This year’s course taught by Eleanor K White at the brilliant Bridge House Art, was all about size and scale, near and far and looking at the detail. A really good change of focus for me – both the horizon and the foreground packed with differences to home. In the distance the imposing, muscular mountains and in the foreground delicate flowers suspended in the kind of air that rarely exists in Orkney. Now and then I explore ways of drawing the botanical elements into the landscape, so this was a chance to consider ways of achieving that again and adding to the repertoire of ideas to try back in the studio.
Of course a week at Bridge House Art is also a social event so meeting up with old and new students, talking about our art journeys and responses to the course tasks was, as ever, hugely valuable and rewarding.
This summer I am delighted to have six paintings at The Torrance Gallery in Edinburgh.
In the 70s mum had a few exhibitions in Edinburgh and more than one at The Torrance Gallery. I clearly remember everyone meeting up at Hendersons after the openings… so it feels great to have some paintings there myself. Perhaps they will bring some of Orkney’s cool, soothing sea air to the hot city.
Orkney is a place of two seasons – Winter and Summer – more defined by extremes of available light than temperature and weather. Though it continues to be particularly windy so far this summer I am grateful to have spent a fair amount of time in a kayak. Like going to the art store for paint, time has to be made for swimming and kayaking. Painting has slowed down, paddling has picked up. I have been taking the place in, situating myself in the space between islands and circumnavigating my neighbourhood by sea.
As in painting, sea kayaking can be a challenging process. Rather than just a means of getting from place to place, paddling a kayak in an environment that pushes you out of your comfort zone is often an end in itself.
I’m looking forward to my annual trip to Bridge House Art, leaving my studio comfort zone behind, meeting up with new and old art friends and finding the beginner mindset again in painting too.
Curated by Zanna Wilson, the show had a theme of new life emerging after a long winter and celebrating shows returning to galleries after covid. Certainly painting for this show through the winter I felt as if I was furiously summoning Spring.
The sense of the seasons turning, the light gradually returning and colours becoming more vivid, infused the process of making these paintings. They are about that time of year when the cliff paths in Orkney are flushed with wildflowers.
From each set in the series there were two which earned their place in a frame. This has resulted in three sets of ‘siblings’.
Two wintery paintings in the small works show at The Whitehouse Gallery in Kircudbright are called Hiemal – old Norse for ‘home’. Winter at 59 degrees north can be long and dark, these two paintings feel chilly as the fresh breeze during a few brief hours of midwinter light.
The Whitehouse Gallery showed my mum’s work so I like having a connection with them. Although I was unable to visit Kircudbright I did manage to get a look around mum’s most recent studio space on an unplanned, storm induced extension to a recent visit south.
This year I delivered two larger paintings to the Pier Arts Centre annual Open Exhibition, and was very happy to see them both exhibited in a show crammed with Orkney made art and craft.
‘Green Isle of the Great Deep’ was a made a while ago but has stayed in the studio – it is one of those ‘sentinel’ pieces which I had a few things to learn from before I could let it go. It is more representational than many of my paintings but has a magical quality suggestive of the island in Neil Gunn’s book of the same name, or perhaps Hether Blether the mythical island west of Rousay.
‘Infinity Pool’ recalls swimming in tidal pools when the tide has fallen, leaving a still surface with the imminent return of waves over the brink of the reef. The water beneath is still and deep, and for a short while sheltered and enclosing.
A trip to Wester Ross to commune with the ancestors and be surrounded by the vivid colours of the trees is a welcome change in autumn.
In Orkney the transition from summer to winter is marked by decreasing day length, lowering of the light and increasing frequency of gales. Trees often don’t get the chance to turn before the leaves are dessicated by the wind.
By contrast, in the forest, the air can be completely still, the horizon hidden, the sky reduced to a negative shape between the branches above. The diversity of the plant forms and abundance and diversity of plant life is mesmerising. My autumn sketchbook is a place to explore intense colours and record my response to the rich atmosphere rather than analyse or develop ideas for finished work.
My annual trip to Ullapool and Bridge House Art postponed from last year went ahead this summer – a fascinating course lead by Debbie Loane of Lund Studios.
Good company and chat infused the week – a much appreciated slice of social, face to face life restored.
Outdoor work was at the river and later at Rhue.
Over two days the Ullapool River was transformed by typical west coast deluge, from a boulder strewn river bed to raging torrent, filling the garden at BHA with a deafening roar.
Back in the studio Debbie demonstrated how she uses a mixture of media to build layers of texture. She incorporates materials gathered from the land into her work along with textured media, and encourages her students to create mark making tools with found objects.
Keeping space, closer values and slowing down the whole process of creating new surfaces was my focus for the week.
While the Sea Astrid lies in Deerness waiting for restoration I took photos and have started a sketchbook. She is an Orkney yole built in Deerness in 1949 by Willie Ritch.
The Orkney yole itself has Norse origins and would have been made using available timber, resulting in some variation. Willie Ritch made characteristically wide beam boats and The Sea Astrid has particularly long lengths of wood.
The ‘hand’ of the boatbuilder in the making of the boat can be clearly seen. The journeys she made can be imagined.
From Orkney Fishing Registers Archive:Sea Astrid K92
Sea Astrid K92
Built in Deerness in 1949 by Willie Ritch. Auxiliary motor and lugsail
keel 14ft; length 20.2ft; breadth 7.9ft; depth 3.2ft; tonnage 2.23 26.05.1949 Registered for fishing, using lines and creels, by Willie Ritch, Southernwood, Deerness
I have started sketchbooks inspired by the Sea Astrid and the idea of the ‘sea road’ – the journeys, people and stories of her past. These will be an on-going project as I research her history and follow her restoration.