Pen Reid – Behind the Curtain

13-05-2023 - 07-06-2023

We are delighted to announce a solo exhibition by artist Pen Reid. Each of the works presents spaces of nurture and security. While the main characters present as resigned and stoic, the scalding steam, overflowing baths and gathering clouds around them speak of building discontent. A sense of foreboding hangs over those experiencing what appear to be insignificant domestic events.

The outdoors seem to provide relief. There is a delicate membrane between indoors and out, between wildness and containment, as plants encroach and invade interiors and oversized trees loom on the boundary. The wildness of animals is pacified, their instinct contained as they are commodified as pets and toys. Taxidermy is explored as a parallel of the need to dominate those deemed as inferior, to suggest life goes on once controlled, but in an empty container.

Once they move outside to public sphere, women find themselves ill equipped for life, reflected in the painting “Wrong Footwear” for the slippery slopes of a snowy mountain or through wearing an extravagant fur coat that breaks any hope of connecting to nature as seen in the work “Don’t be Afraid”.

Water provides hope, “Flooding” as it moves freely, suggesting the potential for breaking away, for freedom. It can provoke change through its ability to create temporary but essential chaos, flooding and pouring through ceilings and suggesting potential escape routes and cooling resentment. References to natural forces can be interpreted as a sign of hope and redemption. As carers in the domestic realm, we live in a state of contradiction, sitting in the warmth of security alongside the menace of resentment that unsettles us and pushes us to find freedom.

Her substantial body of paintings and drawings can be viewed in reality in Compass Gallery from the 13th May to 7th June.

To view Pen's CV visit her artist page at:

A review of the exhibition by Susan Mansfield in Scottish Art News can be seen on our News page or copy the link here:

"The quiet but original voice of Edinburgh-born Pen Reid is revealed at Compass Gallery, in the artist’s biggest solo show yet. In an art world which often seems obsessed by youth, it’s a joy to see an artist flower in middle age with all the attendant skills and depth of vision. Edinburgh-born Pen Reid graduated from Oxford Brookes University in 1990 and went on to a Masters in Painting and Printmaking at the Art Institute of Chicago on an International Peace Scholarship. Now back in Edinburgh, she had her first solo exhibition at the city’s Union Gallery in 2020.

This is her biggest show to date, representing nearly three years’ work, and it’s a chance to appreciate her range, the various moods of her paintings: unsettling, sometimes funny, complex in the ideas they explore. Given her facility with tonality and colour and love of pattern, they are often beautiful too.

The title is apposite: many of these paintings feature a curtain drawn back, still others imply it. The world of these pictures is the domestic, often grounded in very specific details: the washing machine, the claw-footed bath, the pram in the hallway. The viewer might be peeking past the curtain into this world or, along with the occupants, looking out.

These complex compositions fold through indoor and outdoor space: flowers blossom on interior walls; the Milky Way floods into an upstairs landing; houses open up along one wall like doll’s houses. The paintings do this metaphorically, too, inviting us to glimpse inner worlds, private hopes, fears, fantasies.

Not all have people in them; sometimes their presence is oblique, shown in a photograph or glimpsed in a mirror. Animals might appear as their representatives, like the two budgerigars in ‘A Long Marriage’, but also sometimes as themselves: lambs, hummingbirds, the ‘Lost Bears’ wandering in a half-wild suburban garden.

What indoors and outdoors mean in a Pen Reid painting is not straightforward. The domestic is a place of nurture and growth, but outside is the realm of the imagination, wildness and freedom. There is a whiff of fairy tale in paintings such as ‘Five Lost Children’, in which the five small protagonists explore a big empty house in a forest. Sometimes, instead, there is a dash of surrealism, like the baby’s rattles growing in a garden.

In a painting like ‘Fresh Air’, there is a tangible sense of menace in the way the bathroom fills up with steam, but the woman in ‘Washing Up’ might only to be daydreaming a palace of the mind. There are moments of great humanity, like the head scarfed woman in ‘Wrong Footwear’ who finds herself ill-equipped for an Alpine landscape, or the woman who sits at the mirror wondering whether to dye her hair. And there’s a deep sadness (as well as a little absurdity) in ‘Empty Nest’, with its room crowded with tiny beds.

Mixed media works in gouache and pencil show off her drawing skills, and her feeling for paint is on show everywhere, in colours and patterns, light and shadow. She likes to work on the covers of old books, making their titles part of the story. These works are the product of a quiet but original voice, probing the boundaries of interior and exterior, real life and imagination, wildness and confinement, and how they can sometimes be more porous than we think."

Greg Thomas has also reviewed the show in the latest edition of The List magazine.

“Fingerprints, scumbled paint and layers of oil or ink are laid down with a bravura blend of tenderness and confidence. There are controlled accidents of transparency and texture, using varnish and thinners. Working with oil paints or ink on linen or board, she builds up surface only to break them down, with a painting often made up of half revealed layers.”

For Jan Patience's review: