Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Stripping the willow.




The willow has been stripped by recent high winds and the mantel of late autumn lays over the hillside, a glorious bronzing of heather and bracken. The sunrises shortly before eight gilding the underside of the low cloud coverage. This is the most important part of the day for if you miss the sunrise you risk not seeing it at all. Half an hour earlier I stepped out into a barely discernible dawn to pick a sprig of mint for my tea and shortly after Donald passed silent as a shadow walking the dog. The first thing to register is the wind direction, very important when it comes to taking out the ashes. Whether scattering those from the crematorium or the Rayburn a blow back is never pleasant. Stepping into the dawn I note the reflection in the porch window that sees my neighbour’s house floating impossibly above the sunrise.
As I look to the north I see a lone sea eagle making its dawn tour of inspection along the ridge pestered by two angry mewing buzzards, timing their attack together and causing the eagle to momentarily tumble and redress its vast wings. The close combat mobbing gives scale and indicates just how vast these birds are. 
Tea made and I move out to the sun filled studio glowing with the early morning tainting light, no good for painting just yet but it will soon lift and give me the require even defuse light for working. For now I content myself with my coastal view and try not to think about heading south before the month is out.
   

Allte na Muilne


The valley of the mills contains the burn that flows from a five square kilometre area of moorland between the high ground of Muirneag in the west to the beach of Traigh Mhor on the far north east coast of Lewis. Ten or more lochs reside within this collection area but the river can vary from a mid-summer trickle through an autumnal steady flow to a flash flood torrent at almost any time of year. Along the final kilometre beyond New Tolsta these churning peat stained waters fall rapidly through the valley towards the beach where it does salty battle with the incoming tide. For those who know how to read this landscape there are still the remains of two so called Nordic mills along this final stretch of the burn. This east facing seaward valley drops away from the northerly extremities of the New Tolsta crofts and is the view I look out on each day from my studio.
This valley could equally well be called the valley of rainbows for as I sit painting in my studio, outside all manner of intensely coloured rainbows form during days when the shallow autumnal sun highlights sharp showers arriving on blustery westerly winds. The Richard of York seductive arch tempting me in and daring me to render such fleeting marvels in paint.
Even Constable seemed only to include rainbows when they obtained the intensity of doubling as in his water colour of Stonehenge where two seemingly colourless rainbow forms dramatically dominate the sky.
 A slightly more colourful rendition appears in London from Hampstead, with a Double Rainbow, but here we see two very small sections of the arch within a shaft of sunlight.
 Only in Constables studio set-piece of Salisbury Cathedral from the meadows in 1831 does he attempt a high vault over the spire that is achieved by using the paint at the opposite end of impasto like water colour thinned to a soft veil. JMW Turner was in my mind the greatest master of dramatic lighting but even he seemed to side step the rainbow rather than fight battles in vain. 
   One of my own water colour attempts. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Giving it the red carpet treatment.



Having just finished brushing down the stairs carpet I asked myself why I should find this particular part of house cleaning so satisfying. The answer was staring me in the face, (no pun intended) and it was the carpet itself that was the source of my pleasure. The deep poppy red short pile from the iron oxide end of the spectrum rather than a carmine or crimson cochineal red has been familiar to me throughout my life. It was there in dining room of my parents 1926 Lorimer arts and craft house on the Mull of Kintyre and when we moved south in 1961 it found a place in six out of the eight houses they lived in. It had been made in a narrow weave for stairs or corridors but later my father had joined it together with a backing of copydex and webbing. It failed to find a place in their final home but was rolled up safely in the barn where I rediscovered it. My croft house in Tolsta needed stairs carpet but these strips were too wide. Having looked at the price of new carpet I got out the Stanley knife trimming it to size and gluing the cut edge. It’s now been down for ten years and shows no sign of wear. The satisfaction I get is in seeing that my red carpet has already seen 90 years of service and will probably do as many years again. So what modern carpet could be expected to do such service? By equal good fortune I also have some of the old red velvet curtains from that Kintyre home and one pair now graces the parlour window. I still recall the Christmas of 1958 when these curtains were used to dramatic effect. We were ushered into the sitting room where the fire had been lit and the curtains across the bay window remained closed. My brother and I were told to go and draw the red curtains and there we discovered an entire farmyard of grey buildings with green roofs that my father and half-brother Bill had made in secret.  Another pair of these curtains I used to cover an easy chair in my bedroom, a chair that came originally from the croft house but was destined for the local skip. While my wonderfully over the top mahogany half tester bed (somebody else’s throw out) received a refurbished and relined pair of red velvet drapes. It is important not to confuse reuse with that of up-cycling. Reuse implies using some creative skill to bring back into service some tired and seemingly useless item, while up-cycling is the painting of old mahogany, oak, ash, chestnut, cherry, walnut, rosewood or elm furniture an off white, pink or lavender in the hopes that it will look less conspicuous alongside the flat-pack items.       



Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Crewelwork embroidered mirror.



The inspiration for a crewel work embroidered mirror came from a fine 17th century fragment of bed hanging that I discovered behind later coverings on a Victorian fourfold screen. The embroidery takes the form of a tree of life with wonderfully exotic flowers and leaves and now forms the central part of my mass hung stair well display. Having been shut away from the light for many years the colours remain vivid and when comparing this to another fabulous fragment of similar size in the V&A museum I preferred mine.  During last winter’s trip to Western Australia I spent a couple of days working out the design. Some years ago I had discovered out in the loft space of my father's barn a 17th century carved pine frame that would now be perfect size wise as well as date wise for the mirror. The needlework was to be a 12cm strip between the outer frame and the finer new inner frame.
 I had discovered on scraping back the layers of paint that the original colour of the outer carved frame had been black and decided that would be ideal as a clean contrast to the background linen. The stitching work began on my arrival back in Brittany and continued during the journey north to the Isle of Lewis. As with all these stitching project it is simply a question of time and now five months on and the stitching finished, all the elements have fallen into place and the mirror is complete, another (price on request) item to be shown throughout September 2019 in a major exhibition of my work over the past quarter of a century at An Lanntair, the Stornoway art centre.
    


Monday, September 10, 2018

REMEMBER YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST.


Summer has passed with the last bottle of elderflower champagne drunk and condensation appearing on the inside of the single pane sash windows the morning chill of autumn is upon us, my favourite time of year. The heather is a deeper purple on the hillside, the bracken turned bronze and the swedes are sweet and full. Supermarket shopping is less frequent and spending reduced with potatoes to lift and plenty of green kale. Having chased the last persistent bunny from the property I now discover I have another visitor. The mink are back which may explain why the rabbit no longer calls. I’ve set two traps in the hopes of catching a fur hat for the winter. In the studio lighting of the fire has become the morning routine and it has been a productive time with long term stitching projects completed and painting in full swing. There has also been time for the frivolous thinking and the using up of scrap tweed on the kitchen chair. Remember just like the tweed coat hangers you saw it here first. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

CHOCOLATE BOX ART.



The term chocolate box when referring to a painting is perhaps the harshest of all critical put downs. However even Van Goff’s work has appeared on confectionary box covers as well as being transformed into jigsaw puzzles and deformed into paint by number kits. I somehow think those who pay tens of millions of pounds for his work would not appreciate their prized possession being referred to as chocolate boxy.
Thirty years ago my first exhibition proved a sell-out show featuring mainly Breton dairy cows. I made up my mind there and then to stop painting cows fearing I might become known simply as a cow painter. Twenty years on people continued to ask me was I still painting cows, so now I figure if you can’t beat them then you might as well give them what they want. Last summer I was intrigued to see in a Scottish Art Gallery window a large painting of a highland cows head. The poor beast had been coiffured about the fringe so as to reveal two sad staring eyes. In reality this never happens unless a sudden gust of wind flicks the facial top not to one side. Then on looking further into the gallery I spotted another head or rather half a head, which had the added bonus that the artist did not need to reproduce a perfect matching pair of horns. As well as varying in colour from black to blond the most common being ginger, highland cows horns can also vary considerably from horizontal when young to a magnificent handlebar pair. 
This unfortunate deformed beast with one horn growing up while the other turns down was spotted on North Uist and as such would not have passed the beauty criteria for being a suitable artist model. I ventured into the gallery for a closer look and overheard the gallery attendant on the phone clinching the deal for the head in the window at £900 to a German tourist. Wow I thought, I must get me some of that chocolate.
And so over the next few summers I stopped whenever possible to study the great lumbering beast. Either they are incredibly dim in their slow trudging gait and reluctance to stray from their intended pathway along single track roads and oncoming traffic, or they house some serious intelligence within that shaggy head as they turn slowly knowing that their plodding pace of life holds far more depth than the scurrying humans intent on getting a photo from the car window. As the summer season drew to a close I returned to the easel with my sketches and found enjoyment in giving life to some fine specimens.    
 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hebridean Dreaming: STUDIO PAINTING

Hebridean Dreaming: STUDIO PAINTING: During the past fortnight I’ve returned more towards the paintbrush than needle. The major project to embroider flora and fauna on the N...