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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)

Upcoming Exhibitions 2023

Coming up early this year are two exciting exhibitions taking place in Edinburgh …

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.

Exhibition. 17th February to  31st March. The Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh.

7pm, 17th February: Panel discussion 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).

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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

Ardnamurchan in May. New series …

Above – Silver Walk, Ardnamurchan. Oil on 34 by 24 inch wood. Rose Strang 2022.

This painting is the first in a series I’m creating for an exhibition which launches 12th June at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan. The show will feature work by myself and landscape artist Jim Wright.

It’s such a pleasure to create a series for the Resipole as it means I get the chance to travel up to Ardnamurchan for inspiration. It’s a beautuful part of Scotland, quite remote and unspoiled, though these days there are more visitors than when I first came, in 1992.

I was entranced by the ancient forest of birch and oak growing all the way down to the sea, and of course Castle Tioram, which featured in my Planet Narnia paintings inspired by the book Planet Narnia, and the cosmos as understood in the Medieval imagination.

I  wrote about the forests of Ardnamurch in 2018, exploring the idea of a community of trees and the discovery by scientist Suzanne Simmard that trees ‘talk’ or communicate as an eco-system, through mycelium – a complex root system of fungus that sends ‘signals’ from tree to tree.

Wandering through the forests of Ardnamurchan, you really feel the alive-ness of the forests here, many of which have been left untouched for hundreds of years. In the case of Ariundel oak forest in east Ardnamurchan, thousands of years!

So in this new series, I’m tackling a subject I’ve long wanted to paint – the Silver Walk near Castle Tioram. We went there a couple of weeks ago in early May, a time at which the forest is at its most vibrant I think. It was shimmeringly beautiful, luminous in fresh green leaves and the seas reflecting cerulean blue skies. Sometimes when I’m in a place like this I feel almost overwhelmed – my mind, emotions and senses being flooded with luminous colour. It felt idyllic too that it was warm enough to sit there in a T-shirt and paint some sketches!

I think my painting above is a good start, I want to keep it loose and light in feel to express the feeling of Ardnamurchan in May.

I’ll be posting the paintings as they’re created every couple of days. In the meantime, here are a few photos of us in Ardnamurchan this May! ..

Resipole Gallery

I’m delighted to be exhibiting again with the Resipole Gallery, one of Scotland’s most respected (and most remote!) galleries. I’ve sold many paintings there over the years and they are now showing my latest series, created this summer on the isle of Iona. It’s a delight to show in the same gallery as artists I’ve admired for many years including Anna King, Lottie Glob, and Kate Foster.

Here are the three paintings (below), and this link takes you to my page on the Resipole website where you can view or buy the paintings Resipole Gallery, Rose Strang

 

Resipole Studios and Gallery is situated on the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast and I’ve travelled there many times since the early 1990’s, most recently in 2019 when I attended an exhibition opening. The drive to Ardnamurchan is surely one of the most dramatic in Europe! Here are a few of my photos …

Painting The Living Mountain. Artist’s journal. Pt 1

In the next few weeks I’ll be posting an artist’s diary about creating a series of paintings for The Folio Society’s publication of The Living Mountain, by author Nan Shepherd.

Pt 2,

Pt 3

Pt 4

Pt 5

Pt 6

(The Folio Society edition of Nan Shephard’s The Living Mountain illustrated by Rose Strang and introduced by Robert Macfarlane is exclusively available at www.foliosociety.com)

Link to book …

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, published by the Folio Society 2021

Part One. The Living Mountain Commission

Rose Strang. Photo by Adam Brewster 2021

In December 2020, with the prospect of an indefinite lockdown stretching ahead, I received an uplifting email …

Sheri Gee, Artistic Director of The Folio Society, emailed to ask if I’d be interested in creating a series of paintings to accompany their publication of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. They were not yet decided she explained, but simply wanted to get a sense of my interest in the project. My first panicked thought was; ‘If they’re asking other artists right now I’d better respond to let them know!’ and immediately rang Sheri’s phone number.

Picking up on my enthusiasm, Sheri confirmed the panel’s decision after a few days by email; ‘It’s a big fat Yes!’ she wrote. My partner Adam reached in to the fridge which contained an unopened bottle of Cava, and poured two celebratory glasses.

This commission meant a lot to me – far more meaningful than any artist’s painting award. When I first read The Living Mountain (in 2014, a year before Nan Shepherd’s portrait appeared on the Scottish £5) I remember feeling a thrill of recognition – her way of seeing felt somehow familiar to me. I expect many creative-minded people feel similarly when reading The Living Mountain.

Almost every page has vividly-written descriptions that blossom in the reader’s imagination. It became obvious to me, as I read the book, that Nan observed like an artist – that she spent a lot of time looking. Sometimes pragmatically – to assess terrain for example, but more often she gazed at length to observe the effect of the mountain on her mind and senses. Nan immersed herself wholly in the experience of the Cairngorms. Perhaps this is why the book has become so iconic. It’s obviously more than a description of mountain climbing. The holistic nature of her exploration seems to chime particularly with our times. I’m sure it would have equally in her own time, had people paid more attention.

I’d been inspired by Nan’s book in 2014, and I’d thought then of walking the Cairngorms to create a series of paintings, but life had thrown up other plans and projects. On receiving the news in 2020 that I was to be commissioned  by the Folio Society I knew that somehow, despite lockdown restrictions, I had to get to the Cairngorms. I also wanted to explore Nan’s life more deeply; what mattered to Nan, creatively – what might she have chosen if she’d sought an artist for her book?

It was around this time that Sheri Gee contacted me to ask if I’d like to meet Erlend Clouston (the Literary Executor of Nan Shepherd’s Estate). As it happened Erlend also lived in Edinburgh. I replied of course I’d love to meet him. Erlend and I arranged to meet up and it proved to be more than informative; I gained a real sense of the sort of person Nan was, given that she part-raised Erlend in a sense. More than that, I felt my approach as an artist was affirmed by him, or in other words – I got the go-ahead to do my thing!

Coming up: Part Two: Erlend Clouston on his friendship with Nan Shepherd.

(In progress). Ardban Waves, Evening. Mixed media on 17x11" wood. Rose Strang 2020

Psalms and the Sea

Above  – paintings in progress for the upcoming exhibition at the Limetree gallery, Bristol. 31st October.

This is a new series for the Limtetree, which I started while on holiday last week in the Applecross Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland.

Thanks to the ever-changing west coast weather, the sea changes its mood constantly, but I’ve never seen a white rainbow before! (see photo below). The cottage we stayed in is a forty minute walk from the road, so you have to take all your food, equipment and bedding on your back. It’s part of the charm of staying here, but we prepared ourselves for our arrival by taking more walks up Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat for a few weeks beforehand – it definitely enhances the experience to be fit enough to explore a bit.

 

Applecross is reached by driving up the Bealach na Ba (the pass of the cows) which is always a pretty dramatic experience visually, more than that though, the journey up this single track road with few passing places seems to inspire the entire spectrum of human behaviour – it’s quite entertaining!

 

You can see traces, in the remains of cottages everywhere, attesting to the fact that these coasts were home to larger communities in the past, many of whom would have struggled in the years after the Highland Clearances. That history has been written about extensively so I won’t go into it here, except to say that it played into my response to the landscape to an extent, and will come in to the mood of my paintings. I sense that though these communities struggled, they loved the landscape and its many moods and it was part of their faith.

Applecross is an area of ancient Christian pilgrimage from the 7th century and traces of that past include a classic 7th century stone Celtic cross –  now housed in Edinburgh’s Museum of Scotland

My friend Donald (who organised the holiday as he’s been visiting the area for many years) played some Lewisian/Hebridean Psalm singing while we were in the cottage; it speaks of a tight-knit religious community, but also (to my imagination anyway) it evokes the ebb and flow of the changing sea. Here’s a video clip …

 

I’ll be adding to the paintings series here over the next few weeks, so if you like the look of any of the paintings and would like to reserve one before the exhibition, please contact the Limetree Gallery on this link – https://www.limetreegallery.com/contact/

Lastly, some more photos from our stay. Thanks again to Donald, Adam and Catherine for a lovely and hugely inspiring week!

 

 

Stormy Sea.Sold. 'Stormy Sea. Ardban'. Charcoal on 31x22" paper. Rose Strang 2019

Off to Wander …

Above, ‘Stormy Sea. Ardban’. Charcoal on 31×22″ paper. Rose Strang 2019.

‘Off to Wander’ is the title of  a book I received in the post yesterday …

'Off to Wander'. Mary McCormick

‘Off to Wander’. Mary McCormick

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Excerpt) 'Off to Wander'. Mary McCormick

(Excerpt) ‘Off to Wander’. Mary McCormick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Mary McCormick while on an artist’s residency on the Isle of Iona in Autumn 2018. I was very grateful for her grounded presence in the hostel, which attracted numerous interesting characters, not all easy to get along with! Mary decided to close her gardening business at the age of 68, to travel around the world on a shoestring budget. Iona was one of her last destinations before she returned to the US to find work conserving its depleted grasslands.

Her book is a real inspiration to me as I’m attempting to write a series of small books to accompany my paintings – it’s proving a challenge! Not the writing (which I enjoy) but the choices on what to keep in or out of the books, how much information, how formal or informal and so on.

I love the fragments of experience in Mary’s book and the non-linear style. Have a read of the small excerpt above which is a lovely example of Mary’s humour and meditative observations. If you’d like to buy a copy you can contact Mary McCormick via email on:

offtowander@swcp.com and if she has enough copies left she’ll post it out to you.

I’m off for a wander myself next week (with my partner Adam, my friend Donald, and sister, Catherine)  to the wonderful Applecross Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. We were there last year, during which time I painted a series for a gallery in Fortwilliam.

This year I’m painting a series of new works for the Limetree Gallery, Bristol. The exhibition opens 31st October and (lockdown restrictions willing) I’ll be traveling down there to meet people (one-to-one) who are interested in the paintings. I’m honoured to be showing alongside two artists whose work I admire: Anna King and Mhairi McGregor .

As always I’ll update painting progress from Applecross. In the meantime, here are some lovely pictures from our stay last year!

 

 

 

 

'Aberlady Dunes'. Mixed media on 30x30 inch wood panel. Rose Strang April 2020. (Private Commission, NFS).

New Commission – ‘Aberlady’

Above, my new commission, painted for a friend – Aberlady Dunes. Mixed media on 30×30 inch wood panel. Rose Strang April 2020. (Private Commission, NFS).

I wanted the feel of walking towards the sea through tufty marram grass, sunlight traveling towards you. There’s the sense of changing weather – a soft sky that might rain a little, or break up into glorious sunshine.

This image shows scale …

(To show scale)' Aberlady Dunes'. Mixed media on 30x30 inch wood panel. Rose Strang April 2020. (Private Commission, NFS).

(To show scale)’ Aberlady Dunes’. Mixed media on 30×30 inch wood panel. Rose Strang April 2020. (Private Commission, NFS).

Like many self employed artists, I’m thinking ahead to how I might sell work when this year’s exhibitions won’t be going ahead due to the Covid pandemic. I’d prefer to live by selling artworks, not by applying for Universal Credit.

Not only does it seem the government is not prepared for the millions of freelancers out there, I’d want to see those who need it most being the first recipients of benefits.

 

 

 

Who knows how long we’ll be in lockdown? I have time to paint so if you’d like a painting that captures your favourite landscape, feel free to commission me to paint something for you, whether it’s a few inches big, or up to several feet! I usually charge a third of the payment up front, then the rest when a client is happy with the work. Email me on rose.strang@gmail.com if you’d like to chat about a possible commission.

The photos below show some of the process of painting ‘Aberlady’.

Keep well folks! X

'Aberlady' in progress. Rose Strang 2020

1. ‘Aberlady’ in progress. Rose Strang 2020

2. 'Aberlady' in progress. Rose Strang 2020

2. ‘Aberlady’ in progress. Rose Strang 2020

3. 'Aberlady' in progress. Rose Strang 2020

3. ‘Aberlady’ in progress. Rose Strang 2020

4 'Aberlady' in progress. Rose Strang 2020

4 ‘Aberlady’ in progress. Rose Strang 2020

 

 

 

Project progress …

‘Aberlady. Winter Light’. Mixed media on 13×13 wood panel. Rose Strang 2020.

‘Aberlady Bay. Dusk’. Mixed media on 13×13 wood panel. Rose Strang 2020.

Above, today’s paintings of Aberlady – different moods and ways of painting the landscape.

I mentioned a while back that I’m taking things slower this year. I think I’ve maybe painted too busily these past few years, and it’s time to have a deeper think about the ideas that inspire me. It’s good to have a bit more time to contemplate and let projects grow more organically.

This year I’m working on three large paintings in response to the 7th century pilgrim’s route from the Isle of Iona to the isle of Lindisfarne, via Aberlady on the east coast of Scotland.

I’m collaborating with my partner Adam, who’s creating music and probably paintings too in response to the places and ideas. I’m creating a little video of each place, so eventually there will be a video showing footage of landscapes, music by Adam and paintings by myself.

I want to explore what pilgrimage meant in those days in contrast to now. We often talk about ‘mindfulness’ or the peace of solitude and retreat, but what is it really like to remain in solitude or silence for weeks on end? I know that I found it a challenge when I camped on Iona by myself for twenty one days in 2018. Part of that was physical challenge (slugs crawling up the tent, numerous over-friendly spiders that hitched a lift on my clothing whenever I entered the sleeping compartment, howling winds shaking the tent all night for the best part of twenty one days, also the sound of the Corncrake is really not pleasant to my ear!) but it also shook up my emotions. There were beautiful moments, but you have to be self-contained on such adventures; how you relate to people changes somehow.

My plan is to talk to some modern-day pilgrims; people who’ve immersed themselves in these landscapes of Iona and Lindisfarne in a spiritual or personal search for meaning. One of those people is a family friend called Jamie. Jamie was a monk for many years, he also lived on the Isle of Lindisfarne for a time, serving the community there as part of the Hilda and St Aidan Centre.

He took a deep commitment into his spiritual path, at one stage taking a long-term vow of silence to contemplate and, I suppose, face deeper questions about faith and commitment. (You can view an earlier post in which I interviewed Jamie here: The Healing Island).

I was delighted that Jamie recently commissioned me to paint a large-scale painting of Aberlady for his home. It will be an absolute pleasure to paint. I’ll be posting our interview on this blog later this year and it will be (I hope!) a more close and personal exploration of faith and healing, landscape and solitude.

Taking vows of silence, or seeking solitude in remote places is challenging. Recently I contacted a film producer and artist acquaintance to chat about all these ideas; landscape, creativity, healing, spirituality and pilgrimage past and present … and I’m excited about the results of our email conversation. It looks like this project may expand beyond my little video and three large paintings!

I’ll post more about this soon once a few more details are confirmed…

On to the big ‘Planets Series’ at last!

‘Sun, Planets Series’. Mixed media on 30×30″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2019.

I’m now working on the big ‘Planets Series’ paintings, and today completed the 30×30 inch version of ‘Sun, Planets Series’ (above).

I mentioned a while back that there will be a September exhibition, and I’ve been waiting to confirm a few details before announcing the exciting news that Michael Ward, author of the excellent Planet Narnia, the Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis will be giving a talk at the exhibition launch!

If you’ve read any of my blog recently you’ll know how inspired I’ve been by the book, which uncovers the hidden meaning behind the seven Chronicles of Narnia. In the book, Michael Ward describes the influence that Medieval Cosmology, and related myths surrounding each of the planets, had on the Narnia Chronicles, with each book corresponding to a particular planet as understood in the Medieval cosmos.

Nowhere in the Narnia Chronicles is this made explicit, but as Michael Ward explains, Lewis evokes the influence, atmosphere and associated qualities of each planet in the stories. It took someone as steeped in all of Lewis’s literary works to recognise Lewis’s particular understanding of Medieval mythology, also to recognise that C.S. Lewis was absolutely the sort of writer, and character, who would wish to keep this meaning hidden…

If you want to find out more, then keep your diary free for the 12th September 2019. The exhibition and accompanying talk by Michael Ward is being hosted by the Demarco Gallery at Summerhall, Edinburgh.

If you’re a C.S. Lewis aficionado you don’t want to miss it! I’ll be posting the rest of the Planets series at it emerges in the next two months.

Here’s the excerpt from Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (corresponding to the Sun) which I was thinking of when painting today …