Alison McWhirter explores her favourite colour in expressionist artwork, ‘Blue Territory’ at the Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh
“In Galloway one either fishes or paints….” quotes Dorothy L. Sayers in the introduction to her murder mystery novel, ‘Five Red Herrings’ (1931), which she based on her regular visits to this thriving artistic community in the 1920s.
Kirkcudbright was then home to distinguished artists, E.A. Hornel, Jessie M. King, E.A. Taylor, and Charles Oppenheimer and also the summer haunt of S.J. Peploe, the Scottish Colourist.
This inaugural solo show by Alison McWhirter at the Doubtfire Gallery captures the spirit of favourite coastal scenes around Whithorn, Dumfries & Galloway, through a dominant Blue theme observed in the sky, sea and blossoming flowers.
The cool colour also denotes emotion and Picasso’s Blue Period, 1900-1904, reflected his introspective mood at the time in monochromatic paintings, as illustrated in Blue Nude (1902).
In this ‘Blue Territory’ exhibition, a series of abstract landscapes evoke a sense of time and place, often inspired by music, such as David Bowie’s Bluebird, Bluegrass jazz as well as poetry.
‘Looking for the perfect blue,
water to swim in, not through ..
for a colour that was right.
Now and then he would catch sight
of utter blue as he bent down
in some remote spice-scented town.’
from Ultramarine, Michael Symmons Roberts
A line from the poem gives the title Water to swim in, not through – a tranquil scene, perhaps denoting a river or lake, the surface of the water floating with green reeds or water lilies.
A clear summer sky is portrayed in Ultramarine with its sweeping brushstrokes blending shades of aqua, mauve, sapphire and teal. The oil paint is splattered on the textured linen but contained in a central grid pattern to leave a border around the sides.
Alison McWhirter studied at the Bath Spa Academy where her inspirational tutor was the eminent artist, Maria Lalac. ‘Naples yellow’ in her series of History Paintings, comprises of multiple thin glazes of paint smoothed horizontally across the canvas. This layering technique illustrates the time and effort, ‘the literal history of the making of that particular painting’.
The art historian Nicholas de Ville comments that ‘the more minimal the vocabulary an artist chooses … the more significant the raw essentials of painting’.
Likewise, McWhirter demonstrates a similar layering method in her minimalist abstract compositions to focus on the raw essential colour, tone and texture of paint.
Jeanie Donnan, (1864-1942), the ‘Galloway Poetess’ often wrote about the seashore around Wigtown, such as this verse from ‘Drifting’:
‘But I still must strive ‘gainst wind and tide,
Still wild are the waves on which we ride.’
Swirls of thick oils, creamy white with flecks of amber and grey in the associated painting Drifting, blows like a breeze with a glimpse of a rain cloud behind a burst of sunlight.
‘A slash of blue, a sweep of gray,
compose an evening sky …
A wave of gold, a bank of day —
This just makes out the morning sky’.
from ‘A Slash of Blue’ by Emily Dickinson.
A bright palette in shades of celeste, cerulean and turquoise reflects Emily’s poetic response to the light as it changes across the day, a shimmering cloud across the pure blue sky with flowing fluidity.
The exhibition title may have come from Joan Mitchell’s Blue Territory, depicting a view of Vétheuil, France through rectangular blocks in glossy layers, thin veils and drips. As she said, “It comes from and is about landscape, not about me.”
A similar mosaic pattern is central to McWhirter’s imaginative vision to represent Isle of Whithorn Harbour View. The sea and sky seem to meld in a blur of bright azure and soft Royal blue against a slice of golden sand and block of grey rock under a rosy-pink sunset.
As well as these expressionistic seascapes, there are some charming botanical studies such as Peonies against a Royal Blue light. Thickly swirled daubs of pink and green depict the flowers and leaves in a vase with delicate sculptural effect.
Van Gogh wanted to be renowned as a painter of Sunflowers. Here, just a wild splatter of yellow splodges is all that is required to illustrate Sunflowers against sky blue, a few blooms wilting slightly with a few fallen petals.
In this ‘Blue Territory’ collection of paintings, there’s a real sense of rhythm and movement through sweeping brushstrokes and vivid, vivacious colour. The painterly technique may seem to be spontaneous but these are finely crafted compositions as an emotional, poetic response to the natural world and moody blue skies of the Galloway coastline.
Blue Territory: Alison McWhirter
Doubtfire Gallery, 28 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh EH3 6TP
5 April – 6 May, 2023: Open, Wednesday to Sunday, 12-4pm.
Or by appointment.
Rose Strang: ‘The Living Mountain: Dreaming a Response’ – luminous, painterly poems capture the wildness of nature @ Heriot Gallery, Edinburgh
To commemorate the 130th anniversary of the birth of Nan Shepherd, Scottish novelist and nature writer, this exhibition of paintings by Rose Strang illustrate the new Folio edition of ‘The Living Mountain.’
First published in 1977, Shepherd’s timeless, classic memoir describes the wild, wonderous beauty of the Cairngorm mountains – ‘The finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain.’
This book of twelve poetic essays, such as Water, Frost and Snow, Air and Light, and simply, Being, capture her emotional and spiritual sense of time and place, comparing the experience to a Buddhist’s pilgrimage.
“So there I lie on the plateau …over me, blue air and between the fire of the rock and the fire of the sun, scree, soil and water, moss, grass, flower and tree, insect, bird and beast, wind, rain and snow – the total mountain. Slowly I have found my way in.”
Nan Shepherd, ‘The Living Mountain’.
To appreciate the literary topography of these land lines, Rose Strang set off to follow in Shepherd’s footsteps and this selection of paintings each inspired by selected literary extracts from ‘The Living Mountain.’
The bleak emptiness of the Highland environment in Among Elementals has such a dreamlike perspective fading into the distant mist. White sheets of snow drip down the mountain-side like a melting glacier, while thick smudges of grey cloud swirl across the sky. The streaked, scratched, layered effect of thick oil paint on wood deftly evoke the textured terrain of hard rock and scree across this frozen glen.
There’s a distinctive sense of being outside in the raw, frosty air in Everything became good to me, standing in this rugged land, a carpet of purple heather and trees bent over in the wind. Looming above is the craggy rock face of sparkling ice in a glow of sunlight. Just as Shepherd documented what she saw, heard and felt in words, Strang portrays the atmospheric spirit of the scene with such detailed, dramatic vision.
I like the unpath best is such an imaginative phrase – the idea of going off the beaten track to escape and find a place of solitude in a lost glen. In this meadow of pink, purple, red and yellow wild flowers, imagine a waft of sweet fragrance and warm sun on this August day.
A translucent sheen bathes the view of mountain and loch in It is luminous without being fierce, the soft wash of pale pastels and impressionistic sketchy technique create a fluidity of light, air and water. A reflective mood of stillness is captured in this tranquil composition – delicate yet majestic at the same time.
They say that a picture paints a 1000 words. Nothing could be truer here. Shepherd encouraged the reader to not simply walk up a mountain, but rather to ‘walk into it.’ Likewise, Rose Strang immerses the viewer close up and personal within this surreal landscape.
Dreaming a response to this meditative, soulful memoir, Rose Strang’s lyrical landscapes translate the prose with such ice-cool clarity, enriching, painterly poems in tribute to Nan’s beloved mountains.
The Living Mountain: Dreaming a Response – paintings by Rose Strang
The Heriot Gallery, 20a Dundas Street, Edinburgh in collaboration with The Limetree Gallery, Bristol
April 17th to April 23rd 2023. Open: Tues-Fri, 10am-5pm. Sat. 10am-4pm.
An accompanying Video of artwork and photography features a stunning musical soundtrack by Atzi Muramatzu. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuo_jfTKKVo
“Ligne et Couleur” by a group of Architect-Artists on view at the Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh.
This art exhibition is presented by the Scottish Society of Architect-Artists (SSAA), which was founded in 1987 by former President of the Scottish Arts Club, the late Hamish Haswell-Smith. The aim was to create a group of members to refine and value their ‘inner artist’ through exhibitions of drawings, paintings, sculpture, jewellery, photography, print-making and experimental art, by those involved in architectural practice in Scotland.
The title of the show pays tribute to the cultural heritage of the long established European association, Ligne et Couleur. Originally Les Amants de la Nature – lovers of nature, quietness and landscape – it was created in 1882, forced to close during World War 1 and then revived in 1935, with its members all qualified architects.
The SSAA is affiliated with Ligne et Couleur, Paris which co-ordinates a network of architect-artists in England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Romania and Poland, a collaboration maintained by the dynamism of the architecture profession across Europe. Annual exhibitions are based on specific themes, such as “the night”, “shadow and light” and “Notre-Dame de Paris” which have inspired the artists’ imagination.
The exhibition this year on a theme of ‘Bridges’was recently at the Mairie du 5th Arrondissement in Paris, which represented artwork by six members from Scotland.
At the Scottish Arts Club, there are 38 works of art – paintings (oil, watercolour, acrylic), drawings, sketches (Indian ink, pencil, charcoal) and sculpture – and here is a brief overview of a selection of architect-artists.
Now owned by the National Trust of Scotland, The Pineapple was built in 1761 for the 4th Earl of Dunmore as a summerhouse where he could appreciate the views around his estate; to extend the tropical theme, a variety of unusual fruits and vegetables were grown in the glasshouses in the Pineapple’s walled garden. This intricate pencil drawing, by Ian Stuart Campbell, colourfully and delicately decorated, captures the extraordinary exotic and surreal architectural design for this folly at Dunmore Park and known as the most bizarre building in Scotland.
Extraordinary draughtsmanship is observed with fine architectural detail in Portpatrick Promenadeby Andy McKean, which leads the eye around the curving bay of grey, white. blue, pink and yellow houses, rather like Tobermory, Isle of Mull. This well crafted composition, the subtle effect of light and shadow and lapping waves on the sand, creates a most tranquil scene.
The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney in an historic fishing trade stores, now houses an important collection of British fine art – Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis – with a stunning waterfront location. John Miller presents a shadowy figure at the door of the gallery with a rather ingenious interior view looking out the window to the harbour wall and the sea beyond.
Near North Berwick, East Lothian is the charming, unspoilt Seacliff Beach popular with surfers, dog-walkers and for summer picnics, and from where you have fine views of Bass Rock and the ruins of Tantallon Castle. With a vibrant palette of rainbow colours, John Redbond depicts a most evocative, impressionistic seascape – the brilliant coral- tinted sky and shimmering, shining golden light at sunset, creates a dramatic silhouette of the iconic, pudding-shaped, Bass Rock.
Van Gogh arrived in Arles, France in February 1888 but in a few weeks, Spring arrived and he began a series of studies of trees in blossom, completing fourteen paintings of fruit orchards in a month. As he wrote to his brother, Theo, ‘You know these subjects are among the ones that cheer everyone up.’ Similar to Van Gogh’s pointillist technique, in Lebanese Orchard, John Dunbar uses quick brush strokes, dabs and dots with a flurry of olive and emerald green leaves, set against the sun-scorched earth and clear blue sky. Very cheerful indeed.
The title, Bathers Loch Lomond might recall a depiction of the same subject captured in Bathers at Asnieres by George Seurat, featuring a group of men relaxing on the banks of Seine on a hot summer day. In Professor Robin Webster’s attractive watercolour, a lively expression of carefree escape is captured with five figures in swimsuits and shorts, strolling and paddling along the seashore, in the warm sunshine. Crafted as a quick sketch, there’s a hint of a vintage period about the characters, as if conjuring up a hazy, nostalgic, childhood memory of this time and place.
This exhibition is on show in the elegant Salon upstairs at the Scottish Arts Club, offers a most inspiring and diverse range of artwork on the subject of nature, quietness and landscape.
‘Ligne et Couleur’ @ The Scottish Arts Club
Scottish Society of Architect-Artists
5th April to 29th April, 2023
Book a slot to visit on Eventbrite:
Scottish Arts Club 24 Rutland Square Edinburgh, EH1 2BW