Happy 130th Birthday Nan Shepherd!

Author of The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd, was born on the 11th February 1893. To celebrate her birthday, the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh, has organised an exhibition and panel discussion, all details below …

The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response

The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response showcases new paintings by Rose Strang and goes on exhibition at the Scottish Poetry Library, and the Heriot Gallery, Edinburgh, in February then April 2023.

A response to one of Scotland’s best-loved classics of landscape literature, this series of paintings was commissioned by the Folio Society London for their 2021 publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

Robert MacFarlane, award-winning author of best-selling books The Lost Words and The Wild Places and one of the UK’s best-known devotees of The Living Mountain, writes in the introduction to this Folio publication of the book:

Strang’s paintings are intensely dynamic, seethingly alive with stroke, dab, scratch and drip. Each of Strang’s seven paintings takes a phrase from The Living Mountain and dreams a response to it.

16th February 3 to 5pm. Exhibition Preview (free). Scottish Poetry Library

7pm, 17th February: Panel discussion (ticketed, 310, see link below) Scottish Poetry Library  and audience Q+A with Erlend Clouson (Nan Shepherd’s literary executor, Rose Strang, Merryn Glover (author of A House Called Askival, currently writing a book inspired by Nan Shepherd) and Kerri Andrews (author of A History of Women Walking, currently editing a volume of Nan’s letters). Chaired by Anna Fleming (author of Time on Rock).

Book your ticket here … https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/happy-130th-birthday-nan-shepherd-tickets-514890560527?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

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The Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton Close, Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response

17th to 23rd April. The Heriot Gallery, Dundas Street, Edinburgh. The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response (in collaboration with The Limetree Gallery, Bristol).*

Exhibition of the original paintings commissioned by the Folio Society for their 2021 publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

*The series of paintings will be for sale and exclusively available from the Heriot Gallery during the one-week exhibition.

(Please contact the Heriot Gallery with any enquiries about the exhibition. art@heriotgallery.com).

2021-09-13

The Heriot Gallery, 20A Dundas Street, Edinburgh

Taking part in Landscape Artist of the Year 2023

Below – a speeded up video of the three paintings produced on the day

I swithered a bit on whether to post about my day on Landscape Artist of the Year 2023, mostly as I had no idea how the whole thing would come across. As it was, I think it was nicely edited – they edited out the fact that at one point, unbeknown to me I’d plastered half a tube of green paint across my face and hair!

If you’re selected to take part in the programme and if you’re anything like me, you’ll check out the participating artist’s blogs online to get an idea of how it feels to be there, painting in the most unlikely circumstances. I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to re-create a scenario less conducive to painting! So here’s my account of it all, and I hope it’s helpful…

I’d applied before to Laoty, but didn’t get selected. A friend had said ‘Rose, you’ve got to apply, do it, go on!” and I thought ‘why not?”. When I didn’t get selected the first time, I thought about it and realised that although it’s called landscape artist of the year, almost all views are urban. I can’t remember an episode, offhand, where there were no buildings or structures involved, so I painted Chancelot Mill for that reason. I was surprised to be accepted on the basis of the painting (described as ‘brutalist, painted in brutalist brushwork’ by the judges!) The work I produced on the day was a bit more characteristic of my style, though I’d never have selected that particular view to paint (I suspect few of the artists would).

Above; Chancelot Mill. Oil on 33×23 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2022

When I heard I’d been selected I was excited, a bit trepiditious and immediately wanted to know where the artists would be painting. The first few days (and right up to the event itself) is a flurry of answering questions from the producers, who are very encouraging (one said they’d like to buy my submission if it wasn’t snapped up after the show aired).

When I found out it was going to be Blackpool, I imagined it would be a view of Blackpool Tower, or that we’d have a choice of view where we might choose to look away from the sea front to paint the tower, or paint a beach scene. I would definitely choose the latter if it came down to it, but just in case, I had a look at Blackpool Tower online and did a couple of rough sketches!

Because I’m perhaps a bit anal (or, as I prefer to think; prepared!) I had a good look at the surrounding views on Google Street View once I learned the subject was to be Blackpool’s North Pier. Then (similarly to some of the other participants) I checked tide times.

What a disappointment to learn that the tide was going to be all the way out most of the day. A shocker in fact, since sea is one of my most painted subjects. I supposed at this point that we’d be painting a view of the pier, so I realised I’d be painting out of my comfort zone and just decided to turn up on the day and authentically respond as best I could to whatever was in front of my eyes!

Really it’s entirely a matter of luck for participants, in that sense – of viewpoint. It’s frustrating to know that you’ll be stuck in your pod all day and can’t find the view that moves or inspires you.

Take note also that even if it’s ok to take a close up photo and focus in on that, you won’t be able to see the photo unless you’ve brought an ipad or something bigger. Bright light will mean you can’t actually see your photo unless you have some way of printing it out.

My mistake was that I’m quite short-sighted and didn’t have time to get a new pair of glasses. Should have gone to Specsavers, that’s my big tip of the day to artists selected to participate. I kick myself for not bringing along a pair of binoculars or perhaps opera glasses, though I’ve no idea if such a thing exists, outside of antique shops.

If you’ve been selected for Laoty, are a bit short-sighted, pressed for time (my Laoty day was sandwiched between two exhibitions), take time to avail yourself of a device by which you can clearly see what’s there, because it might be many many hundreds of yards away with nothing in the foreground to give depth/perspective.

That mostly covers what happened to my painting efforts on the day, so I’ll get on to what it’s like to take part …

It’s like a small pop-up village consisting of a whole host of runners, camera people, judges, presenters, producers, technicians and who knows what else. On our arrival in Blackpool it was fun to play a game of ‘spot the pods’ with my partner Adam.

We wandered along the north pier and read inscriptions on the benches. Most of them had a dedication to someone passed away who’d loved sitting there, taking in the sun and sea. The sun and sea is everything in Blackpool. Take away the slightly grotty buildings, rickety pier, numerous run-down cafes, pubs and restaurants, big brash lit up signs and that’s what you’re left with – huge west coast skies and a luminous billowing sea (oh to have painted the sea as I saw it when we arrived, when the tide was coming in!)

We walked down to look at the pods, which was a strange moment of realising I’d be in one of those soon. I spotted someone taking in the view, looking thoughtful and guessed it would be one of the artists. It turned out to be Finn, and as I’d had a look at the see-through marquee where all the painting submissions were mounted up, I asked which was his (one of my favourites from the line-up as it happened!)

Finn, Adam and I chatted about the view, or lack of it – ‘we’re painting that?!’ – the selected view was now obvious given the position of the pods. We wished each other luck and as it was getting dark, headed off to get some sleep.

Earlier Adam and I had checked in to a hotel then headed out for dinner. I’d decided to have a big glass of wine despite the threat of hangover, as I felt it would help me drift off to sleep. It did, and I woke at 6am ready to face the day. Drawing back the curtains I looked out on a sea-front drenched in rain. That didn’t discourage me though, as a I like a bit of atmospheric weather to paint.

It was easy to spot the artists as I arrived with all my painting things at 7am, since they were the only ones chatting under a rain shelter (the crew were all running around setting up and we weren’t to go into our pods until much later when the film crew were ready to film us setting up our paints etc).

We were given a bag of breakfast things and snacks, tea or coffee, then we were all miked up, which meant whatever you said and did could be listened into, but that was the least of our worries. Anyway the focus is presumably capturing what’s filmable, not the mutterings between artists about the awful viewpoint or occassional expletive when a painting goes wrong!

The first bit of filming was the artists arriving (the bit where they say ‘such and such is a professional artist from wherever’. We were paired up, I was to walk down with Gregory, who was one of the friendliest, most calm people I’ve encountered, so he made that bit easy. All of this had to be repeated a few times while they sorted out levels and angles or whatever camera-people have to do in such circumstances!

We were shown to our pods and they filmed the artists setting up. I’d brought a range of acrylics and water-mixable oils (I don’t use the usual oils as solvents irritate me), a sketch pad, pencils, pens, numerous rags, all my brushes and palette knives and a large piece of flat wood which almost covered my little side table. I use that as a palette so there’s room on the palette to experiment, but a lot of artists prefer something they can have in their hand during painting. I also brought three buckets for plenty of water changing (the helpers or ‘runners’? are on hand to change water if you need it though).

As it was a chilly day at first, but would get warmer later I wore a thin shirt, a hoodie and an anorak. I’d meant to bring a couple of head scarves and regretted not remembering them as my hair got in the way at times.

At this point the judges and presenters were milling around and I was curious who’d come up to say hello. Kathleen Soriano came up first and we chatted about my submission. Tai popped up and asked if I’d be warm enough – ‘Is this going to keep you warm?’ he asked plucking the sleeve of my anorak, a nice gesture which made me feel cared about! I could see his keen artist’s eye checking out my pallete and painting set up.

Anorak checking (photo Adam Brewster)

Then Nicky Seare (the producer who’d first contacted me to let me know I’d been selected) came across for a chat – a very chatty and enthusiastic person, whose job it was to get the artists talking on camera. No easy task since the instinct is to shut off outside noise and to focus when you’re painting. (I’ve often shouted at the TV; ‘let them get on with it!’) We all knew the drill though, having seen the programme, and knew we’d have to describe to some extent what we were up to!

The thing that doesn’t come across when watching Laoty is the timing of the event. I’d been trying to ascertain when we’d be painting throughout the day, but that was hard to pin down because of filming everything. It’s four hours off and on throughout a twelve hour day, from start to finish. You arrive at about 7am, start at approximately 10am, paint for a couple of hours, have a lunch break, then continue for two more hours, but with quite a few interruptions. Then the artists are photographed with their submission painting and at that stage the judges are selecting the three finalists.

The part where Joan Bakewell says ‘Artists, your time starts now!’ is amusing since there were several takes of us starting – we were briefed about that though; ‘Just pretend to start!’. Then there’s the real start, which is a tense moment obviously. I’d already decided I’d paint a somewhat distant view of the pier since (as mentioned) I’d not had time to get new glasses so I wasn’t able to see details. And of course it’s impossible to see a small camera image of a close up when you’re outdoors in bright light so I couldn’t work from that either.

One artist was more savvy though and took their camera into the loo to have a look at details of their photo without all the bright sunlight, I wish I’d thought of that!

My approach was to quell my nerves by making some loose relaxed brushmarks to start – my thinking being that at this stage I could be experimental before I’d painted more detail. That worked well for me as it’s how I paint generally. In fact it’s the one thing that did work for me on the day as the pier was a hugely difficult subject to simplify. I think the judges were right in saying I could have taken the best part of the first painting (the sky) and created a different composition on the second one. The problem was that I didn’t have the option of a closer view of the pier, and sadly there was no sea to see!

My ideal view would have been from the actual pier itself and I’d imagined they’d set pods up there. I’m not convinced that the folks who set up the pods are thinking about the view from an artist’s perspective. Or probably where they set up is restricted by access and power supplies. Anyway, this is why, when you read comments by viewers, they’re often complaining that the artists don’t tackle the actual subject. The reason for that is (I think) that they have to be creative with composition in order to make a well-composed painting since they’ve not had any say in the composition that’s in front of them. That’s probably the main challenge in fact. And I think if you’re lucky enough to get to the finals, at which stage you get to choose your composition and show the judges something new, you have the best chance of showing what you’re capable of.

During painting Tai came over to ask about my new green-hair look! He also commented ‘that’s a beautiful sky’ which was encouraging. One of the producers, Nicky Seare commented, amusingly – ‘that’s like the Hollywood handshake!’. Kate was also very engaging. I found her warm, someone with natural camaraderie and, similar to Tai, I got the impression she did genuinely care about the contestants. I never got the chance to chat much with Joan Bakewell or Stephen Mangan, though at one point I caught his eye when we were both laughing at the repeated (‘let’s pretend’) ‘artists, begin now’ filming scenario!

I was also very amused at the stage where I started a new painting. Adam had been watching from the sidelines and he also noted that as soon as I decided to put a new piece of wood on the easel, a drove of cameras descended on me, with producer Nicky Seare asking ‘Why have you decided to start a new painting Rose?’ (When watching the programme it was described as a ‘drastic measure’ or something similar). When I change over to a new painting in reality it’s such a non event, and a normal part of my process, I found it amusing that it was even noticed. Everything has to be filmed though, and the camera people probably prefer it when artists work steadily and slowly throughout the day, so I had to be filmed again taking off one piece of wood and setting up another.

A drove of cameras. (photo Adam Brewster 2022)

Later on, I knew I was getting nowhere and decided to just have a sit on my stool to contemplate the changing scenery in front of me. That was apparently a cause for cameras to descend again, with one of the producers asking ‘Is it easy for you Rose? Is it not a challenge?’ They’d rightly observed that I was relaxing, maybe feeling a bit demotivated. I think the questions were designed to galvanise me and elicit a response. Understandable, but in fact that was a moment that might have allowed some new ideas to drift into mind, or maybe not. Drifting is not really something that comes naturally in those circumstances though, especially when you have a camera up on the right of the pod roof, click, click, clicking away every few seconds (which is how they capture the fascinating speeded up painting-process videos).

Chatting with some of the other artists after we’d stopped painting, it was clear many of us felt pretty drained. In real life painting scenarios, you get to sit back and contemplate in a more relaxed way, your rhythms are not disrupted, but during a day of being filmed the pressure feels fairly constant. I’d attempted to break the tension by chatting to some of the helpers, or going over to catch up on what was happening with Adam, but it’s tiring because of the constant focus over so many hours (and I say that as someone who can paint non-stop for hours quite happily in normal circumstances). I think producing anything approaching your normal level of painting is quite an achievement while being filmed for a programme, so to say it’s given me a whole new level of appreciation for all the artists taking part in Laoty and Paoty is an understatement.

I knew I was capable of much better, so it was a sad moment not being chosen as one of the final three, a feeling no doubt echoed by the other artists who weren’t selected. I also felt bad for Adam, who had faith I’d get selected too. In fact his words were ‘I feel a bit empty, I was just thinking you’d definitely be on to the next one and it feels weird we won’t be doing this again!’, that made my heart pang, and made me feel it was harder on him than me in many ways!

I think though, that the fact I was just about to launch an exhibition at the Resipole Gallery and the Limetree Gallery soon after, and that there was loads to distract us afterwards helped a lot. About a day after Laoty finished, we were driving up north to the beautiful wilds of Ardnamurchan for an exhibition opening. The paintings I’d produced for that had been a dream of a process as it’s such a stunning landscape in May. Plus, we couldn’t feel down for long since just the month before we’d got engaged!

Once filming ended and I’d exchanged emails and social media contacts with some of the artists, it was suggested we all go for a drink, but I just felt exhausted, so we went back to our hotel to clean up (I had a tonne of green paint in my hair!) and went out to eat. We found an Italian restaurant and settled in there, not realising till we sat down that the entire panel of judges and presenters and a few producers were sitting right next to us! (it was dark in the restaurant compared to the bright light outside). I went over to say a quick hello, Tai and Kate were super-friendly, though I bet by this time they must also have felt a bit drained by the 12 hour day!

I thought Finn’s painting was a very worthy winner, he’d realised the restrictions of the view, and planned a strong composition. I loved the pier painting part of Suzon’s painting, but I think my personal favourite was Efua’s – it was so complex, truly painterly and had presence. I think it would have been no surprise if any of the other artist’s paintings had been selected for the final three, sometimes the judges maybe have a favourite, and the two other runners up are not so carefully thought through, possibly? It can’t be easy judging.

I hope if you’re selected to take part in next year’s Laoty you’ve found this blog post helpful. And don’t worry about how you’ll appear on camera (I was dreading it but was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too cringeing!) It’s not in the producer’s interests to make you look bad and they’ll edit out any obvious clangers, plus I think maybe they use nice filters or whatever to balance out the colours so everyone looks healthy, not washed out by bright light etc! Some people have asked if I’d apply again. After seeing the programme and thinking about it all, yes I would consider it. This year is way too busy but maybe in 2024 if the programme’s still running. (one thing I’d say though, is that they should offer more in the way of expenses to participating artists. I think younger artists particularly might struggle with that, it’s not as if art brings in a big income, unless you’re really well-known or your work is in constant demand).

I really enjoyed meeting the artists and helpers in particular, and I was super impressed by the skills and talents of all who take part in making the programme which is quite the production number – really fascinating to observe. And thanks to Tai for being genuinely kind when they chatted to us after the selections, he said ‘bad luck, wrong subject on the day maybe?’. Maybe, but mostly I should have gone to Specsavers!

Above all, huge love and gratitude to Adam who was there with me all the way!

Adam, Blackpool, 2022. (photo Rose Strang)

Happy 130th Birthday Nan Shepherd!

Author of The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd, was born on the 11th February 1893. To celebrate her birthday, the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh, has organised an exhibition and panel discussion, all details below …

The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response

The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response showcases new paintings by Rose Strang and goes on exhibition at the Scottish Poetry Library then the Heriot Gallery, Edinburgh, in 2023.

A response to one of Scotland’s best-loved classics of landscape literature, this series of paintings was commissioned by the Folio Society London for their 2021 publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

Robert MacFarlane, award-winning author of best-selling books The Lost Words and The Wild Places and one of the UK’s best-known devotees of The Living Mountain, writes in the introduction to this Folio publication of the book:

Strang’s paintings are intensely dynamic, seethingly alive with stroke, dab, scratch and drip. Each of Strang’s seven paintings takes a phrase from The Living Mountain and dreams a response to it.

16th February 3 to 5pm. Exhibition Preview (free). Scottish Poetry Library

7pm, 17th February: Panel discussion (ticketed, 310, see link below) Scottish Poetry Library  and audience Q+A with Erlend Clouson (Nan Shepherd’s literary executor, Rose Strang, Merryn Glover (author of A House Called Askival, currently writing a book inspired by Nan Shepherd) and Kerri Andrews (author of A History of Women Walking, currently editing a volume of Nan’s letters). Chaired by Anna Fleming (author of Time on Rock).

Book your ticket here … https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/happy-130th-birthday-nan-shepherd-tickets-514890560527?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

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The Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton Close, Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response

17th to 23rd April. The Heriot Gallery, Dundas Street, Edinburgh. The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response (in collaboration with The Limetree Gallery, Bristol).*

Exhibition of the original paintings commissioned by the Folio Society for their 2021 publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

*The series of paintings will be for sale and exclusively available from the Heriot Gallery during the one-week exhibition.

(Please contact the Heriot Gallery with any enquiries about the exhibition. art@heriotgallery.com).

2021-09-13

The Heriot Gallery, 20A Dundas Street, Edinburgh

New Year in Balquhidder

Above, Balquhidder at twilight, photo by Adam

I’ll be posting more soon on two up-coming exhibitions for February and April this year, but in the meantime …

This year my partner Adam and I wanted a quiet new year so we booked ourselves into the Retreat Hut on Loch Voil near Balquhidder. We arrived just before dark, having driven along the four-mile rough track, and were greeted by the son of the owner who walked us to our hut, through what appeared to be an ancient stone circle. ‘Oooh, amazing’ I enthused, ‘how old is it?’. ‘Well the stones themselves are very old’ he laughed. ‘Ah, eccentric Victorians then?’. ‘Well, us in fact’ he replied!

They looked convincing though. ‘It’s on a leyline’ he assured us. Leylines are considered arbitrary by the sceptics – lines drawn between ancient sacred sites that just happen to line up (some people have lined up Tescos across the UK as evidence it’s all very random and part of our very human tendency to seek patterns!) Others say that stone circles are sited on areas of special energy evidenced by the fact that dousing rods start to spin as you walk through the centre. I haven’t tried this myself and have no idea what causes this, but electro magnetic energy is suggested, or ‘magnetic field anomolies’.

Our hut was freezing when we arrived, it being a December evening in a Highland valley, so I got a nice blaze going in the wood-burning stove and soon the place felt like a sauna, which in fact was its original purpose –  it was built by a German artist friend of the family.

Many people enjoy creating a steaming sauna in the hut, followed by a dip in the icy lake, I’m not one of them, so instead we heated up a stew of bacon, passata, potatoes, char-grilled peppers and smoky paprika I’d made up earlier (inspired by one of the nicest soups I’ve ever enjoyed in freezing weather on a trip to Berlin some years ago). There are few things more satisfying than a wood fire and warming dinner while you enjoy views of the snow outside!

The next day we wandered along the loch up a track to enjoy the views of the opposite side (we were on the south of the loch, always the more mysterious side since the north side gets the sunlight and tends to be more inhabited).

The village of Balquhhider is on the north shore of Loch Voil, famous as Rob Roy’s alleged burial place. There’s also the wonderful Monachyle Mor Hotel – an old farmhouse dating back to the 1700’s, now owned by chef Tom Lewis, who is a whirlwind of creativity as evidenced by the fantastic art collection, wonderfully eclectic decor and  tiny house building projects dotted around outside the hotel. We’ve gone there for lunch a few times and he’ll sometimes come over have a friendly chat while you eat.

Later that evening when it was dark, we watched from the other side of the loch as a steady stream of cars made their way along the valley to the Monachyle Mor Hotel for the new year firework display. It was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced with the loch and snowy mountains lighting up in green, gold and pink and the krrrRRR-BOOOOMS!! echoing along the valley.

It all sounds idyllic, and for a few days it is, but very soon you start to miss the ease of city-living. A hut becomes rapidly cold unless you constantly feed the hungry stove (there was a big log-pile outside but we had to chop up logs for smaller pieces to get the stove started in the morning). The loo was a walk away over snow and mud, and of course it’s small so you must be super-organised if you don’t want to descend into muddy chaos. That’s the beauty of a simple stay in a small country cabin though, you feel more connected to nature, you benefit from the fresh air and it all restores the soul, but you go back home appreciating the luxuries you’re used to. Though sadly of course those come at a higher price these days, but I won’t get into the political mess of the UK just now!

Some of my ancestors lived around Balquhidder and nearby Loch Venachar – Andrew Strang married Catherine Fergusson from Balquhidder in 1750 and they lived in a farmhouse on Loch Venachar. Catherine Strang married Duncan Fergusson from Balquhidder in the early 1800s and they lived on his family farm near Balquhidder. I can’t imagine how hard their lives were. Lots of children, laundry without electricity, snowed-in every winter, no local shops or a drive into Callander for supplies, no freezers – they were considerably tougher than this generation. They too must have loved the beauty of this place though. Many of them would eventually settle further south for work, mining near Kirkaldy, then engineering in Edinburgh.

I discovered that the other side of the family, the Kerrs, were also country people who moved to Glasgow in the 1800s for work, and the Sutherlands, who’d lived in Orkney since who knows when since records are scarce pre 1600s. It seems a shame they had to leave rural life, but it’s an indication of how tough rural life was, especially in parts of Scotland affected by conditions post-Culloden and the Highland Clearances. One family moved back to the country – after my great great grandfather Robert Kerr died, his wife and children moved to Pertshire where they survived by making fishing tackle – beautiful artificial flies. It can’t have brought much money in though.

I feel grateful for my ancestors and the hard lives they lived, none were landed or well-off, as far as I know. I said a little prayer for them before we left Loch Voil on New Year’s Day.

Then, just as a reminder of what it means to be snowed in, we discovered our car was barely capable of driving up the four mile track on our way out. The owner of the hut came out to help and we were given an advanced driving lesson in snowy conditions. He went ahead of us all the way to create tyre tracks, which was another occassion for gratitude!

Several times we had to reverse back down a hill, taking care not to slide off down the steep valley sides into the trees, to create enough volition to get up the hill. It was pretty hairy and took more than an hour, but as with all the little hardships, it felt wonderful afterwards –  to be back on tarmac. A French family who’d followed behind us (they’d stayed in another little hut further up the loch) stopped their car when we reached the road and there were relieved new year handshakes all round! Then we celebrated with haddock and chips in a little hotel in Callander.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! May all your hardships be small, surmountable, or non-existent in 2023!

“The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response”

Coming up early next year are two exhibitions featuring the Living Mountain paintings, commissioned by The Folio Society to illustrate their 2021 publication of The Living Mountain, by Nan Shepherd.

As well as paintings, a couple of videos are in the works and I’m very excited about these! I’ve commissioned Atzi Muramatsu (a friend and collaborator since 2013) to create a new piece of music to accompany the videos, which will be released in late January/early February 2023.

Painting has taken a bit more of a back seat while everything gets organised, but happily dates and venues are now confirmed and the series will be on show next year, firstly at The Scottish Poetry Library then at The Heriot Gallery, all details below…

17th February to 31st March. The Scottish Poetry Library. The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response.

Exhibition of the original paintings included in the 2021 Folio Society publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

17th February 7pm. The Scottish Poetry Library. Panel discussion with Erlend Clouston (literary executor, the Nan Shepherd estate), Rose Strang Kerri Andrews (other guests tbc)

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The Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton Close (off the Royal Mile) Edinburgh.

17th to 23rd April. The Heriot Gallery, Dundas Street, Edinburgh. The Living Mountain. Dreaming a Response.*

Exhibition of the original paintings included in the 2021 Folio Society publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.(in collaboration with The Limetree Gallery, Bristol).

*The series of paintings will be exclusively available from the Heriot Gallery during the one-week exhibition.

2021-09-13

The Heriot Gallery, 20A Dundas Street, Edinburgh

Romance in the Scottish Highlands! (new commission)

Above: Scottish Highlands – “…with rain on your eyelashes”. Oil on 48×48 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022.

The Scottish Highlands could be described as northern rainforest with an average of 182 inches of rain falling each year! Dreich! You might say, but it’s all about perspective …

The commissioner of the painting above, is Jamie Johnston, who lives in Colorado where she runs a wonderful organic bee farm that’s been in the family since 1908 – The Beekeeper’s Honey Boutique.

Jamie decided to get married in Scotland back in 2016 – ‘It rained the whole time’ she said, ‘but I loved it!’  She got in touch with me because she’d ordered a copy of the Folio Society’s publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. (I’d been commissioned to provide paintngs for the book). Jamie described her enjoyment of the paintings while reading the book, which led to her contacting  the Limetree Gallery who represent most of my work.

She particularly loved the rainy dark ones which I love painting – they reminded her of the rainy weather during her romantic holiday and wedding in the Scottish Highlands.

Jamie decided that what she’d really like was a large version for the walls of her new home. The remit was just to paint whatever I liked, as long as it captured something of the Scottish Highlands drenched in rain. As any artist knows, it’s such a pleasure to be given a free rein to experiment, so I immediately began to visualise how it might look and how I’d create the right feel and atmosphere.

Jamie had sent a few photos of her time in the Highlands, which were really lovely as photos, but she explained these were just to give a sense of the sort of thing that had caught her eye – she didn’t intend for me to copy them. I did use one of them as a starting point, for composition and because I liked the waterfall and cloudy skies. Once the basic composition was sketched in though, I just built up layers of paint, drips and splodges until it had what I thought was the right feel. I wanted to get the sense of the Highlands – that pelting rain can quickly turn to sunshine then back again in the course of a few minutes!

Also giving a true sense of how water forms the landscape in Scotland, cutting swathes through rock and landscape over time – and further back in time – the retreating glacial action that gave those hump-backed whale-like shapes to the mountains.

You never know if you’ve managed to capture what a person has in mind, so I was swithering a bit on whether to add more, or change the painting. In the end I decided to send the image to Jamie by email to see what she thought. Painting it was a pleasure, but how someone reacts is what makes the commission a success.

I opened the email with some trepidation, so you can imagine what a huge smile Jamie’s reply put on my face for the rest of the day! …

“ROSE!!!!

I am dying!!! WOW!!! It is soooo incredibly beautiful…even more so than I imagined possible!!! Like I literally cannot stop staring at it!!! Those clouds…the colors on the mountain…those colors of that mountain valley down below…SERIOUSLY…how do you do that?! That is incredible!!! The talent that you have contributed to this world literally blows me away!!! I’ve never used this many exclamation marks in my life but I am on such a high right now!!!

It is beautiful. I love it immensely. Thank you for sharing your talent with me. It makes me very happy knowing I get to hang this (the first picture we will hang in our new home) & I can have a coffee or glass of whiskey & just stare at it & get lost in my memories through your beautiful painting. THANK YOU!!! Love, love, love. You captured EVERYTHING I had hoped for & then some”.

This blew me away as a response – music to my ears indeed!! Jamie also gave me the go-ahead to title the painting and so I began to think of romantic poems by Scottish poets (I too find the rainy Highlands romantic!) my favourite was this little gem, by Edwin Morgan:

Kiss me with rain on your eyelashes,
come on, let us sway together,
under the trees, and to hell with thunder.

Edwin Morgan. 2004. (Poem commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh  for Valentine’s Day 2004).

Hence the title! Scottish Highlands – “…with rain on your eyelashes”. And here’s another photo to show scale ..

A HUGE thank you to Jamie for this really lovely commission – Jamie and partner can always expect a warm welcome here in Edinburgh should they return at some point. In the meantime, I too shall enjoy a wee whisky in front of it before it wings its way through the clouds to Colorado!

Edinburgh Come All Ye

Above: Edinburgh Come all Ye, a book of poems by Alan Spence.

This book of poems by Alan Spence celebrates Scotland, Scottishness and the events of 2017- 2021, during which Alan Spence was appointed Edinburgh’s Makar. Each of the poems is accompanied by artworks by some of Scotland’s best known artists, and I’m honoured indeed to have my painting Wells of Arthur’s Seat, St Anthony’s Chapel from St Margaret’s Loch included in the book and as front cover!

Artists included are – Victoria Crowe, Alison Watt, David Williams, Calum Colvin, Doug Cocker, Andrew Archer and Joyce Gunn Cairns.

‘Makar’ is the title given to a learned and established poet who’s been invited officially to represent their country or city. Alan Spence was a great choice for the role from 2017 to 2021. His poems celebrate Scotland, but he is also influenced by Japanese literature and often writes in Haiku form. He’s also a lovely human being and great fun! He and his wife Janani opened their book shop and meditation centre in 2017 and I’d often drop in for a chat and to buy a book. In 2018 I invited Alan and Atzi Muramatsu to collaborate on a project that explores the history, flora and fauna of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. It’s a hill rich in history and pre-history and my interest was in the wells that are dotted around the hill.

Alan’s beautfuul poem Wellwater which features in this book, is in the form of a wish, prayer or invocation. I was delighted by it as it captured the very essence of the project – the fact that since pre-history ordinary people believed that St Antony’s Well had healing properties. As Alan expresses in his poem ‘it’s free, it’s for everyone’. We might question the healing properties the well may have had, but in fact the water did have a high iron content (and who knows what effect their faith in its power may have had?)

The book is available to buy on the links below, and an event to launch the book takes place on the 7th September at 7pm at the Scottish Poetry Library. Alan will give a talk as part of the book launch and is sure to be as engaging as always with characteristic sensitvity and wit! It really is a delight to be a part of this book and I very much look forward to reading it.

Book launch – Edinburgh Come Al Ye, Alan Spence

Buy book at Scotland Street Press – https://www.scotlandstreetpress.com/product/edinburgh-come-all-ye

Buy book at Poetry Books – https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/products/edinburgh-come-all-ye-by-adam-spence-pre-order

Coast

Above, Sanna Bay 2. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 47×47 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022. One of four works still available at The Resipole Gallery (please contact the gallery for queries).

Thank you to the buyers who bought the following paintings, I hope they bring pleasure for many years to come! This has absolutely been one of my favourite series to paint, created while I was up north in Ardnamurchan with my partner Adam in May this year, it was such a beautiful time…

The following paintings are still available from the Resipole, please contact the gallery with any queries. Thank you – Resipole Gallery

And for those who might not have seen it yet, our arrangement of a beautiful song first created by songwriter Donald McColl (from Acharacle, Ardnamurchan) in the 1970s. The video features wonderful footage of Ardamurchan from our trip there this year, and some paintings in progress.

Summer Exhibition

The new Summer Exhibition group show at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol launches on Friday 15th July and continues until August 31st. (Preview Thursday 14th July 6:30 to 8:30pm.

The Limetree link above shows all paintings on exhibition including beautiful work by Peter Wileman FROI RSMA FRSA, David Smith RSW and Lucy McKie ROI

The two works I’m featuring in the exhibition  …

Summer Exhibition Limetree

Above: Sanna Bay, May. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 19.5 by 19.5 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022. Below Primroses. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 19.5×19.5″ canvas. Rose Strang 2022

min 'Primroses, Ardnamurchan'. Oil on 19.5x19.5 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022

These two paintings are for the upcoming Summer Exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol, which launches on the 15th July and continues until August 31st.

They take inspiration from my recent trip to Ardnamurchan where I created a series of works for Coast – a two-artist exhibition at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan (link Here)

It’s interesting that these two new paintings look more distilled and dreamlike than the rest of the series, which must be to do with them being created later, not immediately following my trip there. The one subject I hadn’t painted was the beautiful primroses that decorate the banks of the Silver Walk near Castle Tioram. I love the way they emerge from dark crevices in May, looking so delicate and fresh – beautiful wild flowers that grow abundantly on the west coast.

Donald McColl sang about the landscape of Ardnamurchan (and primroses!) in his beautiful song ‘Nach Falbh thu air and Turas Leam?’, and here’s our arrangement of the song again, featuring footage of Ardnamurchan and some of the painting process …

(Exhibition of the two paintings above from 15th July to 31st August at the Limetree Gallery Bristol.)