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Artistic Licence: Still Life paintings by Ian Mastin present a banquet of fruit, cheese, brandy and wine with classic style.

This most inspiring exhibition of Still Life paintings opened on Saturday 3rd April, 2021 at “Art on Cairncross”, Maleny, Queensland, Australia.

The good news is that the artwork is also now available as an online exhibition in the UK, through select galleries such as The Torrance Gallery, Ian Mastin’s exclusive agent in Edinburgh.

The concept of a physical exhibition in Australia accompanied simultaneously by the same exhibition online in the UK was not something I’d ever have considered pre-COVID – an experimental endeavour.”

Ian Mastin

Ian Mastin was born in England before his family later emigrated to Australia. With no formal training, he enjoyed sketching for recreation, and when living in Scotland for over a decade, he began to study artistic technique and styles, and is now a full time, professional artist, based in Queensland.

Known in French as Nature Morte, Still Life paintings are a stylised arrangement of objects on a table, such as fruit, flowers, glassware and textiles. 

It really is extraordinary to compare Mastin’s exceptional natural talent and skill with the 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish Masters. Their subjects ranged from flowers, human skulls and candles to depict Memento Mori, the fleeting nature of life, to simple breakfast dishes and lavish Baroque displays of fruit, wine goblets and books to illustrate culture and wealth.

A superb example is ‘Still Life with Cheese’ by Floris van Dyck, an elaborate feast of grapes, apples, nuts and wine.

Still Life with Cheese, Floris van Dyck (1615)

From this Golden Age, fast forward to see how these domestic scenes were modelled and modernised by such Impressionist artists as Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet, Van Gogh and Valadon. 

Bring a brioche, I want to see you paint one: Still Life is the touchstone of painting.” Edouard Manet.

Still Life with Brioche and lemon, Edourd Manet (1873)

Paul Cezanne seemed to be fascinated by orchard fruits especially apples of all shapes and sizes which were the star subject for numerous paintings.

Apples, Paul Cezanne, (1878)

” I am captivated by the deep roots of the past .. the relationship between inanimate objects and our origins .. a simple relic of some antiquity immediately stirs within a hunger to connect with its provenance.”

Ian Mastin

Let’s take a look around the ‘Artistic Licence’ exhibition of contemporary Still Life acrylic paintings:

Bread, Wine and Cheese, Ian Mastin

Bread, Wine and Cheese

You could be forgiven for assuming this softly lit composition was painted around 1620 …..not 2020.  Here the dark varnished, cracked old wooden table is set for a meal: the delicately, draped fold of a linen napkin, the glistening glass of white wine, a scatter of crumbly cheese and crusty bread, all finely crafted with such intimate precision.

Still Life with Pears and Grapes, Ian Mastin

Still Life with Pears and Grapes

It may appear a more simplified display, but this has exceptional photographic quality. Look at the surface of the splintered table, the purple-black skin of the grapes with sharp stalks and shapely pears with tiny nicks in the skin. All so aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Spoilt for Choice  

Following the recurring theme of Paul Cezanne, here too is a fine collection of crisp, shiny, polished apples – perhaps Gala, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Pink Lady et al. – in contrast to the gnarled timber grains of the table.

Spoilt for Choice, Ian Mastin

“I always love painting fruits and never tire of the subtleties and richness of their colours and textures. I’m also drawn to the bonhomie evoked by images of good wine and food. I never need much encouraging to go searching for a succulent cheese to complement a classic burgundy – used purely for artistic purposes, needless to say.”

Ian Mastin

Moulin des Carruades 1977, Ian Mastin

Moulin des Carruades 1977 

A meticulously detailed and most appetising Study of wine, bread and cheese as similarly depicted by the Dutch Masters. You could view this for hours and still find hidden facets in the tactile textures. First the dusty sheen on this vintage wine bottle, as if just retrieved from the cellar, the ripe, melting Camembert in greaseproof paper with freshly baked bread.  Note too, the hinged metal lock on this antique chest.

Moulin Des Carruades from Domaine Barons de Rothschild: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – “Rich fruit, blackcurrant, tobacco, cedar, oak, well-balanced.”

Chateau d’Angluet Margaux,

Chateau d’Angluet Margaux

The wine estate, Château Angludet has belonged to the Sichel family for six generations so this represents a real sense of heritage: the dark green bottle with its intricately sketched label and the reflection of glinting sunlight. Uncorked, it’s ready to serve with grapes and slice of cheese. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Petit Verdot, this vintage 2006 Bordeaux is described as deep red with black tints, ripe and elegant.  

Age Before Beauty, Ian Mastin

Age Before Beauty

This may certainly appeal to those in Scotland and worldwide who relish a dram of these fine Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from the Speyside and Highland regions. The fisherman’s rod and basket create a dramatic setting, to illustrate a day out on the River Dee, Aberdeenshire or, indeed, Baroon Pocket Dam, Queensland. Slainte Mhath!

Still Life paintings provided the best opportunity for the pioneering 16th century artists to show off their painterly skills.

With artistic licence and photo-realism accuracy, as a modern master of the genre, Ian Mastin demonstrates such delicate beauty and classic style in these exquisite compositions. Whether a bowl of cherries, a carafe of port or a pile of antiquarian books, this is an artist with a dedicated passion for perfecting this iconic, timeless tradition.  

Artistic Licence – a showcase of Still Life paintings by Ian Mastin

3 – 25th April, 2021

Maleny, Queensland: Art on Cairncross’ – if you live locally, visit the gallery.

Edinburgh: available online at The Torrance Gallery

View the exhibition here:

https://www.torrancegallery.co.uk/ian-mastin-artistic-licence

Prices include P&P, insurance, tracked shipping and UK customs duty.
 

Browse the E-catalogue:

The Beautiful Planet Store @ the Biscuit Factory: local, ethical food, drink and home essentials for a zero waste, Brave New World.

In a world that is rightly concerned about climate change and the atmosphere, to be so neglectful of our oceans is deeply troubling. Having woken up to this living disaster… it’s not too late to turn things around.”

 Pawel Ferguson, The Beautiful Planet Company Scotland

Crawford’s Biscuits, vintage advertisement

The former 1940s Crawford’s Bakery just off Bonnington Road, Edinburgh has been transformed in recent years into the aptly named Biscuit Factory, a multi-functional Events venue and community hub for arts, lifestyle, food, drink and Edinburgh Gin businesses.

The Biscuit Factory – Events venue, Community cafe, bar, food & drink businesses

The concept is reminiscent of the historic manufacturing districts of downtown NYC, now transformed into fashionable galleries and nightclubs.  The pioneering spirit behind this was perhaps Andy Warhol’s Factory, 231 E. 47th St. on the fourth floor of the 1887 Cold Storage Warehouse, the studio for the creation of his iconic Pop Art from Marilyn to Campbell’s Soup.  

In similar vein, just launched on 27 March 2021, in a large warehouse space at the Biscuit Factory, is the innovative Beautiful Planet Store: quality food, drink and household essentials, based on a policy of less-waste – if not zero-waste, sustainable, ethical products. 

According to the Vegetarian Cities Index 2021, Edinburgh has the most vegetarian-friendly restaurants per population in the world, (followed by Munich and Ubud), based on affordability and availability, the price of fruit, vegetables and plant-based protein foods; take-away/home-delivery, (especially when restaurants were closed during the pandemic lockdown); Events and Festivals. (Link to Survey below*)

Pawel Ferguson follows a Vegan diet and is a keen cook, with a background in the hospitality and retail industries.  In collaboration and with great encouragement from his partner Peter Ferguson, The Beautiful Planet Store is a plastic and package-free, eco-friendly environment, with imaginative, entrepreneurial vision. 

Pawel and Peter Ferguson (with Daphne the dog!)

The attractive layout retains the shabby chic, industrial heritage with quirky style. Around the walls and island centre are long wooden tables made from old scaffolding planks. Instead of bright strip lighting from the high ceiling, strings of small, energy-saving bulbs are looped between the pillars.

Pawel and Peter work with local, Scottish and independent suppliers and producers to source all your favourite essential ingredients for the store cupboard – organic vegan/vegetarian food and drink for breakfast, lunch and supper. 

Let’s take a look around this enticing Store with its rows of huge glass jars and giant containers filled with flours, rice, gluten free Porridge oats, Muesli, nuts, seeds, colourful fragrant spices, as well as beans and pulses for cook up delicious soups, stews and curries.

As you will see in these images, everything is clearly labelled, handwritten in chalk with calligraphic artistry.

Purchase here or bring your own containers and bottles for grains, cereals and oils etc. and fill a traditional brown paper bag with nuts, seeds and Brazilian coffee beans.

Santu Coffee Beans, from Brazil – roasted at the Biscuit Factory

Santu coffee is actually roasted next door to the Beautiful Planet Store at the Biscuit Factory. All coffees are from Espirito Santo, Brazil, a mountainous region of protected Atlantic Forest, making it the most biodiverse place on earth. Having sampled Santu freshly ground coffee, it has a strong aroma with a mellow, smoky flavour.

A range of quality loose leaf and tea bags from the renowned Edinburgh company, Eteaket and also healthy drinks, organic soya, fruit juices and cordials.  Snacks too with a range of nuts and Just Crisps – Sea Salted Parsnip and Potato crisps, have a delicious, natural flavour – made by an independent farmer. 

Drinks, sauces, condiments and spicy foods galore

On open days at the Store, there might be Pear & Ginger Scones, Chocolate brownies, or other cakes on offer freshly baked by Pawel.  A selection of organic chocolate and vegan sweets available too. 

Stock up the bathroom with floral scented handmade soaps and cosmetics from Deeside Lavender, Aberdeenshire and for the kitchen, Bio Laundry liquids which are both kind to your clothes and the planet.

Handmade soaps and toiletries

Your doggy friends are also looked after with Pawel’s home-made, nutritious ‘Peanut butter and Sweet potato’ bone- shaped biscuits. Chewable toys too – Terry the Turnip has a suede covering filled with natural jute fibres, which is tough and long lasting. Shoppers can bring their dog to the store and leave in a cordoned off den, rather than leave, tied up, outside the Biscuit Factory. 

Home-made Peanut Butter dog biscuits

“We have not reinvented the wheel – just offer our own approach and style on the supply of zero waste shopping – online, by delivery or collection. Beautiful Planet offers a happy and welcoming shop and we cannot wait to meet all our customers.”

Pawel Ferguson

The philosophy behind this truly inspirational Store is all about creating a genuine artisan, rustic and Indy business, focussed on an eco-friendly, healthy lifestyle and protecting our beautiful, natural world.  

David Attenborough would, no doubt, be most impressed!

The Beautiful Planet Company Scotland,

Biscuit Factory, 4-6 Anderson Place, Edinburgh, EH6 5NP 

www.beautifulplanet.store 

Order on line for next day home delivery: Monday to Saturday – Farr Out Cargo Bicycles (radius, 5 km).

Farr Out Deliveries, Edinburgh, supports ethical local businesses and individuals to provide a responsible, sustainable bicycle courier service for the local community.

Farr Out Cargo Bicycle Couriers, Edinburgh

Click & Collect and Walk In shoppers: Store Opening Hours: Monday, Friday and Saturday 10am – 5pm

Email: info@beautifulplanet.store

Additional pop up Open Days will be announced regularly on social media:  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beautifulplanetstore   Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beautifulplanetstore/

Photographs illustrating the Beautiful Planet Store by Fiona Dawson and Marta Zdrójkowska 

*The Vegetarian City Index 2021:

https://www.nestpick.com/vegetarian-cities-index/

Summertime at the Biscuit Factory

When hospitality venues can open up again soon, The Biscuit Factory will welcome visitors to a pop up café called the Biscuit Box serving goods made inhouse including Santu Coffee and The Bearded Baker, with cakes from Mrs Macs Bakery, Linlithgow. Cocktails and pop up street food outside, sharing platters and Gin garden from the Old Poison Bar – everything on offer produced within the community.

Enjoy a leisurely drink and good food at the Biscuit Factory – then visit the Beautiful Planet Store too!.

C’est Le Printemps – Bienvenue FFF @Home 2021: a season of six French films for the perfect cultural night in.

The French Film Festival UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema. The 28th FFF 2020 was all due to set off again on a tour of 28 independent Art House cinemas from Aberdeen to Plymouth but unfortunately in early November, a second lockdown was announced. With cinemas suddenly closed, FFF@home was an innovative venture to view a small selection of movies on line with great success.  

As a special Springtime treat, the FFF has launched another season of FFF@home, featuring exclusive online screenings of six films available to view over three weekends this month.  

Richard Mowe, director and co-founder of the Festival, said: “We wanted to make sure that audiences did not miss out on some of the most anticipated films of the Festival due to the Covid disruption … and now they’re available to view online as part of the extended Festival. Bon film!”

Following the recent Golden Globes and the shortlist for the Academy Awards – the 93rd Oscars – announced on the 15,th  March is movie month indeed.  This online mini FFF is launched most appropriately on 12 March – the date when the French film industry celebrates the best new films, actor and creative achievements at the César awards.

Tickets to access your FFF@home cinema are available to purchase in advance – full details below. There’s an extra bonus too with subtitled conversations with the directors for a virtual FFF experience. All films are in French with English subtitles and available for 48 hours from the screening date and time listed in the schedule.

As an enticing taster, here is a snapshot of the French movies on offer across wartime drama, crime thrillers, comedy and romance.

Friday 12th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

LOVE AFFAIR(S) (Les Choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait)

Official Selection at Cannes 2020 and Best Film nomination, Césars 2021.

The French title is translated as “The Things We Say, the Things We Do,” and is a classic romantic tale of two strangers thrown together by chance, set against the lush green French countryside. Exploring their notions of what real love is, the chemistry between Daphne and Maxime covers a rich tapestry of emotion. Directed by Emmanuel Mouret, the film has been described as “a more serious “Love Actually” pitching between the sexy and the silly, the philosophical and farcical.”


Saturday 13th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

NIGHTSHIFT  (Police)

Directed by Anne Fontaine and based on a novel by Hugo Boris, Night Shift focuses on three Parisian police officers charged with escorting a foreigner to Charles de Gaulle airport to be sent back to his homeland. “Am I a good cop or not?” the moody, gritty narrative, told from different points of view, explores the line between professional duty, personal conscience and moral values.  A highly dynamic and stylised blend of realism and impressionism.  Nightshift was premiered at the Berlinale Special Gala, 2020. 

Professional roles and personal values collide in Nightshift (Police)

Friday 19 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

HOMEFRONT  (Des Hommes)

Officially selected for Cannes 2020 and for Deauville Film Festival 2021

In 1960, Bernard, Rabut, Février were called up to fight in the Algerian War, and returned two years later to France.  Fast forward a few decades to a birthday party, when an incident triggers memories for the veterans who have kept silent about what they saw, felt and endured. Directed by Lucas Belvaux, the different voices and perspectives are artfully intertwined as the men confront the past and how the traumatic African experience shaped their lives. “It’s a film about the wounds of war rather than the war itself.”

Saturday 20th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

MAMA WEED  (La Daronne)

Set in Paris, this comedy caper stars Isabelle Huppert as Patience Portefeux, a French-Arabic interpreter working for the anti-narcotics Police squad, when she unwittingly becomes involved in the drug trafficking world. “Huppert is a chameleon of an actress and the transformation from world-weary translator to drug kingpin is remarkable, donning a leopard-print hijab, gold chain and massive shades. Her whimsical, light-hearted performance gives Patience an irresistible charm”.  Mama Weed is directed by Jean-Paul Salomé.

Friday 26 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

THE TRANSLATORS (Les Traducteurs)

Directed and co-written by Régis Roinsard, this is an ingenious literary Agatha Christie-style whodunit in which a multi-lingual group of translators are all suspected of stealing a future best seller. This is the upcoming release of the final book in the Daedalus trilogy, which has been a global sensation. “The script is filled with twists, red herrings, false clues. Roisnard’s meticulous sense of craft and you get an altogether slick package.  A thrilling ride which will satisfy audiences who appreciate a good bookish mystery.”

The Translators at work on the new global best seller

Saturday 27 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

IN BED WITH VICTORIA  (Victoria)

In this stylish Parisian Romcom, directed by Justine Triet, Victoria is a thirty-something, divorced, single mother, juggling her work as a criminal lawyer, family life and trying to find love again.  At a rather drink-fuelled wedding, she meets an old friend Vincent, who is soon charged with attempted murder, and also bumps into a former client, Sam, a drug dealer. “ An amusing watch, this has freshness and naturalism .. with just enough kookiness to set itself apart from the pack.”  

In Bed with Victoria – a stylish French Romcom

This latest FFF@home season is presented in partnership with the new platform INDY On Demand powered by Shift72 and films can be viewed on all browsers and devices.

You can purchase each film separately with tickets priced at £8 or the Festival Pass gives access to all six films for £40. There are concessions for 16-25s. Films are available for 48 hours from the release date and time of the screening.  Once you have bought your ticket and pressed PLAY, you have 48 hours to watch the film as many times as you like!.

Just like in a cinema, space is limited so make sure you book tickets in advance to ensure of the best seat in the house. Then time to make a large tub of popcorn and settle down to enjoy FFF@home.

Browse all movie info, watch trailers and book your tickets here:

https://frenchfilmfestival.org.uk/2021/whats-online-in-march/

https://www.indyondemand.com/page/french-film-festival-uk/

Lies to Tell by Marion Todd – D.I. Clare Mackay is back for another crime-busting, thrilling, twisting rollercoaster ride.

Marion Todd is a full-time crime novelist based in North-east Fife, overlooking the River Tay, but like many aspiring, talented writers – including J.K. Rowling – it has been a long road to success.  She first studied music with the Open University and worked as a piano teacher, accompanist and a hotel lounge pianist. After a busy family life, (married to a Detective with Police Scotland), bringing up three children, she then had time to write short stories for magazines and was shortlisted for a Scottish Arts Council Award.

Marion Todd, creator of the DI Clare Mackay crime novels

With a life long love of the crime genre, since reading Agatha Christie in her youth, she then created a feisty character, Detective Inspector Clare Mackay as the star of her debut thriller, “See Them Run” published in 2019.

On the night of a wedding celebration, one guest meets a grisly end when he’s killed in a hit-and-run.  Set in St. Andrews, the ancient University town and international home of Golf, DI Clare Mackay is on the hunt for a cold, systematic, serial killer.

All the ingredients of a cracking crime novel: a strong female lead, a vivid sense of place, a rising body count and a twist you don’t see coming … A welcome addition to the Tartan Noir genre’ Claire Macleary, author of ‘Cross Purpose.’

Fairmont Golf Resort, St. Andrews – as featured in “See Them Run”

An immediate smash hit, “See Them Run” was nominated for the Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime debut of the Year, 2020.  

Canelo commissioned Todd for a three book deal and so DI Mackay was back again in the second novel, “In Plain Sight.” When a baby girl is snatched from the crowd of spectators at a fun run on West Sands beach, the local police have a major investigation on their hands. Which of the residents of St Andrews is hiding something – and why?

And most recently published is the third thriller in the series, “Lies to Tell.”

LIES TO TELL by Marion Todd

If you have not yet read the first two in the series, like me, no problem at all as this is a stand-alone novel and it’s easy to pick up important elements of the backstory.

The charming old seaside town of St. Andrews, Fife

Early one morning DI Clare Mackay receives a message from her boss DCI Alastair Gibson telling her to accompany him on a secret mission to meet Gayle Crichton, an ethical hacker who is to investigate a serious security breach inside Police Scotland. However, Clare must conceal Gayle’s true identity and undercover work from her team at the St. Andrews station. 

Meanwhile, DI Mackay is dealing with a key witness under police protection in a Safe House before an important Court case, and the report of a missing university student. The action takes place over a short time frame, 15th to 24th May, so expect a pacey, tense and dramatic narrative.

Getting to grips with the full rounded personality of realistic characters is essential to grab the reader’s attention.  Within the first couple of pages, we learn that Clare lives alone with her dog, Benjy, at Daisy Cottage, with its wildly overgrown garden.  At work, she wants to prove she is a competent, ambitious detective, as good as her male, macho counterparts, and dresses smartly for the professional image.

Todd has an easy, free flowing style of storytelling, with vivid descriptions such as this picture of DCI Alastair Gibson:

“ The DCI, dressed to impress in a fine dark grey suit … Giorgio Armani. His tie was knotted tightly at the neck and his shirt cuffs were held by a pair of plain silver cufflinks.”

The location setting too is vitally important for a realistic sense of place – whether Rankin’s Edinburgh or Dexter’s Oxford.

Market Street, St. Andrews with its old cobbles and fountain

“ The Safe House was a two bedroomed flat in busy Market Street, above a shop selling what Clare called, tartan tat for tourists.  The street was cobbled with a dried up fountain . .. busy with mums wheeling pushchairs and red gowned students going between lectures.”

The familiar sight of red gowned University students

As Mackay tries to navigate the increasingly complex, convoluting maze of criminal cases, the underlying theme is all about secrets, lies and whom she can trust. As the pressure builds up, we can see her strong minded, feisty nature focussed on the job.

But we also see the softer, feminine side, as she misses her partner Geoffrey who has moved to Boston, and her new singleton lifestyle is now akin to Bridget Jones: “She opened the fridge – a Cottage pie from M&S stood alone on the shelf .. and she took a bottle of red from the wine rack, pouring herself a large glass.” 

Footloose and fancy free, enjoying many a glass of vino and Prosecco, we soon follow her tentative steps through text messages to the temptation of a closer relationship with a senior officer.  Romantic encounters aside, the heart of this gripping, gritty plot line, is a murky mire of dangerous liaisons involving scams, money laundering, abduction and a gruesome murder.   

Clare is a tough cop, (a former armed response officer), but she is also vulnerable, emotional woman, which is well portrayed. As she confides DS Chris West, “I don’t know who I can trust” …. “The strain of the past week, she felt as if it was all coming crashing down on her.”

With so many unexpected, terrifying twists, the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride until the clever, cliff hanger ending which indicates a tricky romantic entanglement for Clare to solve.

As a genuine, believable, leading lady, DI Clare Mackay could easily follow DI Rebus in Edinburgh, and DI Perez & DS Macintosh on Shetland to the small screen, amidst the atmospheric setting and wild seascapes around St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife.

https://www.canelo.co/authors/marion-todd/

https://www.canelo.co/books/lies-tell/

​In September 2020, independent publisher Canelo launched a new crime fiction imprint, Canelo Crime.  

I remain convinced that crime fiction offers the most exciting combination of thrills, deceit and cleverness. The best of the genre will emotionally invest its reader, and give hope that good can overcome evil, (though only with a brilliant sleuth or fearless hero in charge). We have been proud of the recognition that Marion Todd received a nomination for the Bloody Scotland, Scottish Crime Debut of the Year, 2020. Marion’s ongoing DI Clare Mackay series has quickly been established as a favourite with crime fiction fans. Keep an eye on our website for forthcoming news about Marion’s new novel, ‘What They Knew’.

Louise Cullen Publishing Director
CANELO | CANELO CRIME

 “What They Knew” by Marion Todd is to be published on 11 February 2021 by Canelo Crime.  The New Year starts with a death ...

‘The Story of Scottish Art’ by Lachlan Goudie – 5000 years of creative spirit and imagination.

Lachlan Goudie certainly knows how to communicate with vicacious exuberance as an artist, broadcaster and writer.  This lavishly illustrated survey is a fascinating journey from Pagan crafts to Portraiture and Pop Art, to show how the colourful imagination of Scottish artists became a creative influence worldwide.

With 42 chapters across four distinctive Parts, there is a clear road map to follow, or dip into the historical and artistic era of interest. 

Kilmartin Glen, Achnabreck Rock Art

Let’s start at the very beginning, as they say, 3,000 BC at Kilmartin Glen, Kintyre where you can see ancient stone Cup and Ring carvings and Standing stones across this Neolithic landscape. Similar stone circles and objects are found on Orkney. Here in 2009, on the Isle of Westray a tiny, sandstone figure of a woman was found buried in the sand: “with disarming simplicity, the artist engraved a nose, two pinpricks for eyes, transforming the pebble into an icon of Neolithic civilisation.  … the earliest carving of a human figure ever found in Scotland.”

The Westray Wife, (3,800-2,500 BC)

The Westray Wife” is almost Picasso-esque in its simple, naïve, deconstructed form.  Archaeological sites have sourced other bone craftwork and pottery, leading to the Bronze Age and the creation of tools for elaborate brooches and jewellery.

Columba arrived on Iona, from Ireland, in 563, “an isle of big skies and turquoise tides,”  a place of peace and spirituality; from early Celtic crosses and the decorative Abbey, artists have always been enticed to visit Iona for generations, to capture its natural beauty.

Stone sculpture relief of a Biblical scene at Iona Abbey

It is believed that the Book of Kells, the 9th century illuminated manuscripts of four Latin gospels was created by the monks at Columba’s Monastery, Iona – “a masterpiece of Christian art .. a work of transcendental beauty.” 

The Book of Kells (9th century)

Ancient Pictish craftsmanship is preserved around Aberlemno, Angus, with around 250 sandstone monoliths carved with symbols, crosses, figures, horses and a hunting scene.  This is also the subject of the elaborately carved St. Andrews Sarcophagus, (8th – 9th century), featuring a hawk, two lions, a ram and a dog. 

The St. Andrews Sarcophagus, 8th – 9th Century

The Vikings arrived in the late 8th century, “to colonise the isles, Orkney .. and across the Hebrides.” A treasure trove of Viking sculptures was unearthed at Uig, Isle of Lewis in 1831, a set of 93 figures carved from Greenland walrus ivory and whales teeth – the Lewis Chessmen. It is thought they were made in Trondheim (1150-1175), and brought to Lewis by a merchant on route to Ireland, but buried in the sand for centuries. 

The Lewis Chessmen, (Norwegian, 12th century)

As Goudie wittily describes these delicately engraved sculptures: “The figures resemble cartoon characters. .. the wild stare of the king, the bishops’ faces bursting with bug-eyed horror .”

Trade with the Low Countries brought “cargoes of exquisitely carved furnishings and Netherlandish paintings.”  This led to the commission of Hugo Van der Goes, a celebrated artist in Bruges to paint a new Alterpiece for the Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, Edinburgh.

The Alterpiece, Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, Edinburgh, Hugo Van Der Goes (1478)

The marriage of James V and Madeline, the daughter of Francis 1 of France led to Royal patronage of the Arts to promote a Renaissance of decorative sculpture and classical painting.

Fast forward to the Union of the Crowns with James VI/1 of Great Britain. His son, Charles 1 was an art collector and commissioned portraits by Van Dyck and Rubens. But George Jamesone from Aberdeen would soon be hailed Scotland’s Van Dyck. To celebrate the Scottish coronation of Charles I, Jamesone painted 109 portraits of the Royal family tree and the King himself with great success. 

This encouraged 19 year old Michael Wright to travel from London to Edinburgh to be George’s apprentice, before studying in Rome,“ an unrivalled boot-camp where he acquired technical expertise.”

Charles II by (John) Michael Wright (1660-70)

Charles II was now on the throne and (John) Michael Wright was selected to paint the portrait., a fashionably glamorous portrayal of “a curly-wigged young man with a raised eyebrow and a spiv moustache.”

There is a marvellous narrative about the 22 year old Allan Ramsay on a Grand Tour of Europe in 1736, an early ‘backpacker’, cultural adventure through France and Italy.  In the early 1990s, when Goudie was an art student, he “emulated Ramsay’s pilgrimage and spent a year in Rome painting and drawing. An overwhelming experience”.

Margaret Lindsay, the Artist’s wife, Allan Ramsay (1758-60)

Ramsay became an eminent portrait artist with “delicate style of brushwork and soft colour palette”, as well as a leading philosopher, central to the intellectual aims of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Henry Raeburn was advised by Sir Joshua Reynolds to study in Italy, before returning home to Edinburgh to set up his studio, painting romanticised, theatrical portraits to great effect. 

The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch, Sir Henry Raeburn (1795)

Moving into the 19th century, the popularity of  Landscapes soon took centre stage through Nasmyth, Wilkie and Landseer – “The Monarch of the Glen”, an iconic vision of the majestic wilderness of the Highlands.   

“A new generation of truculent art students” would soon shake off tradition.  The Glasgow Boys, were a group of artists (Guthrie, Walton, Paterson, Macgregor et al), who were keen to paint en plein air, depicting farming life around Berwickshire, Scottish Borders in the manner of the French Impressionists.

To Pastures New, James Guthrie (1883)

John Lavery went to Paris to be at the heart of this blossoming avant-garde art scene, painting “sun dappled” rowing boats on the river at Grez. Fascinating too to read about the feisty Glasgow College of Art student Bessie Nicol, who went off to Paris in 1892 to study Life Drawing at Academie Colarossi by day, and observe the decadent Bohemian society by night.

The French Girl, Bessie MacNicol (1895)

A cacophony of creative styles was now embracing the work of Scottish artists. Floral images and geometric lines were interlinked for the architectural designs of Charles Rennie McIntosh, whose modern, minimalist interior décor, created “the greatest genius … a giant of the age rivalling Frank Lloyd Wright and Antoni Gaudi.”

Hill House, Charles Rennie McIntosh (1902-4)
The Blue Hat, Closerie des Lilas, JD Fergusson (1909)

The exuberant portraits and nudes by J. D Fergusson, elegant studies of Edinburgh ladies by Francis Cadell, Samuel Peploe’s exquisitely crafted Still Life paintings and Cezanne-styled landscapes from George Hunter, would soon lead to the collective term, The Scottish Colourists,

The Black Bottle, Samuel Peploe (1905)

From an early struggle to entice dealers, the Colourists’ distinctive, timeless work continue to be a regular highlight at auction house sales today.  Cadell and Peploe frequently visited Iona to paint tranquil seascapes.

Ben More from Iona, Francis Cadell (1913)

Then, a fairly brisk sprint through the leading Scottish artists of the 20th century, picking out William McCance, with his bold Cubist form, and the partnership of the two Roberts – McBride and Colquhoun “celebrated as the most pioneering British Artist of his day.  Francis Bacon said that he had learnt virtually everything from Colquhoun.”

Woman with Still Life, Robert Colquhoun (1958)

The era of Abstract Expressionism would soon be the focus with bold, brash canvases by William Gear and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.   Read all about the rock ‘n roll life and times of Alan Davie, whose love of jazz and sports cars informed his improvised, energetic compositions. Peggy Guggenheim bought one at a Venice gallery thinking it was by Jackson Pollock – who, in fact, would later attend a private view of Alan Davies’s work in New York, bringing the two artists together.

Mad May Day, Alan Davie (1960)

Move aside Andy Warhol – Eduardo Paolozzi is widely viewed as the Father of Pop Art with his collages of cartoons, food and Coca Cola adverts. “Imagery of popular culture repackaged as art.” This is ‘Meet the People’ (1948) from the series Bunk.

There’s a quick, comprehensive scamper through the careers of Joan Eardley (quirky street kids and dramatic stormy skies) and John Bellany, renowned for his allegorical studies of fishing boats and wild, red haired women of the sea. 

The chapter, ‘The Shock of the New ‘ features a handpicked selection of distinguished. diverse artists – the author’s late father, Alexander Goudie and contemporary work by Bruce McLean and John Byrne.  

Alison Watt came to prominence while still at the GSA, when she won the John Player Portrait Award in 1987 and soon commissioned to paint a charming portrait of the Queen Mother, complete with Watt’s emblematic tea cup.

The Queen Mother, Alison Watt (1989)

Since then, her exemplary, cool, crisply paintings have moved from the figurative to large, meditative studies of draping, flowing fabric. Over recent years, many graduates of Glasgow School of Art have received prestigious awards including Turner Prize winners and nominees – Christine Borland, Martin Creed, Karla Black, Richard Wright.

Lachlan Goudie writes with a flowing, poetic prose to take the reader on a most inspirational, time travelling, artistic journey through the nation’s cultural heritage. With a passion and talent for art as a birthright, he has followed and been inspired by Hebridean seascapes, beloved by the Scottish Colourists, over a century ago.

The Sands of Iona, Lachlan Goudie

The art of Scotland has its own particular accent … in an international trade of inspiration and global creativity. ” Lachlan Goudie

‘The Story of Scottish Art’ by Lachlan Goudie is published by Thames & Hudson – RRP £29.95.

ISBN: 978–500-23961-2

Scottish Ballet present “The Secret Theatre,” a fantastical, sparkling, Festive Fizz of a Christmas movie.

Every year, Scottish Ballet kickstarts Christmas entertainment, staging sixty- eight performances of a Festive ballet around six cities from early December to February. Sadly, it has now been nine months since all theatres closed and to reflect the company’s artistic commitment for creativity and performance, the Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson decided that the Show must go on. 

The world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s first, full-length, feature film “The Secret Theatre”  can be viewed in the comfort and safety of your own home from Monday 21st December.

The enchanting story is about a little boy, Leo, who embarks on a fantastical adventure as he kicks his football along a city street until it hits an old door, which opens with a screech; like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, he steps inside the auditorium of a grand, Victorian theatre, its rows of plush red seats left empty and in darkness.

Leo sneaks inside the closed theatre, (Leo Tetteh)

The curtain opens and he ventures backstage, where suddenly, amidst a clutter of costumes and props, a cast of clowns, acrobats and colourful characters from The Nutcracker and The Snow Queen, spring into life.

They are the forgotten, dusty ghosts of Christmas past. hidden in the wings of this secret Theatre.

The Ringmaster and the circus of clowns, strongman and dancers

Jumping out of a wicker basket is Lexi, (aka, the Summer Princess in The Snow Queen) who guides Leo into a magical mash-up of fairy tales, featuring the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nutcracker Prince, Snow wolves, Jack Frosts and dazzling white Snowflakes.

Lexi (Alice Kawalek) and Leo (Leo Tetteh)

Leo is spellbound, his wide eyes full of joy and wonder, as we follow his rollercoaster ride through snapshot scenes, moving swiftly between the Circus, Roma camp, Ice Kingdom and a glamorous, glittering Christmas Eve party.

A lively Roma Dance by Mazelda (Grace Horler)

The graceful, playful choreography by Christopher Hampson and Peter Darrell, flows together seamlessly, linking the scores of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky – the glorious, romantic music recorded live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra. 

A flurry of dazzling white Snowflakes in “The Snow Queen”

Instead of simply filming a staged production, The Secret Theatre is a genuine work of cinematography. set in outdoor locations, the Tramway, & the King’s Theatres in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Creative camera work and special effects too – disappearing dancers, flying white drapes and a magic carpet with Disneyesque wizardry.

Nutcracker Prince (Jerome Anthony Barnes) and Sugar Plum Fairy, (Sophie Martin)

The spectacle is captured through the intimacy of camera lens, observing every swirling step and pirouetting pas de deux, with all the fabulous, glittering costumes, in such fine detail.  

The icy gaze of the Snow Queen, (Catherine Devernay)

The superlative performances are all the more dramatic due to the stunning close ups, such as The Snow Queen, with her ice-blue lips and the prancing peacock of a Ringmaster in his feathered top hat. 

The enigmatic Ringmaster, (Bruno Micchiardi)

This is pure theatre on screen, blending two classical Fairytale ballets with fantastical Narnia and Toy Story– style vision and childlike imagination, all the way to the last magical, tearjerker moment.   

While nothing beats seeing Scottish Ballet live on stage, their heart-warming movie is the essential, sparkling Festive treat for 2020 which will appeal to all ages.  Book your free tickets now.!

The World premiere of The Secret Theatre is screened on Monday 21 December at 6pm.

Tickets are free and must be booked in advance on the website: 21st December to 24th December, 2020.

https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/the-secret-theatre

Performance duration: one hour.

Donations are welcome to support Scottish Ballet and local theatres. There is an accompanying programme, as well as a series of talks and workshops.

Production Credits

Created by the CEO/Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet, Christopher Hampson and Lez Brotherston

Co-screen directors: Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple.

Choreographers: Christopher Hampson and Peter Darrell

Designer: Lez Brotherston

Writer: Sam Brown

Producer: Beth Allan, Forest of Black

Director of Photography: David Liddell

Callan at 60 – An exhibition of evocative and elegant Figurative paintings by Damian Callan @ the Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh

As he celebrates his 60th birthday in December 2020, Damian Callan can reflect on a most successful career, specialising in figurative painting and portraits, teaching art classes for adults and children, and as the author of two books, Paint Like Degas and Paint Like Renoir.  

Damian Callan at work in his studio

This exhibition is partly a retrospective collection from the past twenty-five years (kindly lent by the owners), which are complemented by new sketches and paintings. The subjects for these figurative scenes are his wife Ruth, their four children, cousins and friends while on holiday in Argyll and Outer Hebrides

Beach Run, Damian Callan (2010)

Damian Callan has followed in the tradition of two Scottish masters in the genre of painting children. Joan Eardley is renowned for her iconic portraits of the twelve Samson bairns who lived near her Glasgow studio. Born in 1835, William McTaggart grew up on a remote farm in Aros, Kintyre, a memory which would later permeate the subject of his paintings: “the fisherfolk of his past and a recurring vision of children playing in the surf …rosy cheeked kids,  bathed in perpetual summer sun.“  Lachlan Goudie, The Story of Scottish Art.

Here too are Callan’s painterly reflections to illustrate the family’s seaside adventures in the summer sun, between 2003 to 2014, from Skipness, Kintyre to the Isles of Berneray.  These colourful “snapshot” images capture the joyful sense of freedom as the kids run on the beach, play in the sea, and gather cockles in rock pools.

Harris Surf, Damian Callan (2006)

There is such a tangible feeling of movement in their exuberant, arm waving gestures, as the kids jump and splash in the waves. Several charming paintings show the fun of messing about in boats and rowing a dinghy. 

Green Boat, Damian Callan (2007)

The process starts with photographs and from these prints, sketches are made to create a loose impression of the realistic images, and then finally, working on the composition in oil on canvas, panel or paper. Callan has perfected the inventive use of a printmaker’s roller, to add texture to the surface of the paint to depict the shimmering water and frothy white surf.

Children and Lighthouse, Damian Callan (2009)

These timeless images of happy carefree days bring a real sense of nostalgia for our own childhood, whatever age we are.  Children and Lighthouse in particular, has a vintage quality, reminiscent of favourite stories such as Swallows and Amazons and the Famous Five adventures by Enid Blyton.

Fast forward to 2020 and a diverse range of new work – seascapes, figurative sketches and fashionable frocks with oil paintings, small studies and prints for sale.

From the earlier style of composition with impressionistic, smudges of brush strokes, there is now a bolder, brighter approach with vivid colour and clarity.  

Running In, Damian Callan (2020)

As shown in Running In and Running Out, these are gleeful moments of youthful energy with a fine depiction of movement, in Callan’s distinctive, characteristic painterly style.

Running Out, Damian Callan (2020)

Escape is a lovely picture of a wee boy, standing in the boat as if pretending to be a Venetian gondolier, as the children look out for fish and crabs along the seashore.  Again, the vision of carefree, childhood fun, evoking the nostalgic world of Enid Blyton.

Escape, Damian Callan (2019)

Damian Callan has long been influenced by the figurative paintings of Edgar Degas, whose work he examined and explored in academic detail, to write his book, “Paint Like Degas.”  

Degas was spectacularly inventive in his approach to composition,” he says, “Movement characterizes many of his subjects –the dancers, the racehorses – .. .. the pattern and rhythm of repeated figures, the dancers in a line on the Barre.” 

Ballet Class, Edgar Degas

With similar, elegant, Degas-esque mood and manner, there is a series of beautifully composed paintings of Damian’s wife Ruth, pinning up her hair, dressing and posing in silky, floaty cocktail gowns.

Classical Dress, Damian Callan (2020)

These are delightful, intimate portraits of the artist’s slender model, as she zips up a blue dress and shows off her posh, crimson-plum frock – humorously described as Lockdown Bedroom Dress. Sadly all dressed up and nowhere to go for a night out at the Ballroom or go to the Ballet.

Lockdown Bedroom Dress, Damian Callan (2020)

“Callan at 60” is a most impressive retrospective of his career, from the tranquil, domestic portrait, Ruth, Daffodils and Kettle, (1995), through a time-travelling trip around atmospheric seascapes to the recent Vogue-style fashion shoot.  

William McTaggart painted young children to portray “an optimistic symbol of renewal and rebirth.”  Likewise, Damian Callan has preserved his memories to portray family life and the innocence of childhood with imaginative vision, humour and heartfelt love.  

Callan at 60 @ Dundas Street Gallery, 6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

11th – 17th December, 2020 – open daily, 11am to 6pm.

A well illustrated catalogue with an inspiring introduction by Ruth Callan is available at the gallery.

For more information, view a Gallery of images and details of Online events, see the website:

https://www.damiancallan.com/events.html

Monday 14th December: 10am, Live Virtual Tour of Exhibition

Tuesday 15th December: 10am. Artist’s Talk & Short Film with contributions from collectors

Wednesday 16th December: 10am, Painting Demonstration

‘Echoes of Existence’ by Helen Acklam: quirky, colourful Scottish landscapes, with an emotional sense of home and heritage.

Helen Acklam is a mixed media artist, working across watercolours, acrylic paintings and sculptures.  Originally from Yorkshire and now living in Dumfries, she is inspired by the Scottish landscape, sea, history, archaeology, geology and myth. 

This on-line exhibition presented by the Dancing Light Gallery, is an evocative series of paintings of rural crofts and cottages located around the Highlands and Islands.

Aird, Helen Acklam

From classic Victorian scenes, “Monarch of the Glen,” Highland lochs, mountains and furry coos, the artistic genre to depict Scotland’s wild, natural landscape has continued over the centuries. 

A Highland Croft, Peter Graham, 1836-1921

Hebridean seascapes and farm Crofts, in particular, have always had a perennial, worldwide appeal, perhaps due to nostalgia, family ancestry, a favourite destination, and simply the timeless, scenic beauty,

Francis Cadell frequently visited the island of Iona to capture this peaceful, spiritual place with their isolated cottages on the seashore.

Clachanach Croft, Iona, Francis Cadell

Helen Acklam brings a unique, modern, “Scottish Colourist,” painterly style to her illustrations of traditional crofts, cottages, bothies and shielings located around the Outer Hebrides.  

Towards Borgastan, Helen Acklam

Borghastan  – Borrowston – with a population of about 50, is a crofting township on the Isle of Lewis, at the northern end of Loch Carloway

This is a charming old But ‘n Ben in Towards Borgastan – which may be in a slight tumbledown condition, with its wind battered corrugated iron roof,  shabby paint on the front door and bent posts in the garden.  The soft, pink-tinted clouds in the sky – maybe a snapshot of Sunset – is most atmospheric.

From the Clearances of the 18th and 19th century, when evicted crofters emigrated to North America, and the ongoing hardship of remote island life, some of these cottages are empty and forgotten.  There’s a glimpse of human history here, a memory of a long lost family and small-holding farming life

From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas,
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.
(from the Canadian Boat Song)

Joan Eardley is renowned for her expressionistic land and seascapes around her cottage in Catterline, Kincardinshire.  

Winter Day, Catterline, Joan Eardley

From these higgledy piggledy cottages in Winter Day, to cornfields and seashore, Eardley expressed her emotional affection for the colour and light of the coastal village. Painting outdoors in wild, stormy weather, she incorporated grasses, grain and seeds into the oil paint to bring the feel of the land on to the canvas.

Helen Acklam has also visited this iconic village with its curving row of cottages along the sheer cliff edge.  Cottages, Catterline is beautifully composed with the layered, blocked structure – the midnight blue inky sky, white washed houses with red roofs and the flourishing green meadow of tall grasses and red poppies. 

Cottages, Catterline, Helen Acklam

Acklam often mixes acrylic paint with inks, gouache, graphite and metal leaf for a richer texture, tone and visual effect. A sprinkle of sand from Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, would certainly add an authentic fragment of the actual terrain and topography.  

At first glance, Leurbost Loch, (Isle of Lewis), depicts a rather sad, wee house.  But look closer. This is a mini masterpiece of minimalism to evoke the remote setting, the shimmer of a mountain beyond the loch and what seems like a swirl of winter snow in the sky. 

Leurbost Loch, Helen Acklam

A collage using scraps of paper from local old books are imbedded in some works, to represent the strong Religious faith and beliefs of the Islanders. More than just a sketch of a cottage, these illustrate the heritage, culture and tradition of their Gaelic way of life.

Blue Cottage, Labost, Helen Acklam

Blue Cottage, Labost (Isle of Lewis) is another magical “portrait” of two country crofts, the garden sloping down a hill with the remnants of what could be an ancient drystone wall and an old fence.

With a light sketchy method, there is a real character here, as if the tiny windows are like eyes and the red door, a long nose – enchanting, quirky and comical illustrations which would be ideal for children’s picture books and traditional fairy tales.  

These are all real crofts and cottages which you could visit on a tour of these islands, just enhanced with vivid and vivacious colour, humour and imagination.  Moreover, there is an underlying, tangible, emotional sense of place, reflecting the communities today, as well as preserving the heritage of derelict, deserted homes.  The Echoes of Existence indeed, blowing in the cool, sea breeze.

Echoes of Existance by Helen Acklam

Dancing Light Gallery – a new on-line exhibition

View the paintings here: https://www.dancinglightgallery.co.uk/product-category/current-exhibition/

Visualise a painting on your wallA Croft for Christmas!

Download the app ‘Art Visualiser’ onto your phone or iPad via the app store.   https://artvisualiser.com/

Go to the painting of your choice and click the grey button ‘Visualise on your Wall’ below the painting details. Follow the instructions on your phone or ipad. Please note this app works best in daylight or with all the lights on. It is easy to use and lets you see what a painting would look like, in your own home, before you buy.

All paintings can be delivered Nationwide, Free of Charge.

For more information and enquires, Email: info@dancinglightgallery.co.uk

N.B An exhibition of Helen Acklam’s paintings is being planned to take place at the Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh in March 2021
 

“Christmas at the Botanics” – an enchanting walk in the park amidst the glittering glow of fairy lights and festive fire.

After enticing 70,000 visitors to the inaugural event in 2017, and 76,000 in 2019, “Christmas in the Botanics” is back again, transforming the garden at night into a winter wonderland.  With the pantomime season cancelled for 2020, this outdoor entertainment offers a magical treat for all the family. 

Just a short walk from the West Gate, a choral rendition of Joy to the World will put you in festive mood as you stroll beside a meadow of giant snowballs like sparkling Christmas Tree baubles.

Christmas Spheres – giant snowballs and glistening baubles

All around, the bare winter trees and evergreens glimmer and shimmer in colourful shadows.  Wander over the Chinese Hillside with a garland of lanterns hanging from the branches beside the lake with a spouting fountain. 

Chinese lanterns

One of the highlights is the ‘Laser Garden’, where you are enveloped in a thick beam of green, glittering fairy lights, while a white mist swirls between the trees, creating a very spooky woodland atmosphere.

The Laser Garden filled with flickering, flying fairies

Kids will love to try to catch hold of these tiny, Tinkerbelle fairies, as they dance around you and sparkle along the path.  This is a magical, theatrical moment and I really felt like a child again. 

Another surreal sight, is the beautifully lit, tumbling waterfall at the Rock Garden, where the trees and plants are ‘painted’ in soft shades of green and purple. With the floating waterlilies in the pond, it’s like a landscape by Monet come to life. 

The painterly Rock Garden like a Monet watercolour

Turning along each path of the trail, the Botanics is brightly illuminated with installations such as a crystal, be-jewelled Christmas Tree, ‘Starfield’ featuring twenty twinkling stars, and ‘Constellations’, with sculptures of Orion, Little Bear et al.  

Starfield

Warm up in the ‘Fire Garden’, ablaze with flickering bulbs and flaming torches, while you sing along to Silent Night.  Through each different landscape, the air is filled with the familiar classics, Michael Buble is Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Chris Rea, Driving home for Christmas and for Kylie, It’s the Most Wonderful Time.

Listening to the sharp, clear quality of the soundtrack, you would think that the performers, choirs and orchestras are hidden behind the trees!

Cathedral of Light

Enter the ‘Cathedral of Light’, an arch of flower bud lights through a long tunnel with a clever optical illusion.  A dazzling, zigzag display of colourful Diamond lights is projected on the architectural structure of the towering Glass Houses, choreographed perfectly to the jazzy-rock music score by Metallica. 

The 21 Diamond installation along the 128 metre Glasshouses

An artistic pile of Sledges is reminiscent of the sculpture, “Sled” (1969) by the German Fluxus artist, Joseph Beuys, who in fact visited this garden a few times, for an exhibition at Inverleith House.  

A towering Tree of Sledges

This grand 18th century mansion is the backdrop to a magnificent animation with images of iconic places around the city from the Castle to the Forth Bridge.

Inverleith House is illuminated like a huge Advent Calendar

The windows of the house are like the boxes of an Advent Calendar with the dates flicking over from 1st to 24th December, as Mariah Carey belts out, “All I want for Christmas is You.” 

“All I want for Christmas is You” sings Mariah Carey

This enchanting walk through this series of installations is like a mixed box of well-designed, glittering Christmas Cards …. but unfortunately, there is no narrative or overall theme. At its heart, this event is for families with young children, so a simple story could link these different theatrical scenes together.

The Fairies in the Laser Garden could be trying to help a lost Reindeer in his search for Santa Claus.  Children could then follow a fun and fantastical, Peter Pan-style journey, flying through the Constellation of stars, land of ice, snow and fire, from the Chinese Hilltop to Lapland.  (Just an idea!)

And yes, a jolly Father Christmas does makes a magical appearance with his flowing white beard and a majestic red coat, waving outside his log cabin in the forest.  

 ‘Christmas at the Botanics’ runs at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on selected dates from 2nd December, 2020 to 3rd January 2021.

Information on dates, opening times, travel, parking, entrance gates and tickets: https://www.rbge.org.uk/whats-on/christmas-at-the-botanics-2020/

Tickets prices range from: Adult £19, Member £16, Child £13 (4-16), Family £60. Carers and children under 4, free. (subject to a single transaction charge).

A Pop-up Bar serves a range of food and drink *: e.g. Mulled Wine, Prosecco, Beer, Cider,  Hot Chocolate, Tea, Coffee, soft drinks; Hot Dogs, Burgers, Veggie Burgers, BBQ snacks, Fries, & Children’s portions. (* but where are the traditional roasted chestnuts and mince pies?!)

‘Christmas at the Botanics’ is produced by events promoter Raymond Gubbay Limited a division of Sony Music, in partnership with the RGBE and Culture Creative, in collaboration with Mandylights, Lightworks, ArtAV, & Liverpool Lantern Company.

‘The Killings on Kingfisher Hill’ bv Sophie Hannah: the new Hercule Poirot mystery

It was one hundred years ago when Agatha Christie introduced the now legendary Belgian detective in her first crime novel,“The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” 

‘Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible’. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (1920)

Pan paperback edition of the first Poirot novel, 1920

There are 13 chapters with enticing titles: Poirot Investigates, Fresh Suspicions, The Night of the Tragedy, Poirot Explains.

This popular, iconic character went on to star in 33 novels, two plays and more than fifty short stories.  “My Belgian invention was hanging around my neck, firmly attached there like the old man of the sea.”  Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Agatha Christie and her collection of crime novels

Poirot’s final case, which brings him back full circle to Styles, was written during World War II as a gift for her daughter, but kept in a safe for over thirty years until “Curtain” was finally published in 1975.

Curtain, by Agatha Christie, first UK edition, 1975

The news of Poirot’s death in the novel was commemorated in an obituary in The New York Times, the only fictional character to have received such an honour.

The Hercule Poirot mysteries have been adapted with great success the cinema and television screen, portrayed by many actors from Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov to David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh, with their own personalised manner, mode ……and moustache.

The portrayal of Hercule Poirot over the past century

It was therefore a most inspired decision of the Agatha Christie Estate to resurrect the Belgian detective and authorise Sophie Hannah to write a exciting new Continuation novel.

Sophie Hannah is a massive fan of Agatha Christie’s crime fiction, having first read “The Body in the Library” aged 12. She is an international best selling writer of psychological thrillers, winning numerous awards. Sophie created a Masters Degree course in crime writing at Cambridge University, where she is a fellow of Lucy Cavendish College.

Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time and it is a huge, huge honour for me to be the person chosen to do this.” Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah with Mathew Pritchard, grandson of Agatha Christie

Sophie presented a detailed 100-page outline for a Poirot-esque detective novel to the publishers and Christie estate, which was approved. ‘The Monogram Murders’ (2014) was the first of her four novels in this new series.

Celebrating 100 years since Poirot solved the mystery at Styles, he sets off once again to investigate a new case, “The Killings at Kingfisher Hill”. 

It is ten minutes before two on the afternoon of 22nd February, 1931. That was when the strangeness started,”  begins the first person narration by Inspector Edward Catchpool who is accompanying Hercule Poirot to Little Key, a mansion on the Kingfisher Estate, Surrey.  

Richard Devonport has summoned Poirot to prove the innocence of his fiancée, Helen who faces the death penalty for the murder of his brother, Frank. A clever ploy by Hannah to retain authenticity, is that the plotline of an allegedly innocent person being accused of murder was used by Christie several times: Ordeal by Innocence, Towards Zero, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, The ABC Murders, Five Little Pigs and also the play, Witness for the Prosecution.

Curiously, the rest of the Devonport family cannot know the real reason for the visit and they will pose as enthusiasts of a board game, Peepers, created by Richard’s father, Sidney, as a rival to Monopoly.

The journey by coach from London to Kingfisher Hill is not without incident: unfortunately, it takes almost 100 pages to describe a series of incidents, a damsel in distresss, lunch, a minor emergency and missing passengers before they arrive at the Devonport home. Yes, a couple of these characters will make a later appearance, but this is a convoluted start before cracking on with the heart of the mystery.

It’s the classic Country House setting where the murder took place on 6th December, 1930.   “At twenty minutes to six, Frank Devonport fell to his death from the landing. He’d been pushed from the balcony. Fell and cracked his head open on the hard floor beneath.”

If it’s not Helen Acton as Richard believes, who is guilty of the crime? There were seven other people there at the time – Sidney, his wife Lilian, their daughter Daisy, her fiancé Oliver Prowd, two family friends, Godfrey and Verna Lavliolette, and the servant Winnifred.

Like Sherlock’s Watson, Hannah’s new creation, Inspector Catchpool is an assistant sleuth like a blend of the amiable Hastings and the solid but slow, Chief Inspector Japp. Poirot likes to challenge his friend, asking for a list of questions on the case, to test a methodical mind.  “Precisely, Catchpool, you have hit on the head the nail!… it proceeds most satisfactorily, the training of your brain.” 

The title of the novel is, of course, ‘Killings’ in the plural and so far, just one. But then the shocking discovery of a body of an unidentified woman, bludgeoned to death with a poker in the drawing room at the Devonport home.  The Cluedo style setting is reminiscent of Christie’s classic, The Body in the Library, in which an unknown blonde girl is found at Gossington Hall, home of Colonel and Mrs. Arthur Bantry.

Certain members of the rather dysfunctional Devonport family are unreliable witnesses due to their eccentric behaviour. There is one marvellous character, Hester Semley, “a small bony, bespectacled woman with thick, coiled springs of white hair,” whose dagger-sharp intellect even throws Poirot on the back foot. A Miss Marple with feisty attitude!.

This is a twisting, turning maze of a plot like a complex jigsaw puzzle, where, it seems, half a dozen pieces are missing, until of course, Poirot uncovers the truth in the final flourish of a denouement.  

You can expect the narrative structure, language, period style and social manner of an Agatha Christie novel, not least the impeccable personality, wit and wisdom of Hercule Poirot.

“I regard every word Agatha Christie ever wrote almost as a holy text, so I’m not going to be taking any liberties,” Sophie Hannah. “

Set in 1931, this is vintage detective fiction but not old fashioned. Crime, past and present, is a moral matter, understanding human nature, jealousy, deceit, the psychology of good and evil.  The classic detective story is a world of theatricality and illusion.

So no wonder Christie’s murder mysteries adapt so well from page to stage and screen.  David Suchet is legendary in the role of Hercule Poirot which he played in 70 episodes of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot series over twenty five years.

David Suchet and Hugh Fraser as Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings

The highly acclaimed series adapted all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories featuring Poirot between 1989 and 2013 and continue to be repeated on a regular basis.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in ITV series

The enduring appeal for Hercule Poirot has no sign of slowing down. Following the masterly remake “Murder on the Orient Express” directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, his next Agatha Christie movie is “Death on the Nile,”  to be released in 2021.

The two new Poirot films directed and starring Kenneth Branagh


The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah – the new Hercule Poirot Mystery is published by Harper Collins.

The previous titles in the Continuation series of Poirot mysteries are “The Monogram Murders”, “Closed Casket” and “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The Continuation series by Sophie Hannah