Monthly Archives: March 2017

Changing landscapes

Sold. ‘Viridian (Sussex Weald)’. Acrylic on 20×16″ canvas. 2014

Paintings from my Gloucestershire landscape series will be on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery in Bristol in the next month or so, they’re being framed there at the moment so I’ll update on that soon. (The series can be viewed from ‘Gallery’ in the menu above).

In the meantime, the next month will be taken up by house-related things and I’ll have no time to paint until mid-May when I’ll be staying for a while on Harris in the Outer Hebrides. So in the meantime I’m keeping my imagination fired up with some inspirational landscape-related books …

At the moment I’m reading To the River by the wonderful author Olivia Laing, in which she explores the landscape and literature of Sussex near Lewes, including the many authors who lived or worked there, in particular Virginia Woolf.

House where my grandfather’s family lived in Stanmer

Though most of my work is inspired by Scottish landscape,  I also have an affinity with parts of the English landscape too, particularly the South Downs where my grandfather was born in a village called Stanmer near Lewes.

After art college, I lived in Brighton for a while in the 90s and walked across the entire length of the Downs bit-by-bit each weekend. I remember when I first arrived in Sussex I barely noticed the hills until I explored them, they looked small to my mountain-attuned eyes! But with familiarity I began to love the landscape – its plants, contours and the tangible sense of history in the formed and re-formed landscape, described so atmospherically in Laing’s To the River.

Her more recent novel The Lonely City was voted ‘Book of the year’ by the Observer, Guardian, Telegraph, New Statesman and Times Literary Supplement. I read it a couple of months ago and found myself mesmerised by her prose. I wouldn’t describe it simply as poetic or descriptive, it’s imaginative, philosophical, intimate, at times revelatory, also brilliantly researched.

To the River is equally evocative, transporting me back to the dreamlike landscape I experienced in this part of England in June. (I’ve included here some of my photos from the time, and excerpts from Laing’s book). The landscape feels utterly different from anywhere in Scotland; deep chalk beds, created by the remains of creatures from an ancient sea, form rolling turf-covered hills that were once covered in ancient forest.

This ancient seabed originally formed a dome from the south coast to the Thames, which was worn away by rain and rivers to form the Weald (from the ancient German word ‘Wold’ meaning forest most likely) between the south and north downs – the remains of the original chalk dome.

Walking for miles over the downs in summer feels almost like a desert at mid-day. It’s the blinding sun, bouncing off white chalk and short turfy grass that makes clambering down the scarp slope (the chalky steep hillsides that form the edge of the downs) into the weald such a contrast. There’s a feeling of being immersed in damp, dense green foliage, also the scent of mud and river-beds. It feels somehow secretive or mysterious after the exposure of  sun-baked hills.

Water seeps through the downs – about 500 meters of chalk – to emerge at the foot of the scarp slope at the edge of the weald where it forms streams then rivers. When you discover the source of one of these streams through a tangle of bushes the water is freezing, also pure (though that’s because it’s taken maybe decades to filter through and it’s water from the past, new farming methods might change the water purity in years to come).








I have distinct memories too of discovering the many small ancient churches often built close to Yew trees (probably to negate the earlier pagan use of these sites!) the scent of damp stone, incense, ancient wood and the coolness of thick-walled interiors after the  heat outside.

Sometimes you might see the remains of a wall painting dating back to Norman times; a reminder of past times when England was in upheaval, and faced a change of rule, as it does again today.

Which brings me to politics! This is a personal art blog, but just as art is central to my life so is politics – not least the expression of individual cultures, or protection of landscape and environment. Here in Scotland it’s increasingly likely we’ll take a different path towards independence which I welcome wholeheartedly, but I feel for those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who face change they didn’t vote for. Also for many leave voters the Brexit process appears to have been hijacked towards an austere agenda that threatens to undermine devolution across the UK as a whole.

Each part of the British Isles is wonderfully unique with its own shared experience, culture and expression. I hope people across the UK are ready to defend their right to autonomy, because there’s no doubt in my mind that the UK’s constitution and values are going to be altered to suit the current Tory agenda. This country must seem to some outsiders to be increasingly intolerant, undemocratic, unwelcoming, uncaring towards its own people, and especially towards people who are vulnerable through illness or misfortune. Still, we’re not in Trump-land, as yet! And nothing can alter the fact this is a country of beautiful, inspiring landscape, art, music, literature and imagination, incredibly varied for a small country.

The landscape of Sussex is linked in my imagination to Vaughan Williams (though he was born in Gloucestershire) probably because the first time I heard a live performance of The Sea Symphony was in Arundel cathedral. To me nothing evokes the green, mysterious atmosphere of the weald so expressively as William’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (except perhaps Laing’s To the River) so I’ll end this meandering post on that note …


Art sales

Sold. ‘East – Harbour’. Mixed media on 40×40″ redwood panel.

Sold. ‘West – Singing Sands’. Mixed media on 40×40″ redwood panel.

It’s been a good week for art sales! I’m delighted that two of my largest works – East – Harbour and West -Singing Sands (above) have sold on Also two paintings from the Harbours series, and a new commission of Elie Bay (viewable in yesterday’s post).

Artwork prices are the same whether through me, a gallery or an online arts site. If I sell directly I don’t pay gallery commission, but selling through galleries has the advantage of publicity and raising the profile of my work. It evens out in the end!

Sometimes galleries and arts websites will negotiate – for example the buyer of East and West was given a 20% discount since he bought two, so it’s always worth asking. In the end he paid around $3500 including shipping.

I’ve decided to indicate prices here on my blog (in ‘Gallery’ menu above). I think that galleries these days understand that artists sell in a variety of ways, due to internet sales, so in a sense it’s reassurance for them too that my prices are consistent.

So viewers here will now see which works have sold or are available in my gallery, but limited edition prints of my original paintings are also usually available (I always have paintings professionally scanned for high quality signed prints in editions of 25). I’ll also indicate if some paintings are earmarked for an exhibition, so visitors know they’ll be available at upcoming exhibitions.

Thoughts on people and culture …

‘Damascus Rose 3’. Mixed media on 36×36″ wood panel

My recent article about creative exploration of the way we view a people and its culture was published on Bella Caledonia today, link –

It’s great to add my voice to the creatives who contribute to Bella Caledonia –  an online publication that was launched in 2007 by Mike Small and Kevin Williamson (now also a supplement as part of The National).

It became hugely popular in the run up to 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, offering an alternative to mainstream media, and an interesting mix of in-depth opinion and culture alongside politics.

They increasingly encourage contributions from a variety of thinkers and creatives –  and my article coincides with a general interest in exploring ideas of identity and nation; a subject that has recently dominated headlines, most recently with Melanie Philips’ controversial (and inexplicable!) Times article which offered up some suspect ideas on what constitutes a nation. (I’d link to it but there’s a Times paywall – you can explore Bella’s response here

I’ve always been resistant to art that coincides with a certain political stance or party, and still am – my recent series was a visceral and emotional response to the situation in Syria, also my attempt at a creative take on the way propaganda influences our view of a nation, or a people and their culture. Ultimately though, the inspiration is landscape for me creatively, and I can’t wait for the upcoming trip to the Isle of Harris in May – peace and inspiration beckon!


Damasus rose 3 (in progress)

In progress (Damascus 3)

More work on Damascus 3 today.

Also, Happy International Women’s Day! Here’s an excerpt from the excellent report by Art Finder (I’ve sold a few pieces there myself)  which highlights the inequality of income and influence between women and men in the arts …

“There are many industries where women
are paid less than men for the same work.
The current gender pay gap in the UK is
13.9%1 and in the US it’s 20%2. But one of
the reasons this campaign feels so necessary
is that the differences in the high-end
art world are not to the tune of 10% or

Just one out of the top 100 lots sold at
auction in 2015 was a work by a woman. In
2004, when MoMA opened its new building,
with a reinstallation of the permanent
collection spanning the years 1880 to
1970, of the 410 works on display in the
fourth- and fifth-floor galleries, only 16
works (that’s 4%) were by women. By April
2015, still only 7% of the works on display were by women.”

Have a look at the full report on the link below, where you can also pledge your support to the campaign (no money asked!) …



The rose of all the world

Painting in progress. Damascus Rose 3

Painting in progress. Damascus Rose 3. 36×36 inches on wood panel

Above – painting in progress, this is the third and last in the Damascus Rose series. Tomorrow when this blue base is dry I’ll be painting hundreds of roses rising into the sky, viewed slightly from above probably.

I’ve been musing on the symbology of flowers today, the many flowers that have been attached or appropriated to causes. I’m thinking for example of the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘little white rose’:

The rose of all the world is not for me

I want for my part

Only the little white rose of Scotland

That smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart

The little white rose was first adopted by Jacobites during the ’45 rebellion. A few years ago, former First Minister Alex Salmond suggested it might be a rose ‘for all Scotland’ – appropriating it as a symbol for anyone who lives in Scotland whatever their background or beliefs.

I began the Damascus series of paintings when I heard that the Damascus rose was no longer in production, due to the war in Syria, so for me this became a way to explore a difficult subject that I couldn’t claim to understand on a personal level, only as an observer, albeit a fellow human witnessing the suffering of ordinary people in Syria through my computer screen.

The rose seemed an appropriate symbol for me to explore; it often features in Middle Eastern poetry as a symbol of love, it has done for centuries and up to the present, as in this moving poem by Kurdish poet Bejan Matur, called ‘Peaceful morning’ …

A time before time
A morning of peace
Of roses
And fountains.
A welcoming
Of the creatures
Of the latecomer
Rescued from the hand of sleep
In the dappled dawn.
So arms
Moved away from a statue’s body
And found a human.
What belonged
Far more than words
Was love.

'Damascus Rose 1'. Acrylic on 36x36" wood panel

‘Damascus Rose 1’. Acrylic on 36×36″ wood panel

The rose of Damascus is the linking theme in my three works; first the rose of Middle Eastern visual art, in designs we’re familiar with, on tiles and mosques, adopted into western designs too. I painted these conventionally across the wood panel, then scraped this back to ‘age’ it, then pretty impulsively scrawled over this the deep blue and red roses on the left, graffiti-like, perhaps to suggest a kind of protest, or survival of love and creativity amidst cruelty (several lovingly designed sacred mosques were blown up during attacks on Aleppo and Damascus, citizens almost immediately began to rebuild, just as Bosnians did with the Mostar bridge, decades ago).

The second painting has an underlay of rose madder (or alazarin crimson) the predominant p1140203blue-toned rose-red I used for the previous painting. I blocked out the pattern (based on a map of Damascus from above) in tape, then covered the painting in thick bitumen-like black mixed with salt. When the tape was pulled off the rose tones were revealed – intended as a sort of glow underlying destruction. (some of the most ancient streets in Damascus proved the best cover for residents under attack, as these streets were so narrow and deep).






The third painting is taking shape, so I’m not quite sure how it will look, or exactly why I’ve chosen to paint roses rising into the sky, perhaps it evokes the idea of survival, even after death and destruction.

Returning to MacDiarmid’s Little White Rose, it was written (I think) in the 1920’s, when MacDiarmid was a supporter of Scottish Independence, but things have changed radically in Scotland since then; the area of Edinburgh I grew up in, Leith (where I live now, having lived all over the UK and occasionally abroad) is still often the first port of call for new immigrants – it’s affordable and central, predominantly working class with a long history of newcomers and settlers. When I was growing up here I witnessed an amount of racism against the Chinese and South Asian communities (the WW2 generation will no doubt remember racism against the first generations of the Italian community to arrive in Leith and Portobello further along the coast).

I’ve watched Leith change for the better over the years though, most radically as a result of the inclusive and democratic approach of the contemporary movement for Scottish independence, not just the approach led by the SNP but also among grass roots groups, for example ‘Scots Asians for Yes‘ ‘Women for Independence‘, Scots English for Yes‘, and broad groups or organisations such as Common Weal and the artist-led National Collective.

We look outwards now. So while the little white rose is dear to my heart,  we are all connected. To end this post – a poem by The 12th century Muslim Andalucian poet Muhyyeddin Ibn Arabi who wrote these lines before he died in 1240:

My heart has become capable of every form: it is a
pasture for gazelles and a convent for
Christian monks,
And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and
the tables of the Tora and the
book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love, whichever way his camels take.

Exhibition – Canalscapes and the Severn

'Severn 3'. Mixed media on 14x11" wood panel

‘Severn 3’. Mixed media on 14×11″ wood panel

The canalscapes of Gloucestershire and the River Severn series will be on their way down to the Lime Tree Gallery in Bristol next week, then they’ll make a decision on how and when they’ll will be shown.

The Limetree is an excellent gallery, thriving in these tricky times with a busy programme within the gallery, involvement in art fairs throughout the UK and regular visits around the country to research the contemporary painting scene. They focus quite often on Scottish landscape painting or art, so it’s maybe unusual to show work by a Scottish artist of the Gloucestershire area. Hopefully at some point down the line they’ll consider some larger works, either of the Hebrides (which I’ll be painting until the end of 2017 with two series) or more of the Severn – the feeling of space (and what I found to be an odd combination of danger and tranquility) would be well suited to a larger canvas or wood panel.

I did a quick poll among Facebook friends of their favourites, so here’s the series in order of favourite first! …

'Severn 3'. Mixed media on 14x11" wood panel

‘Severn 3’. Mixed media on 14×11″ wood panel

'Severn 1'. Acrylic on 14x11" wood panel

‘Severn 1’. Acrylic on 14×11″ wood panel















'Canalscapes 3'. Acrylic on 14x11" wood panel

‘Canalscapes 3’. Acrylic on 14×11″ wood panel









'Canalscapes 5'. Acrylic on 14x12" wood panel

‘Canalscapes 5’. Acrylic on 14×12″ wood panel

'Canalscapes 1'. Acrylic on 14x11" wood panel

‘Canalscapes 1’. Acrylic on 14×11″ wood panel







'Canalscapes 2'. Acrylic on 14x11" wood panel

‘Canalscapes 2’. Acrylic on 14×11″ wood panel
















'Canalscapes 6'. Mixed media on 11x12" wood panel

‘Canalscapes 6’. Mixed media on 11×12″ wood panel









'Canalscapes 4 '. Acrylic on 14x11" wood panel

‘Canalscapes 4 ‘. Acrylic on 14×11″ wood panel







'Severn 2'. Mixed media on 14x11" wood panel

‘Severn 2’. Mixed media on 14×11″ wood panel

'Severn 4'. Mixed media on 14x11" wood panel

‘Severn 4’. Mixed media on 14×11″ wood panel