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.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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.
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!
By Alison Critchlow