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.
This year the exhibition returns to the gallery as well as being online.
It is quite awe inspiring to glimpse of how much art making is going on, all so different and thought provoking.
I have two paintings in the exhibition, both of them have been fairly pivotal in how my process has developed, so it has been a big step to send them out into the world and share them. I hope other folk enjoy them, and maybe are reminded of a certain time and place they found themselves at the shore breathing in the salt wind…
After the confinement imposed by wintry weather it has been time to get out and about and fill a sketchbook or two. Over 4 days I visited Marwick and Birsay on the West Mainland of Orkney, and Dingieshowe in Deerness on the east coast and worked my way though similar exercises with the same materials – the first part of the Newlyn School of Art Abstracting the Landscape course by Anita Reynolds. A positive outcome of travel restrictions has been courses which I would have found difficult to travel to, being accessible on line.
As expected it was the simplest of marks which were the most compelling. The less time spent on each piece the more I liked it. Breaking down large drawings into sections really helps to see familiar mark making with fresh eyes. Sorting through and curating dozens of drawings back in the studio reveals habits and preferences, and the occasional exciting new shape or composition to pursue further….
I have a selection of paintings in the Spring exhibition at The Old Library in Kirkwall.
These 15 x 15cm deep canvas paintings are highly textural and glossy, like tiles.
Swimming in Orkney is chilly at most times of year and it will be a while until I contemplate a swim without a protective skin of neoprene. There are local swimmers however, who enter the water all year round in ‘skins’ – just a regular swimsuit – and add only gloves and socks for winter. Achieving this degree of acclimatisation takes consistent immersion.
I hope these two 30 x 30 cm paintings on wood panel capture the feeling of anticipation just before immersion in cold water.
The change in seasonal light accompanies me back into the studio and winter paintings become darker.
In between gales, winter weather can become still and calm, glassy seas with piercing clarity in the atmosphere. The compensation for short days at 59 degrees north is the low angle of the sun’s rays, and after the sun has set the grimleens when the available light is prolonged by a slowly sinking spectral glow from beyond the southern horizon. Peaty paths on the hills become a patchwork of lochans.
Laura Drever organised and curated an online exhibition to raise funds for MND over on her website. I was very grateful to have been asked to contribute to this event alongside so many artists and makers I admire.