Work full of wonderful ideas

Crossing Water, Da Gadderie

The latest exhibition by Britain’s most northerly group of artists, Veer North, was launched at Farum Kulterhus in Denmark last year and then travelled to the Inchmore Gallery in Inverness before coming home this year.

While entitled Crossing Waater, the exhibition, containing over 50 pieces of work including visual art, sculpture, photography and video installations, shows a diverse and eclectic mix all brought together by the theme of water which is of course fundamental to the Shetland way of life.

There are some wonderful ideas and interpretations throughout the work. Susan Timmins’ Red Gown video installation with its haunting piano melody of Stormy Weather makes the viewer want to watch the short film, based an old Shetland seafaring tale, over and over again.

Roxane Permar’s installation to which the exhibition lends its title, gives the viewer free rein to imagine the images behind the blurred examples on the small screen, even though the viewer can still see the theme of water or sailing. This kind of art is always enjoyable, allowing the viewer to use their imagination so that one leaves with an individual interpretation of the piece.

The exhibition is beautifully balanced by the more traditional pieces such as the well executed watercolours by Mike Finnie with accurate recordings of scenes from Sandness and Garderhouse instantly recognisable.

Contrast these with the dramatic and intense work of Paul Bloomer. His Red Moon is hung next to his work Mareel. Both are on large canvas and show a keen eye for interpretation of the constantly changing light that inspires so many artists here in Shetland.

The idea of Crossing Waater has been described by the exhibiting artists in so many ways in this exhibition it really does broaden the imagination. Frances Wilson’s sculptured pieces including the intricate Unst Vessels and the gorgeous Shoreline Platter are very clever, the pieces using among other things, an imprint of Shetland lace knitting to create a wave effect, thereby joining together the sea and the traditional heritage of Shetland lace knitting.

One comment in the visitors book was that artists such as June Redman, Ruth Brownlee and Anne Bain could almost have been from a “school” of artists, and this was a thought that occurred to me too. Their dramatic mixed media pieces depicting Shetland’s rugged coasts and often stormy weather balanced by the Clearing Gale (Ruth Brownlee) do show very similar themes, but the tonal qualities of these pictures, perfectly capturing the colours of stormy seas or heavy skies clearly demonstrate the work of three very talented artists.

On each side of Anne Bain’s work are the lovely charcoal drawings of Mairi Macdonald. Born of the Sea, a large drawing on paper of a shell, captures the feeling of emergence in its foetal shape.

Artists such as Peter Beihl, for example, have taken note of the landscape around the shores and of the creatures, particularly the birds in his exhibited pieces, that inhabit it.

Beihl’s work seems at first glance to be hurriedly executed – he often works using coloured pencils and the pieces seem ragged, rough around the edges. But to draw a raven, clinging to a cliff face at Eshaness in a gale, this is exactly how the work needs to be. Closer inspection shows an incredible attention to detail which results in sophisticated work.

These pieces sit well with work which may seem on the surface to be more naïve in its execution – the plain work of Christine Mitchell which tells the scene exactly as it is with no embellishment, or the woodcuts of Howard Towll which take an incredible amount of meticulous work and patience to produce. Towll’s Gannets is a very clever piece which leads the viewer’s eye all over the canvas.

On the far wall as one enters the Gadderie, there is a triptych of work by James Bruce Thomason. He along with several other artists exhibiting has not forgotten the people of the sea and of those who do truly “cross waater”.

Thomason’s work tells in three canvases the story of Betty Mouat and the small boat Columbine. Betty Mouat set sail to go from the South Mainland to Lerwick in February 1886. During the voyage a storm got up and the crew of the vessel were washed overboard. Betty remained, hiding in the hull of the boat. The boat did not sink but drifted for many days until it eventually washed up on the coast of Norway, with Betty still on board, weak but alive.

The pictures of Betty are simple but striking and one gets the sense of her dilemma as her haunting face looks out from the canvas.

This is an interesting exhibition well worth taking the time out to go and view.

Laura Friedlander


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