Painting portraits in smells

Painting portraits in smells


Most art is very visually-orientated. Some use sound and vision. And a few use touch. But, until now none have been based on the sense of smell.

At a recent exhibition in London, the artist Iain Maclean introduced a new art form based on smell. In effect, he was exhibiting portraits of his father and grandmother, not visually, or in sound, but in smells.

According to the artist, I stayed with my paternal grandmother in Scotland when I was four. I don`t remember what she looked like, but I recall vividly all the smells of the house and garden. These include: fresh linen, carbolic soap, fresh-baked cake, mown grass and wild straw berries.

At the exhibition, these were presented in tiny porcelain cups on the branches of a small tree.

His father`s portrait is presented in a battered old suitcase covered in old stickers and labels from his travels as an army officer in Africa, and the Far East. Inside are old photos of his father and mother with various objects set into the base. An old Forces-issue cigarette tin contained the smell of tobacco; a glass jar smelled of Brylcream; a brass container smells of Brasso…

Apparently, unlike the other senses, smell is directly linked to emotion and memory. And you never forget them either. That`s why they evoke memories and emotions so powerfully. They can recall first love, a particular summer, schooldays, Christmas – instantly.

Thanks to new technology perfumers can replicate any smell in liquid form. All the smells were provided by Angela Stravrevska, Britain`s leading perfumer (the proper word is perfumer, not perfumier). She was chosen by the industry to create a one-ff perfume exclusively for the Queen for the Jubilee.

His work turns our visually-dominated world on its head. The Impressionists were fascinated with light. Maclean is passionate about smell. Is it a valid art form? Definitely.