Tag Archives: Scottish landscape painting

Planet series – Jupiter (in progress) day 3

‘Jupiter’ (in progress).

Today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’. I wanted to create a luminous backdrop for the painting – the sea is a glaze of blues and gloss varnish, which you can see slightly better in this image ..

(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets. For more about the series, click on ‘Home’, above, and scroll through previous posts).

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to paint Castle Tioram as the theme for ‘Jupiter’. Jupiter rules the months of February and March and I’ll be including trees, flora and fauna related to the planet as the painting progresses.

Fairy Tales ..

Castle Tioram, photo Rose Strang September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

I first visited Castle Tioram (pronounced ‘Cheerum’) in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in 1992, and returned again for the first time since then in September last year. It was a beautiful, entrancing place back then, and still is. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of Scotland’s most remote and un-spoiled areas of landscape. Ancient forests grow right down to the coast. Mosses, lichens and rare plants flourish in the relatively unpolluted atmosphere – the forest’s ecosystem is more or less untouched, save for a very few pathways and single track roads that weave through the area.

If you’re interested in forest ecosystems you’ll know that forest trees ‘talk’ to one-another in a sense. They communicate via their complex root system, so that younger trees, or weaker trees are fed nutrients by older trees – they’re interdependent. Before a tree dies, it sends nutrients to the roots of nearby trees. When the forest root-system is disturbed by, for example, motorways cutting one area off from another, the forest ecosystem is destroyed. An ancient forest is a sort of entity in a sense (or a community if you like!)

So Tolkien wasn’t far wrong, and C.S. Lewis (a close friend of Tolkien for decades) shared this reverence for nature – both author’s books featured the idea of conscious trees. Lewis’s stories featured dryads (tree spirits) able to ‘leave’ the physical tree and travel far distances to communicate important news. (in The Last Battle for example a dryad tells King Rillian that her tree, miles away, is being destroyed along with the rest of the forest).

In the east part of Ardnamurchan, further inland, is one of Europe’s rare original oak forests. It’s called Ariundle (derived from Scottish Gaelic Àiridh –  meaning a shieling or collection of small huts and Fhionndail – a fair meadow). So, ‘a collection of huts in the fair meadow’. Ariundle is a remnant of the ancient coastal oakwood that formerly stretched along the Atlantic coast from Spain and Portugal to Norway.

Ariundle Oak Forest in Ardnamurchan

 

 

 

 

In early medieval times Castle Tioram and Ardnamurchan were far busier places than nowadays. The highways of the ancient world across Scandinavia and the north of Scotland were sea-routes – quicker to navigate than land before modern times when roads were cut through mountains and forests.

The north and west of Scotland as a whole was teeming with activity. There were numerous wars of independence and during the Middle ages, Scottish castles were often burned and destroyed during war-times to prevent them being occupied by incoming armies (which is what happened to Castle Tioram).

Towards the end of the 18th century (post-Culloden) Highland clearances, then the industrial revolution almost entirely emptied some areas of the west coast. Anyone who hadn’t emigrated, or been forced to emigrate, to America and Canada moved to the cities and towns for work.

The one upside of this is that the landscape has been left untouched. Castle Tioram, situated on a rocky outcrop in a glass-like sea surrounded by wild forest, can have quite an impact on visitors to the place –  it does look almost other-worldy, or mythical.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes people respond with emotion to the castle, a sentiment or belief that things were better in times past. Looking into early Scottish history though, there are as always two stories – one from ruling leaders, post war, and the story discovered in ancient Gaelic manuscripts. Tioram was never defeated in battle, for hundreds of years it was relatively peaceable (for those times at least, when feuds were common throughout Europe).

The castle and surrounding area was home to a large community ruled by the MacDonalds under the complex laws of the early clan system. This society enjoyed thriving art, literary and music traditions, and although the more democratic approach to running society appeared chaotic or ‘barbaric’ to outsiders, it now looks ahead of its time. Men and women inherited title and property, children of the ruling monarchs were often placed in the poorest households of the clan, while poorer children in the community were adopted temporarily by the ruling family. This encouraged connections, the learning of skills, and a balanced community.

It wasn’t all peaceable of course, there were the numerous complex feuds between clans, and the wars of independence which occurred between the 13th to 18th centuries. In 1715 the then chief of Clan Donald, Allan MacDonald, torched the castle before joining the battle at Sherriffmuir (1715 Jacobite rebellion – thanks for correction Murdo MacDonald!) He expected to lose, and didn’t want the castle to fall in to government hands. The final battle took place in 1745 at Culloden, and after this the Scottish clan system was destroyed (also due to the fact that many Scottish clan chiefs bought into the new feudal system as it offered unlimited opportunities for wealth and land) and Scotland never regained independence.

All of that explains some of the historical reasons why we respond to such places, but maybe our response to castle ruins in a wild remote landscape is also related to the power of fairy tale or archetypes – it ‘speaks’ to us of something important and valuable. In Ardnamurchan the air feels different because it is different – it’s clean, scented with salty brine, sun-warmed wood, mossy forest floors and the honey of heather throughout summer – it feels idyllic. Nowadays we understand the environmental fragility of such places.

In an earlier post I described C.S. Lewis’s fascination with Medieval mythology and cosmology – an era in which he believed imagination held an important philosophical role. From a different perspective Jung also explored this area – focusing on the importance of archetypes in the collective human psyche. Early Medieval thinking hadn’t yet lost that sense of universality, and connection to nature.

A castle on a remote island reminds us of a thousand different myths and fairy tales – tangled forests, ogres, battles, knights, magicians, princesses plotting escape, not to mention Camelot – a legend based on dreams of a lost golden age and the search for a mysterious holy grail. One conflict of the story is the battle of Pagan and Christian religions – neither of which comes out on top, interestingly. The myth goes (of course!) that both Merlin (Pagan) and Arthur (Christian) will return again.

It all reminds me of this sort of art …

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’  French illuminated manuscript

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’ French illuminated manuscript

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Gothic or pre-renaissance style of painting is a continuation of Byzantine art. It made way for new ideas of realism in art – perspective and so on – leading to high renaissance art and ‘the age of reason’. Boticelli was sn artistic bridge between these styles and Northern renaissance art sometimes referred back to this earlier era stylistically.

All of this is ideal subject matter for my Jupiter painting, relating also to the Jupiterian book from the Narnia Chronicles The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which centres on the idea of Winter passed, guilt forgiven – restoration of a golden age of peace in the sea-side castle of Cair Paravel after years of cold and brutality, but this comes after challenges, sacrifice and re-birth (the Christian element of the story – though there are many themes).

In this story, the dryads and trees of Narnia are still fully alive (in later books they have to be re-awakened) and since the oak is the tree most closely associated with Jupiter, that’s another reason to paint Ardnamurchan, one of the few places where you can enjoy fully living forests.

Here’s a link with more about Ariundle – https://www.wildlochaber.com/ardnamurchan/wildlife/ariundle-oakwood

Ariundle Forest . https://www.nnr.scot (Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, website)

Exhibitions and available paintings Jan’ 2019

Current round-up of current exhibitions and (as yet) unsold paintings  …

 

Limetree Gallery, Bristol. (Contact gallery for enquiries Here)

Paintings available from the Limetree Gallery …

Winter Show. Resipole Gallery, 10th Nov’ to 22nd March. Ardnamurchan, Scotland. (Contact gallery for enquiries Here)

Paintings at the Resipole …

 

Small Paintings. Morningside Gallery, Edinburgh.  (contact gallery for enquiries Here)

Paintings at the Morningside Gallery …

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 ..

Works in progress. Iona, October series.

Iona is a very different island in October – the bars and restaurants shut down as tourists slow to a trickle, everything feels wilder – more what you’d expect from a Hebridean island.

The wind is so strong you can lean against it. It’s not really cold, yet, but you have to wear a hat and hood as the sand blasts you in the eyes at times. Hair is a problem, as it can also whip you in the eyes so has to be tightly managed!

The birds appear to love the wind, they swirl above the waves in flocks, if you’re a bit short- sighted they look like wave splashes.

It all adds to the tumultuous Octobery weather and energy, it feels like everything is being cleared and scoured, not just the landscape but the very atmosphere and memories of summer. Despite the gritty eyes, the annoying hair, the noise etc, I love it!

This time I’m staying in Iona Hostel, not a tent, you’d have to be quite tough to survive a tent in this weather. I’ve camped in sub zero temperatures before, but again it’s the wind that’s the issue.

So my accommodation experience in a hostel is completely different – much easier. You immediately get friendly with people and it’s great to share stories. I’m full of admiration for the women I’ve been chatting with here – Mary, Jan and Dorothy from various parts of America, Jane from France and Rachel from the north of England – all of whom have been involved in humanitarian or aid projects around the world.

Our evenings around the kitchen table have involved a bit of wine, whisky, and much political debate, you can imagine the theme – the world appears to have gone to shit in many ways basically! – But these good humoured compassionate people don’t let that kill their optimism and effort.

Tomorrow is a full moon (in Pisces, hostel worker Mark tells me) so we all plan a night walk, I suggested this since I like the idea of a night painting. Of course the reality of painting in the dark in howling wind hurling sand in your eyes till you feel you’re being blinded is hilariously unpleasant to a city-bred person such as myself, however I can at least walk around a bit on the beach on tomorrow’s (hopefully cloudless) moonlit night, then attempt to paint my experience later in the studio…

It’s a lovely studio – a perfect set up with numerous intriguing sea- related objects, plenty light, I can make a mess within reason, and even light a stove if I get cold. So, thank you to John (owner of the hostel) and staff – Chris, Mark and Maria for providing such a friendly and excelient oasis for artists and creative people here on the north end of the island.

Hope to post moon pics after tomorrow eve …

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – 2 more

‘Wells of Arthur’s Seat, Swans on St Margaret’s Loch’. Mixed media on 16×13 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2018. £250

‘Wells of Arthur’s Seat, St Antony’s Chapel II’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2018. £180

Two more paintings today, for the Wells of Arthur’s Seat exhibition, which launches this Saturday (all details Here).

I couldn’t resist painting this view of St Margaret’s Loch with swans, having spent the weekend sitting there with friends watching them take off then fly down across the water.

For this second painting of At Anthony’s Chapel I splodged primary colours directly onto the wood, the colours at sunset are so vivid it’s the only way to capture it.

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – complete series

If you have any queries about these paintings, or would like to buy one in advance of the exhibition, contact me at rose.strang@gmail.com. (If paintings are bought prior to exhibition a red-dot sticker to denote ‘sold’ is placed next to the painting, which will then be posted one day after the exhibition ends – 25th June).

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – exhibition/event and open studio days

We’re very much looking forward to the upcoming private view of the exhibition and performance event (details/link below). This is ‘invite only’, as spaces are limited, but you can email me to enquire about spaces at rose.strang@gmail.com

Alan Spence

Atzi Muramatsu

 

 

 

 

 

I’m delighted and honoured to be collaborating with two very talented people on this project; the poet Alan Spence and cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu. Their reading and performance will premiere at the Private View on the 16th June, but will be viewable on subsequent exhibition days on video (we hope to develop the project further and there may be subsequent live performances).

There are also Open Studio days, where the paintings can be viewed, and a video-showing of the poetry reading and performance of poet Alan Spence and cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu from the private view event.

For all details on the upcoming exhibition and event, and open studio days, click Here

Alan Spence was named Edinburgh’s Makar in 2016 (Makar is the Scots word for learned poet). His work has, for many years, explored Japanese culture and spirituality including Zen traditions and Haiku poetry. In recognition of this Alan was recently awarded the Decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Government of Japan). This is the first time I’ve collaborated with Alan, and I very much look forward to experiencing the poetry he’ll create for this project.

Atzi Muramatsu has been (amusingly) described as ‘the Scottish Central Belt’s most well-known celllist’, this is not least because he is an avid and dedicated collaborator, with artists, dancers, other musicians and writers across Scotland and beyond. He also writes film-scores and in 2016 was awarded a Scottish BAFTA for Best Composer New Talent. It’s absolutely a pleasure to continue our long-lasting collaboration.

*please note –  as we are not receiving public funding for this project, a performance and project fee is paid to Alan and Atzi from the profits of painting sales. We hope to develop the project further and there may be subsequent public funding, resulting in additional performances and developed professional video of the project.

Read on to find out more on the inspiration behind Wells of Arthur’s Seat …

(detail) ‘Wells of Arthur’s Seat, Waterfall I’

 

 

 

 

 

 

This series is inspired by the landscape and local history of Arthur’s Seat – the hill in Edinburgh that sits to the south of the city.

The paintings focus on the flora and fauna of the hill in the vivid greens of early summer, but in particular, water. This is rainy Scotland, so water is constant – everywhere on Arthur’s Seat – in springs that tumble down the hill, lochs that form in the valleys, and in its wells.

Some of these wells have been named after saints – St David, St Margaret and St Anthony for example – so at some time in the past they were perceived as sacred.

It’s simple enough to trace their Christian origins, but probably very few of the hundreds of tourists and locals who visit the hill throughout the year will be aware of the purpose of the wells further back in time …

There are hints; in the worn stone basin and cup-chain attached to St Anthony’s Well, which ran dry in the 1980’s but used to seep through the cliffs below the summit, before emerging near the bottom of the hill and flowing towards St Margaret’s Loch.

Just above the loch, on a rocky promontory you can see the medieval ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel – it was built in the 12th century, but the well and its stone basin were there long before.

On the first of May, locals would drink the well-water, walk their livestock through the streams and celebrate the beginning of summer. The first of May continues to be celebrated to this day throughout Europe, but there were other, far more mysterious healing rituals that took place at St Anthony’s Well …

We know about these rituals because of written records from court cases that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Protestant Reformation. For over a hundred years, people who were seen to ‘worship’ at wells might be prosecuted if their words and actions were seen as un-Christian. Yet, while these people may or may not have invoked the Christian god during their healing rituals, their actions showed reverence towards nature – a belief in its healing power and a complete faith that their prayers would be answered, if their well-being was part of nature’s plan.

This was a pan-European belief – that nature held everything in balance, that disease or sickness, or bad crops, represented an imbalance of nature. Therefore healing rituals involved actions believed to restore balance, first by walking sunwise three times around the well (to create a boundary, or safe space) second by dipping a cloth in the well, applying it to the afflicted part of the body, then leaving it near the well, third by offering a token of gratitude such as flowers or a piece of metal ( this is the origin of ‘Clootie’ or rag-wells throughout the British Isles). If successful, the prayer would be heard, the disease absorbed into the earth, water or sky and the token accepted.

Water was seen as a ‘place of in-between’; these days we might say a liminal space (a place of transition – occupying a position at both sides of a threshold) or if religious we might describe it as a place where there is a ‘thin veil between heaven and earth’.

It’s this last intriguing concept that so fascinated me, and inspired this series.  It made perfect sense therefore, to introduce these ideas about Arthur’s Seat to the poet Alan Spence, whose work is often created in response to nature and the changing seasons. For many years his work has explored the Japanese traditions of Zen meditation and Haiku poetry (in recognition of this he was recently awarded the Decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Government of Japan).

He and his wife formerly ran the Sri Chinmoy meditation centre in Edinburgh, and now run a bookshop and meditation centre The Citadel just across the road from my studio in Abbeyhill. The summit of Arthur’s Seat sits directly ahead from the front door of their bookshop (and from the window at the back of my studio).

Alan was intrigued by the project, and was delighted too to collaborate with talented composer and cellist Atzi Muramatsu, a friend with whom I’ve collaborated since 2013 on most of my art projects. It was a given, of course, that I’d invite Atzi to collaborate, and of course his Japanese origins add to the aspects of Japanese culture explored in this project.

The creative fruits from this project  – poetry, music and paintings – will launch at the Private View on the 16th June 2018 (this is invite only as spaces are limited, so please email if you would like to attend). There are also Open Studio days (open to the public – all welcome!)  where the paintings will be on display, and a video showing Alan and Atzi’s performance from the 16th June.

All details of the Private View and Open Days Here

All paintings in the series viewable above (if you have any queries about these paintings, or would like to buy one in advance of the exhibition, contact me at rose.strang@gmail.com)

Note the sizes of the paintings, these are not always clear from images online, so to give an indication I’ve included the photo below ..

New painting – private commission

‘Wallace Mounument, Stirling’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang, May 2018

Today’s painting (above) is a private commission for a friend. It’s of the Wallace monument in Stirling.

Gus recently got in touch to ask if I’d paint the Wallace Monument for his mum, who grew up next to the Wallace Monument. His mum isn’t well just now and I was very touched and honoured to be asked.

I decided to paint a view with the Ochil hills in the background, with the sun coming out after a rain storm; I hope that’s how it looks!

Here’s a close-up of the tower, I’ve made it fairly impressionistic rather than detailed – the way it appears at a distance in sunlight ..

 

 

 

 

The tower in real life is quite beautiful – (images easily findable online) made of warm yellow sandstone which catches the light in the late afternoon and at sunset. It sits on the Abbey Craig; a quartz-dolerite intrusion that was harder-wearing than the surrounding  landscape, so took its current shape after the glaciers retreated about 14 thousand years ago.

The Abbey Craig was also the site of Wiliam Wallace’s HQ during the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, and the tower is a fitting tribute to this fairly monumental human being! He was apparently 6 foot 7 inches with a broad-boned warrior’s build. The sword he used in battle was at least five feet (though that would have been for an initial charge towards cavalry apparently).

The  tower was built in 1869 and is characteristically Victorian and ornate in style, though inspired by Medieval era buildings. The top represents a crown and, to my eye, if you see just the tip of this emerging from the surrounding foliage, it looks strangely similar to Hindu temples from thousands of years ago.

Pretty much everyone has seen Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, so most of you will have picked up the general gist of the story, and myths! If you read this blog you’ll know I’m always curious about the history of painting subjects, so if you’re interested, read on for  a brief outline about William Wallace …

Early depiction believed to be a likeness of Wallace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few hundred years after William Wallace died, a writer called Blind Harry wrote a history of Wallace, much of which is deemed to be fantasy, but nonetheless the facts are there, as attested by official records of the time …

Following the untimely death of King Alexander III of Scotland, whose only heir was his three-year-old granddaughter, Scotland was in disarray and King Edward I of England was brought in to help arbitrate. You do have to wonder why anyone was surprised when he took full advantage of the situation, since he was renowned as a pretty unpleasant character to say the least – he decided to appoint himself Lord Paramount of Scotland.

Skirmishes broke out against the English occupation, and support for the cause grew as tactics of the occupation grew more brutal. The first proper battle, led by Wallace, defeated Edward’s army at Stirling Bridge.

After this victory Wallace was appointed guardian of Scotland, but the next battle was lost. He attempted to rally support from the French but  was later caught then tortured and killed for treason (pretty much exactly as depicted in Braveheart except that he was also dragged through the streets behind a horse for five miles before the execution). After this, Scotland appeared to be defeated, but covert plans were being made as Robert the Bruce succeeded Wallace as Guardian of Scotland, Robert the Bruce then went on to win against the English in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and after the 1300’s Scotland remained entirely independent up until the treaty of Union in 1707.

It would be nice to know more about the character of Wallace, but there’s only speculation and few hard facts. Suffice to say he was clearly a born leader – he wasn’t from nobility but was probably educated and trained as a warrior, he was also clever, as attested by battle strategies, and extremely determined. The decision to build a monument to Wallace came at a time of resurgence of interest in Scotland’s national identity, following the near decimation of Highland culture following the Highland clearances.

Thanks again to Gus Carmichael for commissioning this painting, it’s been a pleasure to paint and an honour to be asked!