As a New Year opens out before us, I naturally find myself reflecting on the past 12 months. So much can happen in a year, so much ground covered and coast explored. In fairness, I am not a big New Year celebrator. I like to think that New Year starts when you wake each morning. You can decide where your 365 days begin from. However, January seems as good a place as any.
When wondering why Harris and Lewis was so quiet in January, I was answered by hailstones the size of golf balls. As they bounced off the windscreen, snow blizzards swept across the road. January was a scary and beautiful time to explore the coast of this amazing place. The winter light clung to the soft mists, casting fuzzy pastel tones over the seas and sands. I learned to work fast on this trip, stealing precious moments of shelter amongst rocks of bothy walls. I would steal brief colours and compositions, mapping them out on paper in a decisive way. I would then soak up what was important to me and quickly add these touches in later. This kind of subconscious editing process was exciting.
By the time May arrived, I was twitching to get back out to sea. Tiree was an entirely different experience from Harris and Lewis. For starters, it was sunny. The colours were jewel-like. Vast flat expanses of violet and teal swept out in front of me. It was so quiet. No wind or hail stones, just birds twittering. Creating art that was true to the vibrancy of Tiree required strong colours and bold application of paint, usually with a palette knife.
The desire to mess about with a painting and define areas or add detail is something I fought against for these works. The punchiness of colour was the element my memory held on to and so I wanted to give it the full stage of the canvas. When surfing at Balevullin beach, I was enveloped by enormous turquoise waves. I feel like everything I looked at in Tiree was seen through this kind of natural filter.
Returning to the city, made for a pretty grey existence after
my time on Tiree. It was like being in a black in white film once you had already discovered technicolour. A couple of trips to the coast managed to keep the blues at bay. With East Lothian as a favourite haunt, jaunts were within spitting distance.
North Berwick and the surrounding coast is a happy place for me. My dear friend, the late Nick Keir, helped to instil a soft spot for the likes of Gullane and Yellow Craigs. He was a wonderful musician and natural story teller, imparting enthusiasm to explore this beautiful country. Without him in my life, I never would have visited half of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to see. He would paint beauty with words, a true gift. I still recall a boat trip we took around the Bass Rock with some pals. With rosy wind beaten cheeks and smiles stretched across our faces, we ducked the swooping gannets and laughed with a freedom I will never forget. Yes, East Lothian is a special place for me. I sometimes feel that to be near the sea, is to be near to him.
And so in October, I took up my post as artist in residence at Sumburgh lighthouse on Shetland. This month of dedication to developing a body of work and exploring a new landscape, was a unique experience. One that I am so privileged to have had. Living in a lighthouse atop a cliff in the storms of winter made for a really special month. Working through doubt, fear and isolation, I learned what it meant to hit a creative block. I learned how to dig my way out of it. And most importantly, I learned to give myself a break. Trying to force art to happen because you think it is meant to, does not mean that it will. Sometimes, just sometimes you have to stop thinking about creating and soak up what has already been created for you. It really is that simple.
People express their feelings and experiences in different ways. Some people use words, poetry or song. Some use music or movement. Some use paint. What I saw and what I felt during that month is in every brushstroke. It is in each swipe of pastel and every dribble of ink. My home does not display any of my own art work. I know that if I look at my own work for too long then I will want to tweak something, attempt to improve it. Indeed, should anyone decide to take the old x-ray machine to my works, they will see that many have ghosts. The work I created in Shetland is complete. It says what I saw, it says what I felt. And I am content with it.