South Mainland Notebook

Artist prepares for exhibition

Bigton artist Paul Bloomer lives in a croft house which he restored himself and turned into the family home that he shares with his wife and two daughters. He paints both out of doors and in his barn.

“I fell in love with Shetland when I came here on holiday in 1997,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place. I couldn’t drag myself away.”

Shetland has become a major influence on Paul’s work, but this isn’t something that’s happened quickly.

“My paintings used to reflect the Black Country, where I come from. It’s taken me a long time to internalise Shetland.

“I sit on the beach and I look at the sand. I particularly like it in winter when the low light is fantastic. I tend to work outside at the beginning or the end of the day, when the tones are most dramatic. I don’t copy a landscape, I respond to it. Going through that process is very important to me.”

At present Paul is preparing for an exhibition, entitled Facing the Sea, which will run from 12th March to 24th April at the prestigious Boundary Gallery in London. This will be the second exhibition he has had there.

“I’ll be showing 38 new paintings,” he says. “The gallery chooses which ones it wants to display. I’m trying to finish them at the moment. I work on dozens at a time. A picture evolves over many, many months, if not years. It travels through lots of changes and evolutions. It is completed when it is locked into its space.”

Paul’s connection with the Boundary Gallery goes back to when its owner first spotted him, when he was a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy.

“After you’ve come to its attention, a gallery will watch you for ages before giving you an exhibition,” he says. “The first decade of your life as an artist is very hard.”

The Boundary Gallery characterises the works it exhibits as “figurative with strong composition, with something to say, good draughtsmanship and a brilliant palette”. Looking at Paul’s stunning canvases it is clear that they fit this brief on all counts.

Many Shetland folk will be familiar with Paul’s windfarm woodcuts, and recognise that they have a message to convey. “They are,” he says, “the product of rage.”

Paul is returning to the windfarm theme in some of his present works, in one of which the faint ghost of a wind turbine hovers behind a mourning bird. “I want to express the spiritual sadness of the land, via the cry of the rain goose,” Paul says.

Although he describes figurative art and storytelling as “very much my background”, Paul found when he came to Shetland that these aspects of his work were, at times, holding him back from the landscape.

“They were keeping me from the elemental essence, from the very nature of Shetland,” he explains. Thus the exhibition will also include canvases filled only with glorious colours, reflecting the hues of Shetland’s hills and seas.

Colour is undoubtedly one of Paul’s strong points, and his ability to bring an almost spiritual luminosity to some of his work makes it no surprise when he cites Giotto as one of his influences.

Paul likes to use what he terms “intense warms” and “intense cools”, and he says that the experience of making prints and woodcuts in black and white has informed the quality of his painting: “Moving from darkness to light is, for me, a general principle.”

In Paul’s studio is a dazzling array of vibrant pigments, which he uses to make a lot of his paints himself. “It’s cheaper and you have more control over them,” he says. “You end up with pure, intense paint, packed with pigment. I have lived in Shetland for 13 years, and the unique light of the northern hemisphere helps to shape the colours that live at the centre of my art.”

Paul is clearly extremely excited about the creative process, and he enjoys passing this enthusiasm on to others through his part-time teaching. “I have some fantastic students,” he says. “They teach me things too. It’s a privilege to work with them.”

For more information about Paul’s forthcoming exhibition visit

Race night

“It’s great fun, and you don’t need to know anything about horses, or about betting,” says Margaret Leslie, organiser of the race night which will take place at Sandwick Social Club at 8pm tomorrow. The money raised will help the Shetland Pony Riding & Driving Group to take children to compete in events in the Scottish mainland, which they need to do in order to qualify for the Shetland Pony Grand National at the International Horse Show at Olympia in December.

Entry is £3, which includes supper. There are eight races, and each bet costs £1. Over 16s only. For further information phone Margaret on (01950) 460376.

Boating club events

Ness Boating Club’s annual general meeting takes place tonight at 8pm for 8.30pm. The committee urges everybody who possibly can to attend, and to use this opportunity to say what they want from the club in the future, and to suggest how this can best be achieved.

The support of the membership is greatly desired, so that the club can continue to provide the same level of service as it has done in the past.

Tomorrow the club is holding a supper night from 5pm to 7.30pm. Orders can be phoned in from 3pm on (01950) 460712. The menu is: fish supper; lasagne and chips; chicken strips and chips; macaroni cheese; and sausage supper.

The meal will be followed by a quiz, starting at 8.30pm. Teams of up to four people can compete for £2 per head.

Back from afar

Folk who remember reading about the Sandwick family who set off for Vietnam at the end of last year will be interested to hear what they made of their travels.

“While we were away we kept in email contact with the Sandwick School nursery class,” said Jane Matthews, who flew to the Far East with her partner Juan and four-year-old daughter Martha on New Year’s Eve. “Martha’s friends charted where she went on a map, and we sent back photos, and replies to the questions they asked.”

The Sandwick School bairns wanted to know what animals Martha was seeing, and she was able to tell them about mynah birds, spectacular butterflies, geckos, snakes, crocodiles and monkeys.

“We mentioned in one email a floating market, and the children found that very hard to imagine,” said Jane. “On Shetland we are used to the idea of getting pretty much everything from a supermarket, and many of them have never seen a market, let alone a floating one. It had everything you could possibly want, including many varieties of fruit, meat and fish.”

As in Shetland, fish and seafood are a major part of the diet of Vietnam. “It was amazing,” said Jane. “They stir-fried and barbecued it, and served it with rice. Rice to them is as tatties are to us. Juan ate some excellent squid, and it was strange to think that the last squid he’d eaten was one he caught off Mousa Sound.

“It was also strange to be getting emails about the snow and the school being closed when we were burning our toes on the sand.

“We only had rain on one of the days we were away, and then it absolutely tipped down. We were off the tourist track at the time, in a small town in the Mekong Delta, and we went and sat in a cafe that looked out on to the street.

“It was very strange because while we were there a tiny procession of folk in fancy dress, looking like a mini Up-Helly-A’, went by and we suddenly realised it was the day of the Lerwick Up-Helly-A’.

“Martha was excited about seeing her friends again when it was time to come back to Shetland, but she really did love everything about Vietnam.

“The people were wonderful with her. They especially liked touching her blonde hair. Everybody there has black hair, and it is that colour when they are born. Juan and I have brown hair now, but we were blond as children; they couldn’t understand why Martha’s hair was a different colour from ours.”

Although the family are happy to be home, they are eager to return to Vietnam.

“Everyone was so helpful and friendly and welcoming,” said Jane. “That was what really made the trip.”

New club for bairns

Plans are afoot to set up a weekend club at Levenwick Hall, to get energetic bairns out of the house, and away from the TV and computer games for an hour or two. It will probably take place on Saturday mornings.

Initially the club will be for primary school age and below, but the organisers are open to suggestions for older children too. Some ideas for activities are playground games, badminton and crafts.

The organisers are eager to hear from any Levenwick parents who have proposals for other activities that could be included, or who would like to help out or get involved in any way.

Please contact Elizabeth Mitchell on (01950) 422353 with your thoughts and ideas.

Plans to celebrate cattle

The inaugural meeting of the Shetland Cattle Herd Book Society was held at Spiggie Hotel on 28th October 1910, and was attended by folk from as far away as Hillswick.

The secretary for many years was W Laidlaw McDougall, the factor for the Sumburgh Estate, owned by Robert H Bruce. The latter, along with his wife, were great enthusiasts of the breed.

To celebrate its centenary the Breeders Group in Shetland have organised a four-day trip for members from throughout the UK, which will include dinner at the Spiggie Hotel.

The focus for the first day of the tour will be the Cunningsburgh Show, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

As Shetland’s only open show, Cunningsburgh gives the isles’ Shetland cattle owners an exclusive opportunity to compete against each other in the pedigreed Shetland category.

There are also plans for a grand memorial tribute on the actual anniversary date, to honour the dedicated breeders of the past who had the foresight to take positive steps to ensure the preservation of this native breed.

Pupils raise money for Haiti

Keysteps is an alternative way of learning, in which the pupils choose a module from a course book then plan how they are going to follow it.

When the eight members of the Keysteps group in the secondary department at Sandwick School decided to look at natural disasters, the earthquake in Haiti was the obvious one to focus on.

The youngsters came up with idea of showing a film and asking for donations from those who watched it. Secondary classes 1-3 attended the event, which took place in the school’s social area.

The Keysteppers also put up a display of words and images describing the disaster, and served fresh popcorn, in cups donated by the Cunningsburgh Shop.

A total of £188.64 was raised, and the Keysteppers and their leaders were grateful for all the support they received.

“They have learned a lot about human suffering and the types of aid that can be given,” said teacher Liz Adamson. “It’s been well worthwhile.”

Cathy Feeny


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