The exhibition Fragments by two young Shetland artists, both graduates of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, attracted a good crowd to Shetland Museum on Saturday.
Both take the Shetland landscape as their inspiration, and both use unexpected techniques to represent it.
Vivian Ross-Smith grew up in Fair Isle and her work incorporates the hard and soft textures of the landscape. Her pieces look really tactile, but are accompanied by the instruction “please do not touch”.
One wall of Da Gadderie is dramatically covered in shiny blocks of rock, each of which have been built up layer by layer with paint poured in between, together with bits of shell and glass and covered in shiny resin. The effect is truly dramatic, and commercial too – Ross-Smith has just finished a resin commission for a business in Aberdeen.
Another piece, which she describes as an “abstract landscape” has handstiched linen squares soaked in copper sulphate to give a strange green hue. Ross-Smith said she like the contrast of a destructive chemical eating the surface and embellishing it.
Handstitching is again used in a fish skin piece, the soft grey colours of skate wings, haddock and ballan wrasse depicting the softer parts of the landscape. Ross-Smith gets her brother to catch the fish and said: “I’ve always liked fish skins, I like to play around with different materials.” The skins are soaked in taxidermy solution and covered with a glossy glass wax.
And there is more stitching in a seaweed piece, with the material collected in Fair Isle.
Although she spends a lot of time south, she said: “I never stay away from Shetland for too long.”
Her co-exhibitor Gemma Balfour has returned to live in Brae since graduating, and her work, exhibited for the first time in Shetland, is very different. After becoming interested in Sherlock Holmes when a student, she acquired eight manual typewriters and “plays around” on them to create images and textures. Her black and white pictures resemble old maps, or hint at the Shetland landscape, using the punctuation marks to create “delicate marks”.
She thinks of it as “eroding the paper as the weather erodes the landscape” and said: “A typewriter is such a mechanical machine but you can made such personlised marks with it.”
Her favourite machine is an Imperial 80 which is a massive A2 size, once used for accounts and which now produces large pieces of art.
In this excellent exhibition it is inspiring to see the creativity of the two young artists, who have used their talents in very different ways.