Moira Jeffrey, 'Showing a Vital Spark' (The Herald, 10/09/2004)
… If Tony Swain’s career trajectory has been quiet and private, Henry Coombes’s has been very swift. His degree show at Glasgow School of Art was astoundingly mature and rich with psychological complexity, as though a fully-fledged grown-up artist had simply been masquerading as an art student.
After that, though, things became a little wobbly under pressure in shows with Switchspace and at the Glasgow Art Fair. Coombes’s particular seam – the themes of inheritance and breeding and class and colonialism – was in danger of becoming politically programmatic and bogged down in the art history. It was in danger of losing its playfulness and its own personal dimension – because Coombes appears to have sprung form the huntin’ and shootin’ world that he evoked so well.
Coombes, though, is back on track. His series of untitled watercolours at Sorcha Dallas’s eponymous gallery in the Merchant City deliberately evokes the Victorian watercolours of Landseer, of hunting paintings and natural history. The scenes he portrays, in a deliberately awkward hand, are little horrors: a tiny woman drowning in a cafetiere while a giant male figure looks on; a sporting gent trapped in the grasp of a giant raptor, his shiny Rolls parked in the background.
There is one sculptural piece in his show, a white plinth covered in a selection of home-made fishing flies. It’s only close up that you realise that each fly has tiny human face of pink plaster. One figure bites his fingers anxiously; another is blindfold, like the mutilated man in Goya’s Disasters of War. Coombes is marvelously inventive and idiosyncratic Vitalic, in fact.