THE INNER SOUND: EXHIBITION 2016
"My intention has always been to exhibit this body of work as an ensemble, in the context of the place that has inspired it. It seemed the right time and occasion, to do this now and in a small way, to thank Jon Schueler for his vision and his words, which have resonated for me and still do today, for so many artists."
The occasion for mounting this exhibition is, in part, to help honour the centenary of Jon Schueler, whose work and writing have greatly inspired me. Jon was an American painter who lived and painted on the West Coast of Scotland for many years and whose centenary is now being marked with a Symposium and Exhibition being held at The University of the Highlands and Islands' Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, during May and June 2016. It seemed a great opportunity to celebrate the recently formalised cultural links between Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the Gairloch Heritage Museum, where one part of this Inner Sound Exhibition is being held.
Like Jon Schueler, I came to Scotland as a North American whose childhood was spent on the shores of the Great Lakes. As a Canadian, I also yearned to go further into “the North”, always searching for that, perhaps, mythical place where I might find it. I was certain that once here, I would also discover a freedom and an authentic visual language to explore and express my own deep identification with nature, which seems to be every Canadian’s birthright.
Like Schueler, I was drawn to this part of the North-West of Scotland and here I found it. My childhood in Canada was certainly formative, but coming to live in the North West of Scotland has been nothing short of transformative.
I had been aware of Schueler’s work since coming to live in Scotland in the 1980’s, but was introduced to his memoir “The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life”, by a friend after restoring my studio near Gairloch a few years ago. I was riveted, captivated by how eloquently and accurately he described what I was seeing through my studio windows every day, and what I, also, was struggling to capture in a new and fresh way, in paint. He, too, was moved by what he saw and strained to find expression in paint for his deepest yearnings through translating the ‘Northern’ spirit and energy he sensed here in this place.
In Canada, nature is daunting, overwhelming; the essence of its landscape is boundless space, an untamed vastness which can be terrifying and almost defies expression in paint. Over the years, my identification with nature had led me to explore its forms and symbolism while naturally drawing upon the cultural identity of being a Canadian. This is where my roots lie and those roots still run deep and help to inform my work.
This place, also, is vast, wild, open and has a powerful, underlying spirit and energy - in so many ways like Canada. Painting here in the North West has broadened my vision and loosened the formality of my work. From the very first watercolour completed in the new studio, a fresh, freer language of expression has emerged from my brushes. The expanse of nature to which I respond here, is the sea - the drama which constantly unfolds beyond my studio windows, toward the horizon over the Inner Sound. Here, I have found the freedom not only to explore my intuitive perception of a ‘north shore’ as a transformative place, but also to discover a distinct visual vocabulary for this idea.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of being drawn to the nearby shores of Lake Huron and of having a constant awareness of the faraway horizon. It always seemed to be a place of, if not emptiness, of endless possibilities and of solitude, where I could leave the world behind and where my imagination could wander freely. Through the windows here in my studio in Wester Ross, nature seems to be in a state of almost constant flux. The presence of islands, just off-shore, encourages a highly charged interplay of light, land and water. That which resonates so loudly for me once again, is the water: the horizon and the drama which constantly unfolds beyond my windows, over the Inner Sound. I don’t find myself painting ‘from’ nature, from a specific view or moment, but am trying, through the marks my brush can coax from water and pigment and with line, colour, movement and form, to ‘tune into’ and distill the energy of the constant change within this environment. I'm also trying to grasp the meaning of what I see, to impose my own order on its chaos, in the hope of gaining some insight into the essence of what it is that resonates so loudly for me in this place.
My intention has always been to exhibit this body of work as an entirety, in the context of the place that has inspired it. It seemed the right time and occasion, to do this now and in a small way, to thank Jon for his vision and his words, which have resonated for me and still do today, for so many artists.