Close observation rather than art world cool for Joyce’s first show

She is probably best known in Shetland as a singer-songwriter and one of the trio of vocalists with the band Shoormal. What is not so well known about Joyce Wark is that she is a skilled artist, as her first solo show at Vaila Fine Art demon­strates.

The exhibition features a collection of watercolours produced over the last few years that are inspired by her relationship with the landscape, people and history of Shetland and especially the area around her lifelong home in Bigton and her recent love affair with Foula.

Joyce’s journey as an artist is worth mentioning in order to put this work in context. She was the youngest of four sisters in a very musical family. Creativity was encouraged from an early age but because of the age gap between herself and her sisters she had to find her own entertainment and art was a favourite childhood activity.

Five children of her own meant all her creativity and energy was channelled into being a mother; then as a mature student she spent two years on the textile course at Shetland College where she produced powerful abstract textile pieces.

This new work on display defiantly proclaims her artistic independence and is the hard won fruit of decades of creative suppression that finally has the freedom and space to flower.

She is not swayed by the fleeting ego driven fashions of art world cool but is rooted in a timeless sensibility based on close observa­tion of nature, patient consideration and skilful production.

All of the paintings are land­scapes but Joyce says this choice of subject matter did not come easily and her breakthrough came when she started treating the land­scape as if she were painting a portrait of a person.

She sees the landscape as a “living, breathing slowly ageing organism” and the houses in the pictures are “temp­orary structures”, making us aware of the tension between human habitation and the life and well being of the land that lives and breathes independently from human intervention or change.

This world view is most evident in her depictions of rocks that pulse with life in a carefully knitted fabric of delicate ink lines that are like veins that bring life, order and structure to the work.

The painting Mirkenin Banks, Bigton is imbued with drawn linear life and energy that makes each rock and stone alive and unique. In Da Burns Foula the sheer majestic drama and scale of the hill dom­inate and protects the house that nestles in its shadow. For me pictures that move away from realistic topographical depiction of the land and express something of the inner world of the artist are the most powerful and interesting of this series.

The creative process is a mystery and Joyce has some fascinating links between the creation of her music and her visual art. When writing music she says she tries to “put a tune to the pictures she sees in her head”.

The haunting fiddle music on the introduction to the track Maggie Reid from Shoormal’s Indigo Skies album came to Joyce when she was working in the shed and the rest of the words and music came to her in the form of a movie playing in her head the stills of which she translated into music.

When I first saw Joyce’s work as a student I was aware that she could grow into a powerful Shetland talent, and when you take her music and her art side by side this view is affirmed. The pictures are reason­ably priced and selling fast so do not miss the opportunity to see this impressive first solo show which runs until 30th April.

Paul Bloomer


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