A new exhibition called Latitudes which assembles the work of fifteen recent art school graduates with a strong Highland connection goes on display at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery from 9th June before touring Highland venues.
A play on the double meaning of “latitude”, the exhibition celebrates the northerly roots of the artists with the freedom of thought and action that each displays in their work. Funded by Highland 2007 and The Highland Council this is an eclectic and challenging show, showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of our most contemporary artists.
The Highlands of Scotland have long been an inspiration to artists and crafts makers. The wild, rugged landscapes, the vibrant colourful cultural life, the friendly hospitable people; all feed into a quality of life envied across Europe. It is little wonder that artists who grow up in this region remain here, or if they do not, will often continue to refer to its influence throughout their working lives.
The Highland Council’s Exhibitions Coordinator, Astrid Shearer said: “We see 2007, the year Scotland celebrates Highland culture, as the perfect time to take stock of our young peoples’ creativity and reflect on the need for artists to travel away from the region to study; some but not all come back to live and work here after they graduate, we’d like to celebrate all their achievements.”
Although having moved to the south of England from her childhood home in Sutherland, Karen Moser refers to the story of Croick Church, with its poignant connection to the clearances, in her fragile sculptural work.
Fragility is a theme that’s taken up by many of the artists. Fiona Hepburn’s delicate paper-cut constructions and Lisa Hyland’s carefully composed willow pieces both examine the fragility and strength of natural forms.
Jade Stout’s abstract canvases recall her childhood in Orkney. The sea dominates the islands and, although never simply representational, Jade’s work constantly refers to the sea in her memory.
George Glennie also produces contemplative, abstract canvases. Concerned with the nature of reality and the physical his work is at its simplest minimal and contemporary.
A nostalgic, almost wistful, thread also weaves through the work of Jenny McLaren and Shelagh Swanson. Jenny explores within her pieces a variety of emotive ideas such as loss, abandonment, decay, preservation and identity. She uses a variety of found objects and media to create carefully composed constructions with skill and depth. Similarly Shelagh says of her own constructions, “I construct meditative artworks which narrate the essence of experience.” Often using unexpected materials, her process is quite instinctive and follows a period of research into her subject using photography and drawing.
Linda Smith’s haunting canvases also suggest poignant themes; a sense of an individual being ‘separate’ from others, references to 19th century domestic life and a sense of family continuity all play a part in her deceptively simple compositions.
Painter Claire Rooney, printmaker & sculptor Anna Perch-Nielson and painter Caroline Hewat are all concerned with a sense of place and space. Working in very different ways, but sharing some striking similarities in method, Anna and Claire both examine the ways in which the viewer interacts with their works. Questioning how flat canvases can represent three dimensional spaces, and how the viewer is affected emotionally by spaces is common to both these very different artists. A strong sense of place is also important to Caroline’s series of prints. Based on the Black Isle, she created the works after a trip to New York; the vibrancy and life of this exciting city is conveyed through her striking non-representational compositions.
As a counterpoint to the quiet, reflective nature of much of the work in the exhibition it is refreshing to see the work of Michelle Murray, Sarah Wakeford and Janine Levison. Their work is vibrant and above all colourful. Indeed Sarah’s work reflects her keen interest in colour psychology and how this affects understanding of a piece of art. Her work is often site specific which in itself confirms her interest in how the complete effect is paramount. She sees her art as a way to temporarily uplift us, a ‘doorway’ to a secluded world. Michelle takes her inspiration from a very contemporary culture. Interested in the “conscious and unconscious marks we leave behind as we travel through life” her interest in Graffiti culture has been a particular influence. Contemporary culture has also played a part in Janine’s work. Her work is concerned with the fact that in our society “fashion is of more importance than inner well being”. She says: “With the current trend for extreme dieting, actual physical health seems to have fallen by the wayside.” She portrays her concerns playfully by making soft human organs using old clothing and textiles.
Finally a playful element is also evident in the work of Gordon R Brown. His surreal and humour-filled world defies definition but "gleefully perverse" is the phrase that Gordon says would best describe his paintings. The subject matter is inspired by Brown's interest in the hierarchy of humans and animals, and how, in our world, it is the humans in control. Brown weaves a surreal narrative in his large-scale acrylics paintings between the humans and the animals.
The exhibition opens in Inverness, at imag (Inverness Museum and Art Gallery), on 9 June and will tour the Highlands during the summer and autumn.