100 years ago, Stevenson published a “Footnote to History”, a factual response to the tri party struggle for domination of Samoa by America, Britain and Germany. In the late 19th Century Hawaii was annexed to the United States while Tahiti likewise became a French Colony. In 1892, Britain became a protectorate of Kiribati. The affect these countries have had on Polynesia is vast. Their culture dominates. Honolulu is a major American tourist destination where surfers and wedding couples fight for space on the artificially created beaches of Waikiki. Tahitians shop in CarreFour and watch French television broadcast directly from the motherland while in Kiribati, European Aid agencies endeavour to improve the living standards of the citizens. However, unlike Stevenson, I chose not to make any political statements with the work. It would be too easy to criticize the changes made by the West but as an outsider, spending only a month in each destination, it would also be a flawed assessment made too hastily, ignoring the complexities of the situation. Therefore, I saw the subjects I executed (like the Satellite receiver in Kiribati) merely as factual observations emphasising the change which has taken place since Stevenson’s time.


The diptych format is a direct response to Stevenson’s writing. Duality was a literary theme developed throughout the 19th Century by writers like ETA Hoffmann, Dostoevsky and Stevenson himself in for example, The Weir Of Hermiston and The Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde. In the latter, he used the device to highlight the extremes of good and evil. The diptych in painting can be seen to illuminate polemical psychological states too, but more importantly, it is a formal device. It allows the artist through repetition to highlight contrast or emphasize similarity. In his novel Despair, Nabokov cleverly expressed the idea that no two people are identical. It is a view that has interested me in painting. No matter how hard one tries, the exact repetition of an image is impossible. Colour and paintbrush marks always differ. Many of the images on show deal with this idea.”


Euan Gray, 2005