“Water of Life”: a modernist, majestic, painterly view of Scotchland by Euan McGregor at the Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh
Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, will soon have a new addresss in Stockbridge. Until the gallery can open to the public, their Spring exhibition, Water of Life by Euan McGregor, PAI, has now been unveiled and available to view on line.
Euan McGregor graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art in 1998. Awarded the Royal Glasgow Institute Travelling Scholarship he spent six months exploring and painting in Catalonia. Specialising now in landscape painting and mixed media work, he lives in West Kilbride on the Ayrshire coast.
Scotch Whisky distilleries often featuring an image of a moorland grouse or Highland stag on their bottles to reflect our natural wilderness, the origin of uisge beatha, Water of Life.
“The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence: it is a toast to civilization, a tribute to the continuity of culture to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body.” – David Daiches, author of “Scotch Whisky: its past and present”
Inspired by the malt whisky industry, Euan McGregor has toured Scotland, from Islay to Orkney, Moray to Wick, to visit a diverse range of Distilleries to capture their landscape setting from coastline to countryside.
“I love the fact that these industrial-sized buildings often inhabit the wildest of places, so there’s a contradiction of sorts, but they work well together, especially as the product is so synonymous with its geography.” Euan McGregor
The whisky map has six regions which are absolutely key to the characteristic aroma, taste and style of Scotch – Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown, Lowland, Islands, Islay.
Islay whisky is especially distinctive due to the earthy peat used to dry the malt which creates a smooth smoky flavour. Bowmore is a quaint, quiet town on Loch Indaal, Islay, with its renowned Distillery founded in 1779 beside the harbour.
Euan McGregor is fascinated by the historic signage which guided the puffer cargo boats safely to port – “They are like proud beacons giving clarity to ships and tourists alike”.
This is a striking composition, (acrylic on board), with the giant letters highlighted in black on the white washed walls. The tall chimney stretching up to the blue sky is like a lighthouse to warn skippers and sailors of the rocky seashore.
McGregor has skilfully ‘sketched’ the architectural structure of the huddled group of buildings beside the beach and lapping waves. While apparently simple, there’s such a tangible atmosphere, you can almost catch a whiff of the salt sea air.
A couple of years ago, I boarded a 12 passenger boat for a voyage to the Southern Hebrides for an island hopping adventure. Islay, the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ has eight whisky distilleries with the annual Feis Ile, Festival of Music and Malt, attracting over 3,000 international whisky loving visitors.
Bowmore was certainly a stunning sight as the Glen Etive sailed across Loch Indall.
Oloroso sherry casks provide a fruity sweetness during the maturing process: Bowmore 12 year old is described as a blend of vanilla, bergamot, perfumed smoke, sea spray and lemon zest, while the Black Rock Malt has the rich flavour of toasted fudge, cinnamon and marmalade.
Next stop is Caol Ila distillery (1846) at Port Askaig with views across the Caol Ila (Sound of Islay) to the island of Jura.
Again a strong illustration emphasising the quiet location on the seashore: sharply geometric in design – white warehouse, a blue block of sea shimmering in the sunlight and the square flatness of the cliff behind.
A tasting note for Caol Ila: “ … heather and coffee notes as well as hint of brine on the nose like smoked fish or cockles in butter”.
On the south coast of the island is Lagavulin which officially dates from 1816, although records show illicit distillation here since 1742. Moving away from a realistic representation, Lagavulin Detached is a cool, crafted fragmented illustration, extracting the oblong, oval and triangles of chimney, stillhouse, hill, sea, sky, like pieces of a jigsaw.
Akin to printmaking, this has an abstract, layered effect of space, shape and texture, interlocked with a delicate palette.
“The buildings themselves are industrial cathedrals with specific shapes integral to the whisky-making process.” Euan McGregor
And if you fancy a dram of Lagavulin 16 year old, expect a blend of figs, sherry, peat smoke, Lapsang Souchong with a long spicy finish.
On the island of Orkney, Scapa distillery (1884) stands beside a natural harbour, Scapa Flow (Old Norse for ‘bay of the long isthmus’). Scapa Clouds is a finely balanced composition, with such subtle shades of blues, green, grey, brown, placing the Distillery within the environment and weather under a threatening sky.
A modern image of a majestic monument linking the past to present day with restful stillness. Scapa Skiren malt whisky offers a blend of “honey, fresh cream, apple, anise, crushed nuts, juicy pear and lemon peel.”
Travel on to Caithness to visit the Old Pulteney distillery, Wick in the north east corner of Scotland. Like Edward Hopper’s American landscapes, the focus here is on solitary buildings, closed doors and an empty road devoid of people and daily working life.
With such precision of angles and purity of colour, this tranquil scene has a filmic quality with sharp shafts of light and shadow.
The Speyside region stretches along the River Spey in Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey. Glenlivet was founded in 1824, operating almost continuously since then to become the highest selling single malt whisky in the United States and the second largest selling brand globally.
This semi-abstract illustration has a stark winter mood with its ice-cold, blueish-white sheen. The minimalist architectural design is like a surreal sculpture amidst the surrounding dramatic environment. Glenlivet 12 year old offers a smooth texture and sweet flavour of vanilla custard, honey, banana, pineapple, apples and a little cinnamon.
Visit a few more distilleries too around this captivating exhibition, as well as land and seascapes from Gardenstown to St. Abbs with masterly perspective.
Reminiscent of those vintage pre-war British Rail posters to entice people to take a trip to cities and seaside, McGregor has a modernist painterly, aesthetic style: poignant, romantic, scenic views are graphically distilled to create a timeless sense of place.
This is about heritage and the haunting legacy of the craftsmanship by the masters of malt over the centuries. Pour a glass of your favourite dram to sip slowly as you savour an evocative journey around Scotchland from rural glen to the edge of the sea.
“Water of Life” by Euan McGregor – 4th April to 6th June 2020
View on line: http://www.doubtfiregallery.com
tel. 07902 307147
New Address – opening soon
Doubtfire Gallery and Frame Creative Design studio
28 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6TP