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Iona on Iona

5th of January, Arriving on Iona

I remember it took a few days of frantic packing in early January to prepare for my painting trip on Iona. One day it involved going into Cass art with huge shopping trollies grimacing at the checkout as I heard one beep after the next coming from the scanner. When I looked behind I could see my face reflected in all the impatient customers from behind me as they waited. When it came to the next day, it was a relief. I was off to Iona in the car filled with all my stuff and my bike and Dad. Everything looked so crisp and beautiful when we passed the Luss hills at Loch Lomond. The further we went the more I felt circled, protected by mountains.

After the visually dynamic ferry crossing from Oban to Mull and the journey from Craignure to Fionnphort we luckily managed to get the car onto the ferry. It was almost dark and we were tired, but I felt so excited. I could see from the deck the little Iona houses on the island staring back at me and getting bigger as the ferry glided over the choppy water.

The residents welcomed us into the Hostel from the wind and cold and we had a big dinner.  Everyone was friendly and I was lucky to meet Vicky the artist and her family including John Emmett and Oriana. Vicky with her outgoing kind and generous teacher spirit helped me settle in and shared with me her beautiful pastel drawings. Later that evening dad and I played a duet, himself on bassoon and myself on the fiddle. We played an eerie tune by Peter Maxwell Davis, ‘Farewell to Stromness’.

Over the next days, I walked around in the mist. I enjoyed it as it was adding an extra layer to the space that made things more ambiguous, ghostly. I remember sitting on a bench looking out to sea with Dad eating the olive, feta cheese sandwiches we made up from the Spar and watching a fishing boat that came to view and glided past us. As its shape faded into the mist and further out to sea it was reminiscent of a song that was getting quieter and quieter until you can hardly hear it. To get started on my drawing, I made a few ink studies of this feeling of obscurity, being lost.

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It took a while for Iona to reveal itself. It came by a surprise when I saw the brown/orange coloured mountains of Mull reveal themselves from across the strong coloured ultramarine sea. I was overwhelmed by how it transformed the space from everything being subtle tones to the sheer contrasts of dark and light. Everything went from being condensed and mysterious like sea glass, to open, articulated and majestic.

Painting on Iona

After warming into things through drawing, I made small panel oil paintings. I took many MDF boards with me (about 50 small pieces!) and was planning on making lots of quick gestural paintings, capturing the landscape in different states of weather and light.

This in mid-January was a real challenge. To cope with the cold, I was wearing (I am not kidding) five jumpers, three pairs of gloves, three pairs of trousers, three pairs of sock and oilskins. Even with all of this on, I could only stay out for short bursts of time, before running back to the windswept Byre to clean my brushes and warm up a little bit with the electric heater. I often could not feel my hands or move my fingers.

Not only was it cold, it was extremely windy. At times, I could lean against the wind entirely and it would keep me upright. Walking around in this was tough, and I was also carrying my painting box, with the paints, my pallet, brushes and a couple of wet oil paintings. All my willpower was required to keep these things in my possession without them flying off into the hills. No wonder John and Rachel got annoyed about how I had paint on the Hostel gate! I could barely open it! Getting around the hostel was a test as I was so covered in paint, and didn’t want to contaminate any of the beautiful white walls and interior. Mark said that if I was lost, I could easily get tracked down as I left a trail of paint all over everything for miles.

No wonder John and Rachel got annoyed about how I had paint on the Hostel gate! I could barely open it! Getting around the hostel was a test as I was so covered in paint, and didn’t want to contaminate any of the beautiful white walls and interior. Mark said that if I was lost, I could easily get tracked down as I left a trail of paint all over everything for miles.

The toughness of these elements made me adapt. I gradually realised that I had to pre-mix my pallet before going out to stop me from getting too cold, and I started to find places which were sheltered. At one point, I had to stop and find an inner calm; accepting that I could only work outside if I came to terms with the elements, and keep the focus instead of cursing all the time!

Although at times it was frustrating, it put a sense of desperation into my work. The mark-making was energetic, rough and unpredictable just like the energies and overpowering sense of the winds and rain that whipped around me. Sometimes the hail would go on to my paintings creating interesting energetic effects on the surface; God’s own mark making! These elements were an enhancement as I remember there was a day when the sun was really bright and I found my paintings were uninteresting. I had too much time to think and not instinctively react to what I was looking at making them less spontaneous and more flat.

Sometimes the weather would be too much, and I wanted to do slow and dense work. The Abbey and Chapel were the answer to this as they were tranquil and had interesting layers to space. It was a bonus when I got offered a hot chocolate by one the Iona community.

I enjoyed looking through the layers of ancient architectural shapes. The authenticity of this building connected to the wildness of the landscape. I felt I got lost in both places as the arches had a sense of looking to infinity, as they recede to a vanishing point like the layers of the landscape you look through.

The light had a Holy quality outside and inside as it filtrated through space. The dark grey stormy clouds surrounded the landscape and I and then suddenly, a beam of light would come down and cast a spotlight over somewhere like the abbey or a patch of what was a dark grey sea. I remember reminiscing this and joking with Mark and Collette in one of our many hostel evening discussions by saying ‘It’s Jesus!’. Even though I am not religious what I saw felt close to something spiritual.

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iona roberts pic

 

Parent’s Visit

When my parents came to stay it was misty again.  One day Mum and I went to St Columba’s Bay and ate sandwiches and we did some drawing looking out to Fidden and islands such as the Paps of Jura. Mum did a great landscape, and mine was interesting but I couldn’t get the colours to work. Luckily the rain came and fell on it, and all the ink started to trickle down in different colours and rhythms. It was beautiful and, yet again, it was God’s own mark making.

My parents enjoyed the Hostel atmosphere and there were lots of interesting people staying at the time. Alongside the regulars including John, Rachael, Mark, Collette, there was Misa – a friendly girl who had come to volunteer for the next three weeks. She is a contemporary dancer and we shared interesting conversations about Iona in context with our lives over later nights. Then there was a kind Italian man, Santino, and Maranda, who was another artist who had her family with her. We all communal and had nice dinners together that my Mum and I cooked up. Mum and I showed what we had been drawing that day and Collette, who is also an artist, joined in, showing us her captivating watercolours she had made on the island.

 

Visits to Mull

Over the past week, I had been so disciplined with my painting approach that I decided to allow myself time to explore the island. As a change of pace, I took the occasional day trip to cycle on Mull.

I enjoyed the ferry to Fionnphort as I was intrigued by the layers of space as I looked through many of the windows that presented either the interior of the ferry or the seascape, where I observed Iona getting further and further into perspective. Using my sketchbook, I drew the view through these still interior shapes to the changing landscape and sea outside. It was fascinating to see the landscape resemble an imprint when I saw it reflected in the window to the cabin.

When I reached Fionnphort, I cycled to Fidden and Knockvologan making sketches of the changing scenery. I would take a flask of hot chocolate and sit by a farm up at Knockvologan and sketch the view down to the sea before cycling back. At times I would really have to pedal it back to catch the last ferry.

 

Observations

The experience on Iona was a useful time to connect and reflect on my time to the Drawing Year in London. Down South, I was using distinctive styles of drawing to connect more to my painting. Before this, my drawing contained a lot of linear work and here I was connecting to London through using colour and tone, and a mixed media approach. To help in this, I was researching artists such as Sutherland and how they used mixed media to create painterly drawings which had a contemporary, abstracted take on the landscape. Sutherland would use the landscape for the general composition but also add elements into the foreground that abstracted the reality and conveyed his perception.

My mark-making was partially caused by the weather, appropriate for the landscape. I enjoyed sometimes working at close ups of the landscape and at other times the general space. The paintings alongside each other become a narration of the space in general.

 

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Andrea’s Visit

After these few days of intensively working, my friend Andrea came to visit. He had to look after himself a lot, but we had fun times. The hostel was rather empty at the time. It was just Misa, Mark and Miranda, who was another lovely woman visiting from Bath. On the 25th of January, we celebrated Burn’s Night. Andrea had brought Haggis, so we had a nice little party and watched a film at John’s. Most of these nights I was playing the fiddle. It was great because as guests came and went I would learn different and new tunes they would sing to me and which I would pick up by ear.

One day Andrea and I went for a long walk all the way around the island. The view gradually changed and we ate a lunch I had made at the Spouting Cave. The sheep were funny as they were posing at various parts of the cliffs like amusing models, and by the sea. I stored the idea in my head of using the sheep amongst the landscape in further work to come. The rocks had varying shapes, and colours which are to the Geometry of the island. We collected rocks and arranged them into interesting still lifes.

 

28th of January,  Tobermory Trip

The day Andrea left, I took the bus to Tobermory. I enjoyed the contrast on Mull as the colours were orange, almost autumnal, yet the spring green was coming through. The bus went through many different attitudes and dynamics of the landscape. Sometimes there were huge expanses of land and then, in contrast, I would come across articulating details that pin pointed my focus; a fishing boat in the water, a person on the bus, a highland cow, the trees reflected on the window.

The space would be layered and ever-changing due to the movement of the bus and the way I looked and focussed on different things. Often drops of water would fall on the window and create an interesting texture I was looking out to the view. Every so often, the bus would travel past the trees, and I could only quickly glimpse at as they disappeared quickly from view. Sitting behind this would be the constant landscape in a contrasting slower state. The movement of the trees lying in front created a flick book effect.

When I arrived at Tobermory it was soon raining and I felt I hadn’t planned my time well. I remember standing outside absolutely freezing, and drawing using water soluble graphite so that when the rain went over the paper, God’s own mark making yet again occurred. I remember going to the pub to warm up, and the locals looking shocked as I entered absolutely sodden and grubby-looking, and I realised: ‘my gosh, I have been cut off from civilisation for a while!’

On the journey back, it was extremely dramatic as it was late afternoon and the light was at its height for contrast. I remember a rainbow and looking over the Mull mountains where the layers of land were getting darker and more mysterious. The land was overcast and I could see down valleys for many miles of the repeating shapes, some more ambiguous and out of focus due to the clouds and others more present. As the sun went down, space became condensed and simplified tonally, allowing shape to become the focus. It had the essence of a print, and I noticed that in places the land was lighter than the sky, such as a loch that would shine up light a bright jewel amongst the dark surrounding land.

 

Week of the 30th of January, Drawing Around the Hostel

Over the next few weeks, the interior space of the hostel and its surroundings grasped my interest. After doing my tax for an entire day indoors (which was so boring yet the Hebridean sheep moving passed my windows kept me occupied, and I treated myself to a swim at the end of the day), I went out to draw the sheep. I was intrigued by their rounded, organic form and how I encountered this amongst the landscape.

For a few mornings, I built up a large drawing in my room with charcoal. I was interested in the view outside my room in relation to what was going on inside. The different weathers came to pass, creating different dynamics. Sometimes the Dutchman’s Cap would disappear due to the moving grey clouds that took it out of focus, and then later it would come out again, strikingly in focus, other times dark, then every so often light due to the position of the sun. It was a peculiar, articulated shape that would appear sitting on the horizon. The odd sheep would walk by and the occasional uncoordinated current of birds would fly above the sea, fighting the wind and adding to the ingredients of my drawing recipe.

I started this drawing with the landscape, and then gradually introduced the frame of the window and related the view to the interior with my artistic objects such as the paint pots and pens. It was interesting as the exterior at first glance was minimal yet, the unevenness of the land and the fact I could see for miles required a lot of work with charcoal. I built it up layer by layer adding and removing to capture the depth of the cloudy weather I was observing.

The hostel room was also an active place with different pinpoints of interest. Occasionally I made films about the reflections on the window that cast ghostly impressions on the land. One conveyed Mark working picked up in a reflection at another window which held the view of a different place. Another film was of the layered reflection sheep walking around in various places and rhythms.

The times of day would cast the light in diverse ways. Suddenly, there would be a brightness from outside that shined through one window casting a beam of light onto the floor, and in another conflicting window, it would be dark and raining. As it became darker, more secretive outside, the kitchens reflection on the window would come lighter and closer to focus reflecting back an imprint of hostel life.

One of the days a storm really brewed up. I was in my room drawing but I could not think properly. The force of the gale outside was so noisy it felt as if it was going to blast through the wall. It was interesting how all the rain drops would drip down the surface of the window and make the view outside with the sheep more vague and unclear. This day the sheep were outside, huddling against the window for shelter. I loved watching how their forms would coincide with each other in interesting, flowing ways as the herd receded back into the monochromatic space. The colours were subtle, reminiscent of sea glass.

 

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On the day after the storm, the waves were charged with the aftermath of the energy, yet the sun was strong, casting a vivid light on the surface of the land and sea. Juxtaposing the spring-like light, the power of the waves had dangerous, forbidding undertones. I walked to the North-West beach where I climbed a huge exposed rock and sensed the vast space of sea in front of me. It was vulnerable yet exhilarating and I was lost in the wild expanse I observed. The waves roared up, covering me and my camera in their spray before evaporating away again and leaving soft intricate traces of light filtrated moisture.  The way the waves receded in an irregular pattern amongst the rugged rocks partially covered by the moisture and the light was reminiscent of the many arches in the light filtrated space of the Abbey.

 

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I then went further up to Dun I to catch the spectacular sunset that was a cast of light in a strange shape clouds, before the moon came into presence over the village.

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That evening, Collette’s friend Tom made a wonderful marmalade cake. As it was Misa’s last night we went down to the beach. I took my violin with me and played some music as we heard the still fierce waves crash into the beach and pull out again. The moon was out full, almost like it was a day perhaps on another planet. It strongly cast our shadows onto the ground as we stood in a row and let them dance to the Pigeon on the Gate I was playing on the violin overlapped by some of our voices singing on top ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’. Our senses were more tuned into our hearing than our vision than usual, due to the darkness. I enjoyed hearing my fiddle playing in context with the wild, textured sounds of the sea.

This was not the only special night. One time we ate a huge fish that had been caught from the fisherman and which was locally produced. The skeleton of the fish looked like the elegant structure of John’s boats being created in the workshop next to the Hostel. Another time we went to the Abbey and I played my violin and Misa and I sang duets. It was great to hear our voices resonate in such a spiritual location.

 

8th of February, Last couple of weeks on Iona, Drawing at John’s

Over these days, I met the new artist in residence Alison, who was another painter. I remember we shared some of our interesting meals. By this time, I was getting experimental with my cooking, including seaweed into almost every dinner! This night I made fish and lentil curry with garam masala and sweet chilli sauce for Alison which was tasty. I shared with her my work, and she let me off the hook almost by assuring me I had tonnes of work! I enjoyed looking at her work a lot, experimental and energetic and we shared our passion for Joan Eardley, our favourite artist.

It was a joy to spend my next day free from making work, bike riding on Mull where I went to Bunessan and to Uisken. At Uisken I had a flask of tea and sat by the beach. It was strange being there because memories welled up of the summer before last when I was here with my auntie and cousins. It felt like a shadow of a memory as I quietly looked over to the Paps Of Jura and observed how they were covered in snow and cast in an ethereal winter light.

 

John and Rachael’s

John had an intriguing house which I felt was an artwork in itself. There were lots of interesting ornaments that for me reflected that tactile sense of marine lifestyle, and in context with this were the beautiful views out to the Hebridean landscape. I enjoyed observing and found many strong compositions that caught my eye, arranged by the architectural structures, objects and views. After creating some sketchbook work, I spent time making large sized charcoal drawings in John’s kitchen and upstairs.

The inside of the hostel and John and Rachael’s house allowed me to further introduce form into my work. There were objects close to me which I could depict in the foreground of the landscape, introducing volume into space.

Throughout my time in London, I had become interested in how I encountered forms within the layering of space. The inclusion of form created an interesting variation within the space. I found I created the best work when I related my response to a piece of music. I made the image, and I used music to help me foresee what it would be and how to approach it. For example, I thought of loud and quiet areas in the space. To include the form in my responses to space, I spent time creating studies of near objects or human forms I encountered. Making charcoal drawings from the interior was an effective way to connect my work on Iona back to my practice, as I was starting to focus on how I was experiencing space with the inclusion of form.

Upstairs there was a stunning view through the front to the ocean and the Dutchman’s Cap and the windows on the other side presented the field’s disappearing to an interesting vanishing point. I drew from John’s study as he had many busy objects in the foreground and I could see the back of the house and layers of hills and fields. His possessions were quite like mine as an artist, slightly cluttered and going between practicality such as CD’s, papers and pens; to the aesthetic ones.

In the kitchen, there was a big rectangular window which looked out to the Atlantic Ocean. It reminded me of a porthole as it framed the view outside. Outside had many layers created by different components. The plant patch with the vertical delicate structures of the shrubs, bringing to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s drawings, the walls, fences, the rise and fall of the land, the fields, the fall to the sea, the coming and going of island’s such as Mull, Staffa, Skye in the background, and the ever-changing cloudscape. This view connected to the interior as it was a pattern and repeat of horizontal and vertical shapes as they receded through space.

I realise Iona has been a progression from the Drawing year as I was making my location work more of a physical experience.  Alongside the difficulty of being out painting in the elements, the scale of these charcoal drawings incorporated my entire self. I was scaling up my work in the drawing year as an alternative to working in sketchbooks to challenge my drawing. I felt these charcoal drawings connected more to painting, and the way I work physically in the studio.

The pace of the charcoal drawings and the way I recorded the different moods of the landscape over the weeks introduced the element of time into my practice and I was interested in how the figure, myself, experienced the landscape and how other people were encountered in the landscape throughout time. This can be seen in the objects, the viewpoints, the reflections on a mirror and other aspects of my subjects.

I was viewing my subjects with the vision of a painter. My aim was not to copy it literally, I wanted to show my experience of it. This was something I had been developing in the Drawing Year. I was balancing observation and response. The compositions when making these drawings were using observation but at the same time, I was imaging them as paintings that conveyed a personal journey of the complex layering in space.

 

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Workshop

It was lovely to share my work with the locals. I was surprised by the number of people who came! Unfortunately, I was getting a cold and I think the exhaustion of being out in all weathers seemed to be catching up with me, but I managed to get by!

I presented large and small drawings, sketchbooks, and paintings and described how I was using this variation of approach to responding to my personal take on the landscape. We discussed the difficulties of all the weathers and how the elements were coming to play. People were drawn to my watercolours and how they reflected my sense of atmosphere and layering, but I stated that it was important to use a variety of approach to get my different takes of the environment.

 

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Over the next week, I relaxed into the good weather and was quite tired from making work in the storms. It was nice to be around in the Hostel, as I could be with some of the special people who were staying. One of the nights I took my fiddle outside and we all looked at the stars. We were taught by a couple of the guests about the star constellations and we ate dark chocolate.

 

Last Day

In the late morning, the mist was drawing over the land of Mull like a mysterious veil. It was so cold when I was drawing the allotments in the village, I was luckily rescued by a kind lady from the Iona community who invited me into their main house where I got warmed up with a cup of tea and made a few drawings based on being inside this religious interior, looking up the fields to the Abbey and the village houses.

Once I had sadly finished packing, we all gathered in the Hostel communal area and learned some haunting, soul-searing songs one of the women had learnt at the Iona Abbey. I remember clearly the power and emotion of her voice as it filled the room. I felt myself floating away from the kitchen and into the mysteries of the dark landscape seen through the window, reflecting the power of the landscape in the eerie melody.

 

A walk to the spar

 

Leaving Iona

I was lucky that mum was available to pick me up. I was sorry to leave but we managed to go on a beautiful walk further exploring Knockvologen and looking at Iona from the layers of the Mull landscape.

The intensity of the experience is something I hold with me from my day to day life in Glasgow. It is wistful that I will not meet some of the people again, but that dynamic added to my experience and the place. The coming and going in context with the stillness of the landscape created variation.

I am currently deciding if I am going to carry out further painting from work made on Iona, or just let it be a series that will be included in my Compass Gallery Show, May 2018. I want this show to mainly based on being rooted in Scotland. Iona was close to heart and has planted an idea of being a Scottish based painter.

 

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Turquoise On The Gate

Dancing Waves, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow
Dancing Waves, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow

I arrived as the only passenger on the ferry, with enormous amounts of materials – oil paint, acrylic, watercolours, boards, canvases, paper, sketchbooks – far too much I thought…we’ll see. My intention is to work outside as much as possible. It became apparent on day one that the weather will dictate where I can work and when – more specifically the wind. A Hebridean wind is not something to be taken lightly!

I feel very at home here; relaxed, inspired, energised and I am working hard. Spending lots of time looking, drawing and painting on the beach. I am becoming fascinated by the rocks… how they differ from one beach to the next, the colours in different light, specific formations. It is absolutely mesmerising watching the waves crash over them.

I love the fact that I am getting to know the pattern of the tides and moon. It was a big, bright moon in my first week here so very low and high tides. Wonderful settling into the rhythm of this place. I am starting to learn how the sea comes in around the various formations, the channels and shapes left at low tide and the different angles of the waves coming into the beaches.I am getting close in to the subject and wishing I had some larger canvases (reminding myself I have to get all these slightly wet oil paintings home in a month’s time!) Here are some of the paintings so far:

There is quite a bit of sand getting mixed into the paint, which is inevitable working on the beach. There is also a need to work reasonably fast before the fingers become too numb! I’m finding it very useful to bring the work back to the studio and spend time considering it… a change of pace. Something quite new often strikes me when I get the painting inside.

 

I must also mention the geese… there are loads of them! I have developed a habit of sitting by a lovely Celtic cross where I draw on my way to the village. It has a spectacular view across the Sound Of Iona. A great place to watch the changing sky, but I love it most towards the end of the day when the geese all lift off in a noisy gaggle and then flick from black to white as they change direction and return to their field of choice. Here are a few sketchbook pages:

 

I woke up to a power cut yesterday. Thick fog and an eerie silence, very calm… the first really windless day. Everything was dampened by the fog; sand, sounds, colours, smells. I went down to the beach, big waves, flood tide – it was wonderful – only being able to see quite close things – no “view” out to sea. It felt very intimate as though I was isolated in my own little bubble. I decided to take canvases onto the beach, a rare opportunity to use them outside without having to weigh them down with rocks. Beautiful subtle greys and greens, this was all about sound and movement, huge waves pounding the rocks. Very exciting, a real thrill to paint in my own little world… I worked on several paintings and my brain seemed to wake up.

Wave, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow
Wave, Oil On Board, A Critchlow

Fascinating how the fog not only changed the colour palette of these paintings but by obscuring the view made me use my other senses more, and respond to the movements and sounds with the paint.  I lost track of the day completely…it felt like a very special, private, ageless moment where time stood still…as though all this grey mist had made anything possible…ironic that a fog had brought so much clarity. I started to realise that it is the rhythm and movement created by the action of the tides on these rocks which is of interest, not just capturing a momentary crash of water, but somehow distilling this, getting the underlying rhythm.

Big Sea, Oil On Canvas, Alison Critchlow
Big Sea, Oil On Canvas, A Critchlow

Lots of ideas emerging about time and motion and how these things can be noted down. Thinking of passages of paint being reminiscent of a phrase in music… all about harmony and discord, balance and flow… also thinking about using multiple panels to create larger work. I am starting to envisage large canvases once I get home with big passages of paint and realising that I need to absorb as much as I can about this experience.With that in mind I have been looking in more detail at the rocks.

One of the many wonderful people I have met here is a geologist who is able to explain, in layman’s terms a bit about  the formation of this landscape. Fascinating and slightly mind bending! It is phenomenal to look through his magnifier at the structure of these rocks, like taking a walk on the surface of another planet… and incredible how every detail is a mirror of the larger landscape in microcosmic form. It also made me think about time and notation… how these rocks hold a silent record of their creation if we are able to read it.A few more sketchbook pages…my way of transporting myself back to Iona!

I have been staying in the Shepherd’s hut which is just up the hill a little way from the hostel. I love it ! I have become used to its quirks and gentle rocking… a bit like being in a boat, it is a haven which seems to encourage peace and clear thinking.

Conversations in the hostel have ranged from politics and world affairs to accountancy and espionage, pilgrimage to sugar free baking. I have learnt about all sorts of things, much of it now feeding into my thoughts…there have been lessons in pixels and philosophy, St Bridget and geology, dance notation, quantum physics, seaweed harvesting, bread making, theology, fiddle music and choral singing, making a paint brush from a  goose feather, constellations, Scottish history ,tides, ferries and phases of the moon, sand banks , skiffs and serpentine, orgonite domes and sharing a studio with a blackbird!

Meeting a diverse mix of interesting people is a key part of this experience. The hostel seems to provide a string of well timed experts who are very generous with their knowledge and patient with their explanations. The perfect nurturing environment in which to discuss all sorts of ideas and concepts.

Turn Of The Tide, North Beach, Oil On Canvas, Alison Critchlow
Turn Of The Tide, North Beach, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow

Natures rhythms, constant , relentless, fundamental motion, percussive sounds of the sea, thinking about notes and chords, pounding beat of the waves…passages of sound and movement…how to translate all of this into paint?

A crashing wave is  momentary and ancient, repeated throughout time. There is something about watching tides come and go that resonates on a very deep level…I think its a fundamental rhythm that we respond to as humans. The work I am taking home is the first stage of a much longer process and will inform a series of larger studio paintings all about time and motion. I want to see if I can make paintings in the studio at home that create the same resonance, something really fundamental to life.It will be really exciting to work on a larger scale and see if I can find the right speed, weight and fluidity of marks.

I think I may be responsible for various shades of turquoise building up on the gate… Oil paint takes time to dry and I have to think my way around the logistics of getting wet paintings home again…so as my last week is here  it’s time  to embrace water based media!

Sea Drawing, Iona February, Mixed Media on Board, Alison Critchlow
Sea Drawing, Iona, February. Mixed Media on Board, A Critchlow

An unexpected aspect of this residency is that I have discovered a lot about myself.  I have learnt to be more open with sharing ideas and thoughts about my work in the early stages and as a result I have discovered a wealth of knowledge and talked to so many interesting people. I am also enormously grateful to the local people on the island who bothered to stop and talk and made me feel very at home, even though I was covered in paint and quite likely had a blue eyebrow or two ! I enjoyed the talk I gave very much and I really appreciated so many people coming along and their interest and questions led to some great discussion.

 

My aim was to gain headspace and inspiration for a body of new work…which I have certainly done, but I have also learnt something much greater…about myself. I was chatting to one of the local people the day before I left and she asked ” how have you got on ?” I told her that I have gained far more from my month here than I ever imagined and she replied ” You always get more than you expected from Iona!”

Incoming Tide, North Beach, Oil On Canvas, Alison Critchlow
Incoming Tide, North Beach, Oil On Canvas, A Critchlow

I have been home from Iona for a month now, and a new body of work is under way in my studio, based on all of this.The words for this blog post were written while I was on the island and I decided to leave them largely unaltered for this post.It has been a deeply inspiring month, transformative and enriching in all sorts of ways.

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I was very lucky to share my time at Lagandorain with some great people – Iona the artist in residence before me ( we overlapped by 2 weeks which was wonderful) Colette, Misa, Marc and John. The creative, nurturing environment at the hostel was enormously important to this experience and I would like to thank them…as well as all the people passing through. Superb coffee at the Craft Shop, healthy seaweed consumption and the Spar have all played their part too! Special thanks are due to John who was happy to let me roam around his croft getting flashes of paint on his gates and leaving my mark on the studio floor and who was kind enough to send my rucksack full of all my worldly possessions back to me when I managed to leave it on the wrong side of the Sound Of Iona!

You can see more of Alison’s work on her website www.alisoncritchlow.co.uk or follow her on facebook at www.facebook.com/alisoncritchlow-artist

By Alison Critchlow

Art Residencies, Autumn 2016

The plan, as usual, was to have one artist come for a month long residency… and the picture below tells what actually happened. Vappu (writer) and Vicki (painter) asked to come for a couple of months, then Kari (illustrator and writer) who did a residency in the spring wanted to come back for a month, then Jane (story teller and writer) asked to come for a couple of weeks. Hele who is a writer then washed ashore from her travels for a while. Caroline, Colette (water-colourist) and the irreplaceable Marc make up my fabulous team.

It’s a happy, stimulating and creative group and it strikes me as extraordinary that in this little hostel on a dot of land surrounded by the heaving November seas there should be a coming together of such talent and warmth. When they get the chance I hope that some of them will introduce themselves on this page so that you can find out more of what they do and what brings them here, to Iona.

 

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The trembling brink of transformation?

Kate Walters left today having completed her four week residency at Iona Hostel. The good news is that she is coming back in January for another month or so. Yesterday we held an open studio in the Hostel so that islanders and visitors to Iona could see what Kate has been up to. An afternoon sun warmed the common-room in the hostel and a good crowd of people came to meet and talk with Kate and to enjoy a glass of wine. Kate introduced her work and responded to an interesting range of questions. In keeping with her work the mood in the room was reflective and thoughtful. You could sense that people felt an affinity with her work.

Kate is a listener. She listens to her psyche and dreams and an to altogether more ancient response to the land than that which we currently know; what Thomas Carlyle described as ‘ the ancient dialect’. Her work is in part an exploration of this dialect. It explores place through archetype, symbol, the animal world and the older religions. This is home territory for Kate -she is quite comfortable in the company of the ‘Sheela’s (the Sheela na gigs).

Kate’s work isn’t easy in the sense that it neither makes assertions nor statements. It seems to be deliberately un-emphatic. The effect is to unsettle, to make us alert and create a pause. We find ourselves listening. The image that comes to me of her work is of that moment, in the stillness, when you hear a faint and tremulous bird call. You ask yourself if you even heard it (was it your imaginings?) and are silent and poised, listening for it again. You are completely present. In a review of her work art critic Laura Gascoigne gets it dead on when she says ‘It is this sense of trembling on the brink of transformation that lends Kate’s shadowy forms psychological substance’.

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I love this particular piece. There is something haunting, archaic and incredibly tender about it. I also like text that guides our responses and opens possibilities. Sitting pondering it I realise that this figure sums up, for me, much that is precious and true of Iona.  Kate has gone to the heart of the matter.

Kate Walters Second blog post, Iona residency

Kate Walters blog part two, Iona, November 2015

pink sunset

A starling in the byre, and sunshine. My dog gazes upwards, somewhat anxiously. I don’t know how the bird found her way in here. This morning the sounds were of thick water and a thin delicate birdsong. The path sucked at my boots, the grasses too sodden to sing in this morning’s winds. The light was bright after a night of the bothy imitating a boat, with the bed shaking and quivering like a trapped animal.

I see the breast of the bird, it is pale from beneath, so she blends with the sky when she flies. I open the door, she flies down from the rafters and out through the doorway in an arc of relief and triumph.

Body as Constellation

In the days I’ve been here I’ve kept a sketchbook of drawings, a still anchor amongst the swirl of works I’ve been making. The drawings, the monotypes, the notes and the watercolours have created a conversation between themselves, and I’ve been supported by the fusion, the generation which has occurred.

Iona evening clouds

When I first arrived and the weather was kind and warm, I wanted to immerse myself  in the water, feel the cleansing power of diamonds suspended in and around my body. I  made drawings about this communion of skin, flesh, and water. A body crouching, or bent double as if horse-borne, foot placed on some subtle shore, hands stroking a watery surface in prayer.

I asked the Water to come to that place in me

Reflected in the crystalline water have been extraordinary clouds. I’ve spent time photographing them, and feeling the beings which dwell in them momentarily. Related to this, I’ve also made a drawing which recalls a vision I had many years ago which showed me how a soul can evolve: I saw one face dissolving into another, going back through time, face upon face each melding into one another, each more beautiful than the last, until a holy face came into clear view.

Sketchbook drawing She who gives birth drawing after vision about evolution

How she gives birth to the evolution of consciousness

I’ve also been considering boundaries: of watery bodies, of soul bodies, of soul family members recognising one another, and of the energy which such dynamics can fire.

That which is incomprehensible to an Organ of Sense (Womb antennae)

That which is incomprehensible to an Organ of Sense with Vision Lance

to Staffa

A trip to Staffa to see the caves led me to think once again about the feminine body, the giantess who holds; and of the correspondence with our own bodies, with all their little fjords, rivers, caves, and arches. I closed my eyes and followed the free movement of my left hands, trusting in what it would show me. This as I sat in the cave, awed by the integrity of its presence.

Fingal's Cave

Staffa basaltA guest in the hostel spoke to me about Julian of Norwich and her visions, or ‘Showings’ as they are called. I will seek these out on my return to Cornwall.

I wanted more and more to meet Water, to have her hold me. A drawing of this impulse became a figure with a matrix, and a bird around her, holding her. This drawing developed into a series ‘And I am the bird’s egg, she my nest..’

Sketchbook drawing body with Water prayer October 2015

..which grew into a series about the ‘Bird with Womb to give my Consciousness…’

Bird with Womb to give my consciousness

The dreams which came as I slept here informed the studio work and my insights about the work which came. My father who died some years ago appeared in a dream, looking younger then I ever remember him, and somehow golden. The perfume of this dream infused a piece about a happy Buddha figure with a cape of breasts.

Happy Buddha

Sketchbook drawing Buddha with Breast cape

John Maclean has lent me a book about Sheila-na-gig and as I read I see through my drawings and notes how I have anticipated and tuned into the spirit of this place in a very clear and strong way.

Priestesses with Staff

How the Sky opens like my Tail

Sketchbook drawing after visit to the Abbey Iona

sketchbook drawing The Mystery

As my last week here begins, I awake feeling that I will just about be able to bear the leave-taking of this place, and the return to my other life.

I have my first day off, and head of towards St Columba’s Bay in the dazzling November sunshine. It’s a long walk past the jetty towards the machair and the West beaches. Wet and rocky we climb to high lakes of dark water before descending to green openness, cattle, and sheep. The round pebbles invite searching. I become as someone gathering fruit or jewels and I think to myself that you would never see sheep, or dogs, on their hands and knees turning over stones searching for that special bright one. I leave with heavier pockets. I had promised to send a couple of serpentine pieces to people who will never make this trip.

I had a strong desire to re-visit a place I last experienced in my thirties. It is the Hill of the Angels. I set off up a barely discernable rocky path over bogs and drops and tiny animal tracks through heather. Following my nose I head north-east until the great swelling mounds of dried heather, a sprawling bonsai forest, invite me to rest once again. When I lay upon this springy heather bed some twenty years ago up on this high place I thought this was the closest I could ever come to Heaven in this life. So I lay myself down again and gave thanks for the return to this most glorious of holy hills.And the sky was blue, the sun warm.

Inner work reflecting the drawings I’ve made is coming into clearer focus for me; as are the possible outcomes I see this work leading towards – a book, a show of works in a public space, and I hope, all being well, a return to this wonderful place to re-establish the connection I feel here, the sense of being in a place where I experience the sensation of being held in a harbour which fits me, holds me perfectly at ease, at rest.

The days here seem to move through their hours more quickly than anywhere I’ve ever been. As my last week passes I am working with oils, trying to find their voice. The rain came in again today so Marc kindly lit the stove. The studio-byre was immediately brightened and warmed. I sat on the rocking chair with my dog, cuddled her, wished that time would slow a little.

A little later Luke appeared with a plate of freshly made bread and butter. So simple, so kind, and so delicious. Lysanne has said that as tomorrow is her last day she will be making a last night brownie. It has been such a joy to come into the kitchen/dining room to find a plate of shortbread, ginger bread or brownies with a note on the top -‘please help yourself’.

At home I cook every night but here cooking has not been on my radar at all…so it has been a real treat to receive these expressions of generosity. The last hostel I stayed in was in Venice, and there was a tiny shared dining room without cooking facilities. This hostel has been the warmest, cleanest, friendliest place I could imagine and I have been so very happy staying here.

Kate Walters residency, October – November 2015 first post… after one week…

abbey evening

I first came to Iona when I was aged 18, to take photographs for my ‘A’ level photography course… a long time ago. Then I came here again, nursing a broken heart, in my thirties, with my young son who was then aged about 5. I was especially entranced by the abundant vegetables growing beside the Abbey, and I was grateful to a generous person attached to the Abbey who suggested we help ourselves to the salads growing there.

My last visit was around five years ago when my husband and I camped at Fidden Farm on Mull, and every day we crossed to Iona, and walked around, sat on the beaches; generally falling in love with the magic here all over again. I am always inspired by wild places. Something in me responds to the sense of them being completely themselves, raw, fine and pure. There is a quality of soar-i-ness which my heart enjoys when I come to these wild places, whether in Italy or Cornwall, Dartmoor or Iona.

beach shadow

When I saw the residency opportunity I did not hesitate to apply. I already knew about the particular quality of beauty which Iona embodies, so I knew what to expect – up to a point.

I arrived on a  beautiful sunny day from two days’ drawing at Glasgow School of Art, working with staff and students making monotypes employing a technique called ‘becoming the hollow bone’. I was loaded with luggage and materials, so I was relieved to see John and his partner Rachel waiting to greet me. I was made very welcome, and introduced to many islanders as the resident artist, which felt like such a privilege.

bothy view

hello bothy

I arrived carrying a deep tiredness and I knew that part of my reason for wanting to come here was to be restored in myself. I was delighted when the John showed me the large byre-studio, and the beautiful and charming bothy where I would sleep (I’ve managed  a week in there but now need two nights in the hostel to prepare me for my weekend trip to London… where I’m going to be resident artist at the National Open Art competition show at the Royal College of Art…@noac). My favourite time in the Bothy is early morning; lying in bed watching the light through the curtains gain in strength…. then opening the door to be greeted by birdsong, hesitant and fine; the smell of water in peat, and the green scent of willow.

inside bothy

I’ve been working long days in the studio, making a series of drawings on pages which I’ve taken from an old copy of the Bhagavad Gita, The Song Divine, and which I’d already prepared with gesso.

preparing to make monotype by storm lantern

I’m working into them in my usual intuitive way (with watercolours and inks) , responding to the strong spirit of place, and how I feel/experience it in a deep way in my body. I have been for walks on the magnetic and extraordinarily beautiful North beach (Traigh An T-Suidhe ) near John’s croft, and I’ve tuned into the subtle energetic life there. Yesterday I found a mighty tower of green serpentine; I held it in my hands, it was an object of such power and beauty!

My dreams have become more intense and I’ve been able to see clearly and directly how they are illuminating my practice.

Port nam Mairtir

Calving clouds

Meeting you O my fluttering Heart

It’s been great meeting guests and staff working here, and spending evenings in the warm and comfortable kitchen/living room. There are some very interesting and varied books in there too. I loved Ice Bears and Kotick by Peter Webb, and I found these special lines at the close of the book, written by an Inuit:

And yet there is only

One great thing

To live.

To see in huts and on journeys

The day that dawns

And the light that fills the world.

…………..

sand waves

Last night was especially windy, with a storm lashing the island. I had started a new book: The Curious Earth… and I was laughing so loudly at the description of a man watching his false teeth fly out if his mouth, and away into the night … as he stood in a gale on a ship…. that my laughter drowned out the sound of the gales buffeting the iron-clad walls.

As a gardener back in Cornwall I am delighted by the gardens and flowers on Iona. Outside The Low Door (excellent for fine foods and books on cooking) there are two buckets producing towers of most deliciously scented sweet peas even at the end of October. Iona is a place of startling surprises like these flowers, and the diminutive Post Office beside the beach – which surprisingly sells herbal remedies too. I find that being here, being fully awake and absorbing everything with my heart completely open, fuels my work and is resulting in a rich cross-fertilisation.

Having longer periods of time to focus on my work uninterrupted has proved a great boon for me, and I will hope to continue this routine when I am back home in Cornwall.

After my short time in London I will return ready to immerse myself at an even deeper level with my work, when I hope to make some larger pieces in watercolour and oil. Next blog in ten days or so!

http://www.katewalters.co.uk

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praying figure abbey

Images and text copyright Kate Walters 2015