November 24th, 2007 Doug
crossing n. travel across water (we had a smooth crossing)
I have always loved crossings by sea, whether the short twenty minutes across the Clyde onboard the Loch Linnhe to Great Cumbrae, or the often changeable twelve hours on the Hjaltland from Aberdeen to the Auld Rock.
There is something special about the physical act of boarding a boat and sailing to islands, no matter how far. For me, I think it is about the space between the places, that distance that not only separates you physically, but also mentally and spiritually.
I am working on a sequence of new works based on the experience of crossings, trying to explore the ideas so that I can portray all aspects of the act I have mentioned above. I have been researching notes on the four different crossings from my own experience, and I am now developing them into new works.
They are all very personal in their subject matter, and I have found it difficult opening myself up to the publics view this way. Often, artists will create pieces of work that are deeply personal in subject, but manage to shield themselves through the use of symbols and metaphors. I am going to be no different, I think.
The following notes are a direct transcript of my sketchbook pages. They were written on a train journey, on the way to work at the V&A Museum in London, with weaver Sue Lawty. They may seem disjointed and erratic, but they are clearly trains of thought written at the time (no pun intended!).
Fife: Learning and growing - an empty book waiting to be filled (box?)
Whether or not aware of it, the colour of the landscape and place being absorbed, and the ground for the work has been put in place.
The river was a physical barrier to the learning/growing, having to walk what before was a great distance to the other side and explore.
Into an unknown space. Seeing it close-up, what was always only a mysterious and grey coastline.
Being on the outside looking in, seeing your world from a different viewpoint. Walking on a new shore, with new colours and details. Able to distance yourself and see things clearer.
*Initial journey that is still ongoing and you need to go back and stand on that shore and look across the river to the skyline and sea.
Mull: Crossing over to an island to re-collect and re-build yourself (in theory) finding yourself and your space again.
Strange contradiction of needing to recharge, and at the same time bringing energy and thinking to the space, open to experiences.
Being welcomed by Ravens, accompanying the boat. Finding the true you, doing all of the things that make you tick.
The beauty and space from sitting on the cliff-top at Crackaig, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean to Iona, Staffa, Tiree etc. Strong sense of ‘place’, soul food.
Being allowed, or given time and space to be doing, finding yourself, in your space.
Lewis: Going with empty, or fragmented boxes. Grey rainy shore, heading into wide sea crossing, with uncertain weather conditions.
Crossing over and loosing sight of land, surrounded only by sea, port and starboard.
Questioning work/image/motives. Open, clean, remote landscape. Not bleak, truly wild. Helping to find links between what I want to achieve and previous. Helping me to find out what I am, in the wider picture.
This crossing made my longing for this landscape and the sea crossings more evident, ‘cianalas’ as they say on the Long Island.
This was a crossing in more than just a physical sense, it was a strong change in direction both mentally and working.
Great Cumbrae: A most difficult area. The ‘haven’.
Using the short distance of water to shut off your being. Again using this space to renew yourself and to be in the place that suits you the best. Finding your ‘haven’, a safe harbour.
Similar to the Fife work, close enough to look back. Crossing over tight and tied up, bound by forces that need to be loosened and removed. Unhealthy and restrictive.
The crossing, though short, is enough distance to do this. Walking to the bay, the pilgrimage to your to your sanctuary, is great for removing any remaining bindings.
Being welcomed by birds calling, the wind, and the waves shaping the beach, and reshaping me.
November 8th, 2007 Doug
‘Das Narren Schyff’.
Often ideas will come from the strangest places.
Recently I have been reading and researching some medieval Gaelic poetry, to source ideas for some new drawings and constructions. One of the poems, “Tanaig Long ar Loch Rannoch” (A Ship Has Come on Loch Rannoch) tells of a supernatural boat, constructed from Bramble leaves, thorns, stringers of rushes, cables of barley husks etc., crewed by demonic naked witches.
This not only reflects the tradition of witches going to sea in crafts such as sieves, or eggshells and catching extraordinary amounts of fish by unnatural means, but also the superstition around women crewing boats. Until recent times there was a tendency for Hebridean fishing crews to turn back for home if they encountered a woman on the way to their boats!
Reading these poems has also lead me to take another look at the 15th century tale of “The Ship of Fools” (Das Narren Schyff) written by Sebastian Brandt, and illustrated in the 16th century by many artists, including Albrecht Durer. The influence of this European writing is clear in the work of the Gaelic poets, and they must have been aware of such publications. The ship as a metaphor representing groups of people or a country has often been used in various art forms. Most are, like both of the above poems, satirical in context.
I have skirted around the edge of these texts and others I find fascinating for many years, working on notes and ideas in the sketchbooks, but never fully committing them to final designs. Occasionally, when people have been looking through the sketchbooks they are surprised to find images based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, or the translated tales of the Irish King Sweeney, by Seamus Heaney. Over the next few months I am going to develop these ideas and will produce them as a series of drawings and constructions. I find that even though these texts are around 500 years old, the imagery and themes are comparable with our modern day culture. Watch out for future posts as this theme develops.
November 6th, 2007 Doug
Poem by Shetland based writer Donald Murray, produced from notes collected on a walk to No Ness
with Douglas Robertson and pupils of Sandwick Junior High School, Shetland.
Fulmars seem to kiss cliff-tops,
playing a game of tag
with skuas, clouds and gulls,
a full wheel,
reel and spin-the bottle
in which the only
gesture of affection’s
a spit and sudden
gust and gush of oil
to keep their nestlings’
Read the rest of this entry »
November 6th, 2007 Doug
Back to the little black books
Where does it all begin? With my thought process it all starts, as usual, in the little black Moleskine notebooks. Never far from my side, and always at the ready for ideas, notes, and sketches.
The contents of the books vary, depending on what I am working on at the time; lists of materials required, quotes from books I’ve been reading, or working notes for the next stage of a project.
Notebook sketching at 21,000 feet!
Sometimes it’s the first sketches of an idea which can spring to mind at any time, as with the top notebook drawings, done at 21,000 feet on a flight back from Shetland! And the locality of where you do the notes can bare no relationship to the work. The lower set of sketches, based on an idea about emigration from western Scotland, were done sitting on the steps of the V&A museum in London, on a tea break while working with weaver Sue Lawty.
Western Scotland, inspired on the steps of west London
At the moment I am spending a lot of my time in the studio editing the notebooks, choosing the most important elements, and developing them further in my large sketchbooks. I am constantly collecting ideas, images, and working notes in my books, and they are often in a shorthand form and only decipherable by me (sometimes even I find it difficult to untangle my writing).
Most of the work I am developing at the moment comes from notes collected over the last eighteen months travelling the length and breadth of Scotland. I am also in the design stage of some work that was started in the notebooks on Mull in 2003. I try to think clearly about the work that I am developing in terms of the audience who are going to be seeing it. Some of the best exhibitions I have put on have worked because the images were accessable to the viewers and contained a lot of symbols and motifs that provoked shared memories and experiences.
I am hoping that over the next few months I will interpret the ideas in the notebooks and produce works that will communicate the ideas to my audiences, and hopefully provoke and stimulate their imaginations and memories.
November 5th, 2007 Doug
In the studio working on a series of images based on my experiences of the Shetland Isles.
During my visits to Shetland last summer, I collected lots of notes, drawings, photographs, and stories. I am using some of these as the subjects for my ‘peerie’ boxes. (Peerie is the Shetlandic work for small) Shetland is a fascinating place to visit and work, and for the artist it is a treasure trove of ideas and imagery. The only problem I faced when I was there last, was that I did not have enough time to get around and see everything I was interested in! Good excuse for a return visit though.
The Shetland Islands and their people have so much to offer an artist. The wealth of imagery, stories, colour, and atmosphere is unparalleled. The islands offer a wide range of sights, sounds, and experiences to inspire the mind. The opportunity to explore many strands and themes from a diverse environment suited my natural curiosity, and my desire to collect both mentally and physically.I have collected lots of stories, images, and thoughts from my travels, through sketching, walking, and talking around the islands.
From Old Scatness, I was lucky enough to see Stevie Wark’s stunning carvings of bone, horn, and soapstone, using traditional methods developed from studying the work of the Picts and the Vikings. One of the great treats for me as an artist is to learn new methods, and be shown other possibilities of how to turn your ideas from sketches to physical objects. Talking to the artist and seeing his beautiful work has fired me up with new ideas and possible working methods and materials. Thanks again, Stevie.
I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to meet and work with some very interesting and talented individuals, including writers, artists, and musicians. Working closely with two Shetland based writers, Donald Anderson and Donald Murray, was a a real treat for me. I have always enjoyed working with writers as I find they see things differently and enjoy looking into the landscape in a similar questioning manner, like myself.I’ll be developing these new works in my studio over the next few months and the images and sketchbook notes will always bring back warm and satisfying memories of the ‘Auld Rock’.
A rainy Whiteness Voe
November 4th, 2007 Doug
In the studio finishing the drawings for ‘Crossings’.
This idea has had a long period of development, constantly working and reworking the images to make sure that I am working on the strongest form of the idea.
Sketchbook notes for ‘Crossings’
At the moment I am working on creating the objects from the sketchbook pages, scaling them up to the correct working size and planning how to carve or model them. I produce a lot of little notes around the sketches with comments and reminders of possible construction methods and materials.I have always loved crossings by sea, whether the short twenty minutes across the Clyde onboard the Loch Linnhe to Great Cumbrae, or the often-changeable twelve hours on the Hjaltland from Aberdeen to the Auld Rock.
There is something special about the physical act of boarding a boat and sailing to islands, no matter how far. For me, I think it is all about the space between places, that distance that not only separates you physically, but also mentally and spiritually.
I am working on a sequence of ideas based on the experience of ‘crossings’, trying to explore the ideas so as to portray all the aspects of the act I have mentioned above.I have been researching notes on the four different ‘crossings’ from my own experience. They are all very personal in their subject matter, and I have found it difficult opening myself up to public view in this way.
Often artists will create a piece of work that is deeply personal, but manage to shield themselves through the use of symbols and metaphors. I’m going to be no different, I think! The project will be explored more fully in the next posting.
November 3rd, 2007 Doug
Lost At Sea
One of the most difficult and awkward stages of any piece of art are the first few marks, getting the ideas down onto the paper and hopefully communicating the idea.
The same goes for starting this online diary.
One of the purposes of this space was to give me the opportunity to explain the ideas behind my art and opens up the work further to the audience. Often when exhibiting my work I am asked if I can explain the narratives behind my ideas, and this can not always be done at the time, either by a catalogue or by explanations in the gallery.
As I am researching and developing my ideas I will try to describe and explain the thinking behind the work, and allow the viewers a chance to look into the sketchbooks and the process of creating a piece of work.
I would also like to describe other aspects of my work, often in no particular order, and the type of things that influence and affect me as an artist.
Many of the blogs will be done ‘on the hoof’, while I am about on my travels, drawing, collecting, listening to stories etc. and I will occasionally use photographs and guest postings. If possible I will supply web links to interesting pieces, places, and people that I meet on my travels, or that will help to expand the work further.
A big thank you to Bottle-Rocket for helping set up this blog!
Study of Wee Cumbrae and Arran in the rain
Well, here goes………