Fine show of linocuts of weel kent fiddlers’ faces

AFTER bouncing over the plywood covers that lie over Lerwick’s own Forth Road Bridge project (the painting of) – the reflagging of Commercial Street – a quick dash over Church Road brings you to Vaila Fine Art where the current show is an exhibition by Cullivoe-based artist Ron Sandford entitled Some Shetland Fiddlers. It features linocuts and drawings inspired by friends, family and neighbours in Yell.

Probably the most familiar artist working in the medium of linocuts in Shetland in recent years is Howard Towll. His work is very pleasing to the eye but is maybe most appreciated by the birdie fraternity, given that he concentrates on nature and especially birds. More recently Paul Bloomer’s windmill pictures stand out using this technique.

Ron Sandford’s pictures are on a similar scale but mainly in the guise of portraiture. In the main room of the gallery they can be seen superbly with the natural light of the skylight above. The pictures are striking representations of Cullivoe residents, mainly fiddlers, on a big scale!

The late Adam Robson and John Henderson are depicted as well as members of the Cullivoe Fiddlers. The fiddle is a strong Shetland icon, and to see the fiddlers relaxed the emphasis is moved away from the fiddle and the player to the person, with the fiddle a mere extension of the portraits.

Linoleum – yes it is the same – cutting is a very hands-on art form, coming from the physicality of carving out the images, and this is reflected in the prints.

One is a portrait of Captain Andrew Anderson, who at 91 certainly does qualify for the picture’s title “Old Master”, and the other end of the spectrum is another mariner, Barry Nisbet, pictured as a Cullivoe fiddler.

Likeness as well as character emanates from the portraits. Knowing some of the people in the pictures helps in the appreciation. The one of James Nicolson and Robert Jamieson gives the idea of the warmth of their friendship as well as their patterned jumpers!

Standing out for me has to be not a portrait but a plant study, “Moonlight Christmas Cactus”, one of the few pictures not with a fiddle theme. Black and white is used to superb effect to conjour up shadow.

Through by in the room adjacent to the main gallery in the two pictures “On the North Isles Bus” we see the patterns of the bus seats merging with the fiddles and heads to make very original images. This room also holds drawings by Ron – many of his daughter playing fiddle and a self-portrait of the artist in Chinese mourning clothing.

Another pair of pictures, “Blueprint” and “Past Fading Fast” see another style. I like the prevalent black and white nature of the pictures, though it may not be to everyone’s liking. There are pictures with colour stencils, used especially in “Dutch Treats”.

Ron is by all accounts publicity shy. Is that why he’s suddenly sporting a moustache as the exhibition begins?

Ron, a Clydesider by birth, has had his fair share of exposure while working, it seems, all over the world, and one feels Shetland is a place for a less hectic pace of life. He has exhibited all over Britain, in New York, in Houston and at the Old Haa Gallery, Burravoe! He has taught graphic design but found he had a mixed success as a disproportionate number of his students turned out to be full time cartoonists – a good thing I say, at the risk of sounding biased.

He certainly has a wealth of experience and has travelled widely. Shetland is privileged in having such a talented artist in its midst.

A must-see exhibition running till Up-Helly-A’. No excuses now!

I have only one criticism, or should I say suggestion: some fiddle music in the background would enhance the whole experience.

Finally, when I saw the exhibition I was in the company of two Cullivoe folk, one of whom hit the nail on the head with the comment, “Now I know, I see them all.”

Stephen Gordon


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