E(i)lshem(i)us @ 42 Carlton Place, Glasgow

42 Carlton Place presents the work of little-known 20th century painter Louis Michel Eilshemius, offering a new take on the outsider artist

Review by Adam Benmakhlouf | 10 May 2016

There’s a yellowed look of outside art surrounding this exhibition of Louis Michel E(i)lshem(i)us (1864-1941) – the poster’s parentheses indicate the artist’s varied spellings of his name. 

Amongst the landscapes and forest scenes, you can occasionally spot figures with short arms and necks, and wide frames. They appear as bathing nymphs or, in the case of 1917's War, even as a just-shot soldier in mid-fall from a hill.

All the painted works are in oils, though the paint nevertheless looks as though it’s been dragged drily over the surface. With Eilshemius believed, according to legend, to spend only 15 minutes on his paintings, maybe this was a cumulative figure of concentrated one-minute sittings between dries; the paintings look as layered as they do quick.

Set deep in the exhibition is a small watercolour of a clearing amongst tall trees, with dappled light and fuzzy-edged foliage. Looking as though it’s been completed en plein air, there’s not the same sense of a potential punchline hovering overhead. Although the artist gave up painting altogether in later life to curate his own persona, there’s a sense that the surviving works are meant with some sincerity.

Later work comes as ink sketches on headed paper. They're as fast-paced as the paintings, with the same hills and squat bodies, but with ornate, drawn-in frames, and odd captions like 'Utter Solitude' and 'On the Top'. 

There’s an interesting shape to the exhibition, characteristic of 42 Carlton Place – there’s an entire life’s work of obvious interest, but being introduced to the majority of the audience for the very first time. Though obviously removed from mainstream success, there’s a sense of the knowing outsider with the ambiguous romanticism of the work (as well as Elshemius’ rigorous academic training) displacing that fond zaniness reserved for unknowns and autodidacts.

E(i)lshem(i)us, 42 Carlton Place, until 15 May, by appointment.