Tag Archives: scottish art

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

Painting The Living Mountain. Artist’s journal. Final part.

(Above: Signing copies of The Living Mountain. Photo Adam Brewster)

Pt 1: Here

Pt 2: Here

Pt 3: Here

Pt 4: Here

Pt 5: Here

This is the final part of my artist’s diary series about creating paintings for The Folio Society’s publication of The Living Mountain, by author Nan Shepherd.

(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

Pt 6: Dreaming a response

The world of mystery, or the spiritual, is subtly touched on by Nan. With But did I dream that roe? I explored a more mystic experience of Nan’s Living Mountain. This image, and title quote, came from the chapter entitled ‘Sleep’.

A few of my paintings were on rough wood which Adam had cut up after removing some shelves from a kitchen cupboard. The wood was ideal – textured and roughened with age, from the Victorian era when our tenement flat in Edinburgh’s Leith area was built. When painting it I allowed the grainy wood texture to show through. I used oils directly on to wood, with a swathe of solvent diluted Mars black. It has a density in comparison to Lamp Black oil paint and, unlike acrylic black, it dries to a lovely matt surface. Given a day or so to dry, you can scratch through to the wood or surface below which gives a good sharp calligraphic edge to the drawing, similar to line-making in the etching process.

The swathe of black oil paint with a large brush had created three peaks suggesting exaggerated mountain peaks. With the end of a plastic vitamin pill container dipped in white oil paint I created a simple moon. After dripping small droplets of purply lilac onto the black, I suggested the fire-lit smoke of a smouldering fire to the bottom right corner, then etched in the outline of a roe deer. I left it at that, knowing the image should be as simple as possible. I hoped it would say a little about the feeling of the Highlands on a moonlit night. Scotland’s culture is rich with otherworldly stories and myths. The symbology of deer, more often stags, has a central place or role in our mythical past, going far back into pre-history.

Recently I visited Kilmartin Glen, on the west coast of Scotland thirty miles south of the town of Oban. Kilmartin Glen has more pre-historic man-made marks than any other place in Scotland. There are numerous standing stones and remains of ancient burial cairns or ‘cists’ are they’re called. Even more intriguing are the mysterious ‘cup and ring’ marks that date from around five thousand years ago. No one knows what they were for, though there are literally hundreds of theories. Seen in real life, these marks are utterly strange. We sat and gazed on the cup and ring marks at Ormaig for an hour or so. I sprinkled purple flowers into them, poured water into them, photographed them and filmed them. I’d filled them with flowers and water to enhance the patterns and while this did enhance their strange beauty I was of course none the wiser as to their purpose!

kilmartin

Cup and Ring marks at Ormaig, Kilmartin (photo Rose Strang 2021)

Earlier this year about spring 2021, an amateur archaeologist called Hamish Fenton climbed into one of the burial cairns at Dunchraigaig in Kilmartin and shined his torch on to the underside of the slab that covered the cist. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the outline of an antlered deer. While these are still being investigated, it’s believed that these stag drawings, if as old as they’re believed to be, are in fact the earliest known pre-historic drawings in Scotland. Link

Professional archaeologists believe them to be about four to five thousand years old and, while there are other similar depictions of deer, none are as anatomically accurate and detailed as those discovered by Hamish Fenton. Celtic myths describe ordinary people falling asleep then waking in the land of Tír na nÓg – a land of the ever young, inhabited by faeries, or otherworldly folk who can turn into deer at will. The very dreamlike passage of Nan’s hazy memory of seeing  a roe deer while half asleep suggests those myths:

My one October night without a roof was bland as silk, with a late moon rising in the small hours and the mountains fluid as loch water under a silken dawn: a night of the purest witchery, to make one credit all the tales of glamourie that Scotland tries so hard to refute and cannot.

It’s a subject she explores in her works of fiction with subtlety, enchanting the reader with descriptions that can only come from someone immersed in a landscape familiar to her.

The toughest painting of this commission was the final one. I was so moved by the final passages of The Living Mountain where Nan describes the way landscape has been changed by her experience; ‘… everything became good to me’.

I chose that as the title of my last work for the book, though I felt I’d need another year to experiment with ways to depict it. In the end, I took a painting I’d started, which I felt ‘said’ something about the unknown or ungraspable aspects of the mountain and added small details which added to a sense of scale.

I partly had in mind Nan’s description of falling in love with the Cairngorms while on holiday as a girl, which she describes in the final chapter; ‘Being’:

So I have found what I set out to find. I set out on my journey in pure love. it began in childhood, when the stormy violet of a gully on the back of Sgoran Dubh, at which I used to gaze from a shoulder of the Monadhliaths, haunted my dreams. That gully, with its floating, it’s almost tangible ultramarine, thirled me for life to the mountain.

There are two other suggestions of a living creature in the painting that I’ll let viewers discover for themselves – they’re subtle but intentional. Having sent off the series to Sheri Gee, I was none the wiser as to how they perceived the paintings. It’s a strange fact that someone’s response can completely change my feeling about a painting I’ve created. I must be easily influenced sometimes, as there are paintings I’ve created which don’t please me at all, until someone comes along and says ‘I love this!’ On the other hand, there are paintings I’ve created that I think capture the essence of something I’ve struggled with for years – but then those paintings get almost zero reaction!

I knew that the Folio Society couldn’t wax lyrical about the paintings even if they did like them, since they had to be perused and approved of by a panel. As it happened, the panel included Robert MacFarlane, who was to write the introduction to the book (as he has for previous publications of the Living Mountain).

Sheri, who had been wonderfully supportive of the creative process, was kind enough to send me a preview of the part of Robert MacFarlane’s introduction that described his response to my paintings, and I was very touched by his words. In fact to be truthful I was awe-inspired by his capacity to read exactly into the intentions I’d had for several of the paintings; namely and in particular Flowing from granite and I like the unpath best.

Needless to say it was a boost to my artistic confidence about the series, which I’d found a challenge – The Living Mountain being a book for which I had profound respect.

It inspired me to immediately order a copy of Robert’s latest book; Underland. I had some years earlier read The Wild Places, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also had a beautiful hardback copy of The Lost Spells, written by MacFarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris’s magical watercolours, which I’d received as a gift from my cousin Christine who knew I’d enjoy Robert’s work as much as she had. Apart from these though, I felt remiss in knowledge of his more recent work.

By this time, the Living Mountain commission had been completed for at least a month. It was now a case of simply waiting for the October publication. I was tackling a new painting commission about the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk and MacFarlane’s Underland played into my imagination as I attempted to capture the atmosphere of that landscape. The book’s observations on what we choose to bury, and why, played into my understanding of the treasure buried at Sutton Hoo. Or more accurately the beliefs and emotions that may have led them to bury their dead and their belongings in the way they did. Reading Underland, it was also very clear that Robert MacFarlane’s entire approach to life is intensely observed – he’d merely turned his X-ray mind towards my paintings!

It’s a grand thing to get leave to live.

The quote above is from Nan Shepherd’s The Quarry Wood. Geordie, a farmer, and father of the novel’s heroine Martha, remarks after killing a hen; ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’, refering also to the times in which the novel was set – during WW2.

Painting this series was a blessing for me during lockdown, I felt privileged to have a meaningful project to throw myself into when so many others had their lives turned upside down – an experience that left many people demotivated, isolated or depressed, not to mention worried about income. I wondered at times how Nan Shepherd might have dealt with a pandemic. I’m pretty sure she’d have been out in the mountains, checking on folks like ‘Big Mary’, offering help.

The Folio Society kindly sent me several copies of the complete book. Seeing my own paintings in this beautiful publication of The Living Mountain is a moment to savour indeed. From my fascination as a child with the illustrations of Charles Folkyard in The Princes and The Goblin by George MacDonald, to illustrating Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. Both authors grew up up in the countryside of Aberdeenshire, for both authors landscape plays a profoundly meaningful role in their world view.

When I place Flowing from granite side by side next to Folkyard’s illustration of Irene and Curdie in the mountains, I do get the feel of something similar, albeit in very different styles!

Working on these paintings has been wonderful, and I’m grateful to Sheri Gee and all at the Folio Society for choosing my work and presenting it perfectly, to Erlend Clouston for his friendly support and everything I learned about Nan, and to Robert MacFarlane for his insightful words about the paintings; all sincere in their dedication to the legacy and inspiration of Nan Shepherd. It’s an honour to be part of that.

Rose Strang December 2021

'Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull'. Oil on 20x20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021

Loch na Keal on the Isle of Mull

Above: The Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021. (please contact the Limetree Gallery if you’re interested in the painting above or have any questions about buying it, on this link Limetree Gallery)

In the past week or so I was busy on a private commission of paintings of Loch na Keal on the beautiful Isle of Mull. This was for someone who wanted two paintings showing the changing light and weather of Loch na Keal. He wanted particular views – of the dramatic cliffs of Griburn and Eorsa Island on the loch – views very familiar to his wife, for whose birthday the paintings were commissioned.

‘Changing Weather, Loch Na Keal’. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021
‘Autumn Light Over Loch Na Keal’. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021
‘Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull’. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021

I was very touched by his care in describing the features he wanted to include and the fact his wife particularly enjoyed the changing clouds and colours of the sky. I decided to paint three views so he would have a choice of two from those. He decided on Autumn Light Over Loch Na Keal and Changing Weather, Loch Na Keal which I do agree make a lovely pair of paintings, showing the colours of autumn and clouds forming and re-forming over the loch.

The remaining painting The Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull is, I think, a more dramatic view. It gives a sense of approaching land from a boat, which I always find very compelling since it’s a view you’d never see other than from a boat. It’s now available from the Limetree Gallery. You can contact them on the link above if you’re interested in the painting or have any questions about it.

Thanks very much to John for this lovely commission. He tells me that his wife Sarah loves the paintings, which is music to my ears. What a beautiful place to live, and to paint!

You can view the Limetree Exhibition Brochure on this link ..

Winter Miniatures in progress …

Above – walking through city snow (I hope that’s what it looks like!)

Below – today’s paintings for the Winter Miniatures exhibition and open studio day, which launches Sunday 8th December 2pm.

All details Here

I took photos of these in electric light, so it doesn’t show colours quite accurately. Winter evenings are such a pain for painting and photography! I’ll be uploading them in higher quality tomorrow.

And another new commission

(Private Commission). ‘October Evening. Isle of Iona’. Mixed media on 7×7″ wood. Rose Strang 2019

This commission was for a friend from Stoke-on-Trent who wanted something for her partner’s birthday. The buyer wanted something that spoke of October light, she’d liked my previous paintings of the Isle of Iona from Autumn last year. Her partner was someone I’d worked with on a hospital arts project in 2007 and it was a pleasure to create this painting for him as he’d been a great guy to work with!

Below, my other recent commission for a friend in the US, you can read more about that Here

(Private commission). ‘Ardban Light’. Mixed media on 23×16 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2019

Exhibitions and available paintings 2018

‘Cerulean Sea, Isle of Iona’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2018 £385

Here’s a round-up of my available paintings plus info on the galleries where you can find them…

Limetree Gallery – Website

*(gallery closes from 23rd to 29th Dec. Contact gallery on website link with any queries)

 

 

The Limetree (owned by Sue Dean and Stephen Edwards) specialises in contemporary Fine Art and Glass and holds regular exhibitions throughout the year. They have two galleries: one in the heart of Bristol city and the other in Long Melford, Suffolk.

They have a particular love of contemporary Scottish artists, and always have a varied selection of their art on show. Ranging from traditional to modern, figurative to abstract, each exhibition is complemented by a selection of individual glass pieces from Britain and Sweden.

Open from 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday, or by appointment.

My artist’s pages on the Limetree website – Paintings

Works on show at the Limetree:

Resipole Gallery – Website

Resipole Studios is an award-winning fine art gallery with on-site artist studios, located on the West Coast of Scotland.

 

The Resipole hosts an exciting annual programme of exhibitions and workshops of Scottish contemporary art that is both emerging and established. The gallery was launched in 2004 by Andrew Sinclair after a two-year renovation of an agricultural byre.

Since its launch, Resipole Studios continues to present work by artists of many disciplines, with Scotland as their key focus. With many award-winning artists on its roster, the gallery is regarded as one of Scotland’s leading contemporary art spaces and, consequently, in 2016 was selected to show work by the late, American abstract-expressionist, Jon Schueler to mark the centenary of his birth.

My artist’s page on the Resipole website – Paintings

Works on show at the Resipole ..

Morningside Gallery – Website

The Morningside Gallery (owned by Eileadh Swan) specialises in contemporary art and works with emerging and established artists.

My paintings will be showing as part of their ‘Small Works’ show, which launches 9th January 2019. (Price information will be available then)

Works on show at the Morningside Gallery from January 9th ..

Society of Scottish Artists

Photo – at the launch of 2018’s SSA Annual Open Exhibition

It was really lovely to be selected, along with 16 other artists,  as a Professional Member of the SSA recently.

The SSA (Society of Scottish Artists) is an artist-led organisation which holds an annual exhibition every year at the the RSA.

 

 

 

Artists are selected for; actively practising professionally within one or more branches of the visual arts and are selected in recognition of their talent and dedication in this field. 

It means I can add ‘SSA’ to the end of my name, which is nice! The SSA is a friendly, supportive organisation, run by its president, award-winning artist Sharon Quigley and a team of artists selected each year. Its honorary President is Richard Demarco CBE.

In addition to the SSA Annual Open, they organise a year-round programme of national and international exhibitions, also events, residencies and workshops.

If you’re interested, here’s a brief history of the SSA (copied from SSA website)  …

“The Society of Scottish Artists was founded in 1891, and held its first Annual Exhibition in the Royal Scottish Academy Gallery – then the Royal Institution. Its inaugural catalogue laid forth the SSA’s function as:

“… being formed with a view to holding an Annual Exhibition in Edinburgh, to give inducement to the younger Artists to produce more important and original works by providing hanging space for such works. The opportunity has also been taken to obtain for the Society’s Exhibition examples of all Schools of Modern Art from distinguished living Artists…”

The SSA and the members and government of the RSA enjoyed an uneasy relationship during the early years of the SSA’s existence. The SSA was seen as a “rebellious” and “progressive” group, while the RSA represented the more traditional and conservative stance. After many appeals, however, including some to the Queen and the House of Commons, the SSA secured the use of the RSA galleries for its Annual Exhibition from 1902.

There are few Scottish artists of note who have not, at one time or another, been involved with the SSA, with Presidents including James Cadenhead, Stanley Cursiter, William McTaggart, Edward Gage, George Wyllie and Barbara Rae. The roll call of members and exhibitors is also impressive, including –The Glasgow Boys (Guthrie, McGregor, Walton, Hornel and Roche), the Scottish Colourists (Cadell and Peploe), John Duncan, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and William McTaggart to name but a few.

The SSA also strove to represent the more “adventurous” work being done abroad and so exhibitions included the work of the Post Impressionists, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh in 1913 and, in the same year, the Futurist, Gino Severini showed work. In 1922 the Sociey presented work by Picasso, Daumier, Degas and Forain. In 1931, the Society showed, for the first time in the UK, twelve canvases by the then highly controversial Edvard Munch who went on to become a member of the Society.

In 1934 the SSA showed a selection of work by international living artists including Paul Klee. At this exhibition, the Scottish National Gallery bought his “Approaching Snowstorm“, which is now on show in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Prices for work then ranged from £35 to £350, with a head in pastel by Picasso costing £210, while framed etchings by Matisse, Picasso and Salvador Dali were available for £5 each.

The SSA has continued in this vein to the present day, always willing to show the controversial, the unique and the most adventurous and challenging work available. Its network of artist members and contacts throughout the world gives it access to some of the most interesting work by contemporary artists, which it endeavours to bring to a Scottish public.

A fully illustrated history of the Society of Scottish Artists can be found in the book, published by the Society in its centenary year, “The First Hundred Years“. This book is available from the Society. Please CONTACT US for further details.”

(From SSA website – http://www.s-s-a.org

Edinburgh in the Snow (and a brief history of Edinburgh!)

Not for sale. Edinburgh Snow (High Street and Arthur’s Seat from Regent Road). Mixed media on 22×16 inch found wood panel. Rose Strang 2018

Today’s finished painting of Edinburgh in the snow. I’ll be submitting this for competition next month, wish it luck!

The view is from Regent Road looking across to Salisbury Crags on Arthur’s Seat. In the foreground you can see buildings of the Royal MIle obscured by snow.

I’ve deliberately kept it vague since that’s how it appears as you walk into a snow blizzard along Regent Road, which is underneath Calton Hill halfway down to the valley of the Royal Mile or High Street (my photo below from a few weeks ago) …

Walking along Regent Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also wanted to get across the ‘feel’ of the Old Town, with its medieval buildings and wood timbers, hence the exposed wood in the painting and roughened edges, blurring old and modern buildings. Some close-up details below showing texture …

 

 

 

Edinburgh has just been voted the most popular tourist destination in the UK, and living here can make us a bit blasé about the features that make the city so unique and appealing, but the recent snow seemed to bring everyone out of winter hibernation. Arthur’s Seat was thronging with folks enjoying the snow – kids on sledges, a plethora of snowpeople! I slid about in the snow with my pal Donald, and it was great to see and experience…

 

 

And although I felt thwarted in my plans to get to the Cairngorms this spring due to train cancellations, I ended up appreciating Edinburgh instead. It is truly beautiful in the snow, hence these recent paintings (I’m working on a couple more).

So for those of you who don’t know so much about Edinburgh, and in the spirit of internationalism (and let’s face it, without the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh would be a fairly boring place arts and people-wise, not-with-standing my dear Edinburgh family and friends!) I thought I’d include some brief words about Edinburgh’s history.

Briefly though, today I decided for the first time to check overall blog stats since 2013 and it turns out that visitors to this blog include folks from, in order of most views:

UK, US, Germany, France, Poland, Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland, Greece, Japan,  Brazil, Belgium, Russia, India, New Zealand, Denmark, Columbia, Portugal, Dominican Republic, South Korea, Singapore, Quatar,  Hong Kong, Austria, Norway, Mexico, Jordan, Serbia, Turkey, Romania, Brazil, Czech Republic, Finland, Chile, Pakistan,  Hungary, UAE, Croatia, Slovenia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, ,  Philippines, Malaysia, Luxenburg, Argentina, Taiwan, Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia, China, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Malta, Nigeria, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Albania, Panama, Vietnam and loads more going into vistor numbers under 50.

So, thank you to folks taking interest in an obscure Scottish painter’s blog!

Anyway, here we go with a condensed Edinburgh history (illustrated with my own photos) …

A condensed Edinburgh history …

Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket

Edinburgh’s dramatic landscape was formed by volcanic activity that took place between around 358 and 298 million years ago.

The view from Edinburgh in my painting above sits between two of Edinburgh’s extinct volcanos – Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. If my painting panned to the right you’d also see Edinburgh Castle on top of the volcanic plug that forms the base of the castle.

After volcanic activity ceased, the landscape was submerged under sea water. Sedimentary rock (formed by waves of sediment washed over the land by water over millions of years) then began to form the Salisbury Crags (the cliff seen in my painting and in photo to the right), which were gradually tilted up to their current dramatic angle as pressure eased after the ice age.

The ice-age sculpted Edinburgh’s landscape into the shape it retains to this day – for example the ‘spine’ that forms the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood House was formed by retreating glaciers dragging or depositing debris with them to create a trail behind each hill and mountain.

18th cent’ map. ‘Spine’ of the Royal Mile, castle on left, Holyrood Palace at the right, at the bottom of the hill. http://www.royal-mile.com/maps/royalmile18thc.

These rocky promontories must have had immediate appeal to early settlers as look-out spots;  almost all of the summits of Edinburgh’s volcanic hills reveal signs of early bronze age people.

Although I’ve been walking around Arthur’s Seat since I was a kid, the fact that I now live so close to it has inspired me to explore more, and I’m beginning to get an ‘eye’ (with the help of my archaeologist friend Sabine!) for Bronze-age remains (shapes or patterns in the land as opposed to actual buildings) not to mention spotting Edinburgh’s early sites of worship, healing or spiritual interest – such as wells; the traces of which can be found alongside later Christian religious buildings and sites (more on this in later blogs).

Edinburgh in twilight from Arthur’s Seat. The castle easily spotable on the horizon

If we’re thinking about a definitive beginning for Edinburgh though, it would clearly be the Castle Rock; easily defendable with its sheer basalt cliffs. It was called Dun Edin (‘dun’ means hill) and we know that there were settlers there from at least 850BC

As more people settled around the dun, or rock, the city would have grown in reputation as a stronghold or well-defended fort.

 

 

The castle itself (or the original building) was built from around the 12th century. To protect the growing city that began to grow along the ‘spine’ of the Royal Mile down to Holyrood Abbey, a wall (the Flodden Wall, remains of which can be seen today) was built around the city, and this was the catalyst for the distinct, tall buildings or tenements that lined the Royal Mile or High Street.

A charming, cleaned up ‘close’ in Edinburgh’s High street today

Builders built upwards, not outwards, because of the restricting wall. As centuries passed this created fairly unsavoury conditions (extremely unsavoury by today’s standards!). Packed into twelve storey tenements, Edinburgh’s effluent had nowhere to go and (readers from Edinburgh will groan with boredom at this point, having heard this story too many times) the oft-heard cry of gardez l’eau (pronounced GARRRDY LOO! with a strong Scottish accent!)  rang in the streets as residents chucked the contents of their chamber pots into the filthy cobbled streets below.

(Edinburgh had long-held connections with France, for many reasons, hence the familiarity with French language)

Old Edinburgh featured narrow closes between the closely packed buildings

Disease was rife, and no matter how posh you might be, you lived cheek-by-jowl with ordinary folks. On top of that, numerous open fires in such a small, over-inhabited space meant that the High Street was black with soot and smoke, hence Edinburgh’s nick-name of ‘auld reekie’ (old stinky).

This issue (for Edinburgh’s rich inhabitants anyway) was finally addressed when an architecture design competition was held in the mid 18th century and a young architect called James Craig won (I think he was in his early to mid-twenties at the time, I’m not fact-checking most of this but do correct me if I’m wrong!).

James Craig’s plan for the New Town

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

new town splendour

The plan was to create an entirely new area outside the High Street/Royal Mile, across the valley (which now contains Princes Street Gardens and Waverley train station) to the north of the old town, hence why this area of Georgian architecture is called ‘the New Town’ to this day.

All the filth that had accumulated in the Nor Loch (the loch or lake below and to the north of the Castle Rock) was dredged, this, and the detritus from building the new town, was used to form a bridge south to north from old town to new town.

This was called the Mound, and atop of this now sits two of Edinburgh’s most elegant buildings; Edinburgh’s National Art Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy of Arts (Stock photo above right, looking west along Princes Street).

Only the richest inhabitants of Edinburgh could afford this new luxury accommodation, so people in Edinburgh’s Old Town still had to muddle along with their chamber pots, and up to the 1970’s, the High Street was seen as a bit seedy. Nowadays, it’s the most distinct part of historic Edinburgh and the most popular tourist destination. It retains an extraordinary level of historical features, not disimilar to cities such as York, which was similarly ‘neglected’, thankfully, for the sake of history at least.

This brings us pretty close to the present day, but the18a and 1900’s were truly, literally, headier times to say the least. Maybe it was imbibing all that volcanic spring water, but Scotland’s Enlightenment (much of which was born from, or whirred around the hub of Edinburgh)  is rightly perceived as impressive for a wee, chilly country in the north (read more Here)

As a born and bred Edinburgher, thinking about the sheer magnitude, depth and breadth of invention, creativity and brain power of Edinburgh’s Enlightenment days brings a tear to my eye!

Yet, as I wander around the slopes of Arthur’s Seat, the voices I wish I knew more about are those of Edinburgh’s less vocal past; ordinary folks who held sacred vigil at the wells of Arthur’s Seat, long before the hand of organised (politicised) religion silenced their voices and beliefs. We only know what their thoughts and beliefs may have been because of the numerous court cases at the time of the Protestant Reformation …

That will be the subject of my next painting series; the wells and springs of Arthur’s Seat. I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but it’s a bit ambitious, I’ve been researching alot – there is much mystery to reveal (genuinely, I’ve discovered some interesting, possibly new information about those times) and so I have now postponed the exhibition and event to the 21st June.

St Anthony’s spring, Arthur’s Seat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s paintings

P1010463 P1010453 P1010466I acquired a few smaller canvases this weekend so decided to experiment today.

The painting on wood is on top of a painting of Moffat from last year which I didn’t like so ended up using as a pallete (why waste all those interesting colours I thought) so I’ve just enhanced it.

I’m quite happy with the mood of the larger square work – a sort of ‘gloaming’ or half light. They could all do with a bit more definition though so I’ll work on them tomorrow.

I can see various ideas emerging from the painting in the middle so will have a think..

50 Paintings of Eigg Series. No. 12

P1100601P1100604

Today’s painting is a misty bird’s-eye view of Sgorr an Fharaidh (the cliffs at Cleadale); the setting for an atmospheric sculpture of Sweeney (or Suibhne in Gaelic) by artist Trevor Leat, which I discovered on a twilit evening amongst the rocks at the foot of the cliffs.

 

P1090957

 

I was curious to know more about the stories and myths behind the character of Sweeney; described as a mad-man or bird-man, or denounced as mad then cursed and ostracised for his beliefs. I got in touch with Trevor, a former resident of Eigg, who now lives and works in Dumfriesshire, to ask about the background and inspiration to the sculpture…

 

 

 

Rose: Trevor, can you firstly tell me a little about your background as an artist and what you do?

Trevor: Well I trained as basketmaker years ago. Then began working on outdoor performance projects and theatre companies making large scale sculptures…often involving fire. This has continued to develop and my work now tends to be of more figurative creatures for private and public places

moongate n Trevor

R: What’s the background to the Sweeney project and can you tell me how you became involved?

T: I lived on Eigg for 10 years so when the Bothy Project started up there I was invited to an artist in residence.

 

R: So who was Sweeney and what are the myths and stories about him?

T: Sweeney was an Irish king around 6/7thC who fell out with a Christian monk who was trying to convert his subjects. As a result a curse was placed on him and for seven years he wandered naked in Ireland and Britain, roosting in trees and becoming birdlike. It’s suggested that he came to Eigg at some point. He eventually died a sad death, perhaps stabbed by a jealous sword or antler . He chanted an epic poem during his madness which survives and has been translated and interpreted.

sweeney on his throne

R: What does Sweeney represent to you, do you feel there’s a universal message in the myth or story?

T: I liked the image of the half bird, half man Sweeney. He was holding on to his pagan beliefs and this comes through in the tale of his wandering and the encounters he made on this journey.

R: What made you decide on the area at the foot of the cliffs in Cleadale?

T: Originally I planned to place him roosting in a tree but there aren’t many suitable on Eddie and Lucy’s croft. I climbed the hill at the back of the bothy to survey the possibilities and meanwhile sat the sculpture on the rocks there. He fitted perfectly on the stone there and it became his throne…fitting for a king!

R: Can you tell me a little about the process of making him?

T: Well, first I read up on the poem and got a feel for his tale. I made some sketches of him perching. There was a blackbird singing outside the bothy in the mornings and I decided a birds head would work for the sculpture. I welded up a simple steel rod armature and over this wove layers of peeled willow to give it form and movement . I had brought the willow with me and soaked it in the nearby burn to make it pliable. For the head I used some rough green willow to add a striking contrast to the naked white willow torso. Finally I sprayed the willow with linseed oil to give some protection from the Atlantic storms.

Sweeney's bothy, Eigg

Sweeney’s bothy, Eigg

R: What response do you hope viewers have when encountering Sweeney?

T: Well one of surprise and curiosity I hope. The setting is spectacular with the cliffs in front of you and the peaks of Rum behind. I hope they will hear some bird song too.

R: How was your artist’s residency on Eigg, and how did it feel to be back?

T: It was a great couple of weeks for me on Eigg. I had come over early for an island wedding, so much socialising during the first week. Then the bothy became a retreat for me, a haven. The weather was wild at times, gentle on others and Sweeney grew. It is such an amazing place to visit and for me a great opportunity to re-visit and reconnect with the place that I left 24 years ago

R: Can you tell me about any upcoming projects and where can we can see more of your work?

T: I have several sculpture commissions for this summer. I will be making a ‘warhorse’ at Inverewe Garden, Poolewe, in June and on the Wickerman for the music festival in Kirkudbrightshire. I have sculptures at Falkland Palace, Scone Palace, Calagary Sculpture Trail on Mull, Craig Tara in Ayrshire.

You can find out more about Trevor’s work Here.

Below, an excerpt from Sweeney’s poem (as translated by James G. O’Keeffe  -The whole of Buile Suibhne can be read Here)..

I am Suibhne, noble leader, P1090966
cold and joyless is my abode,
though I be to-night on wild peaks,
O woman who pluckest my watercress.

My mead is my cold water,
my kine are my cresses,
my friends are my trees,
though I am without mantle or smock.

From Buile Suibhne (The Frenzy of Suibhne

Seamus Heaney also translated the poem and unfortunately I can’t find a translation online but there are references to it Here

More about Sweeney’s Bothy on Eigg Here