Scottish Artists in Lockdown
Our alumni community in Scotland is thriving and here they reveal how the Scottish identity, landscape and culture influences their work and the impact that lockdown has had on their practice.
Tess Glen, Drawing Year 2019
I moved to Glasgow at the beginning of 2020, just after finishing The Drawing Year. I’ve gotten to know the city during lockdown and I’ve been struck by its architecture, which is characterised by a tough sort of elegance. The centre, especially at night, has the feel of an American city. It’s quite different to my expectations somehow and I underestimated the change that moving to a new city could bring to my work.
My boyfriend and I luckily moved into our own flat just a few days before the lockdown was announced so I was able to turn the spare room into a studio. My practice has always been focussed on the domestic setting as a space for artistic activity - this has been the seemingly ideal circumstance to test that! It’s been wonderful to see the way in which so many others have responded to the same circumstance.
I live on the south side of the Clyde and about half an hour walk from me is a huge estate of mansions called Pollokshields. It’s a labyrinth which, as your enamour with the gothic porches and turrets grows, you get sucked further and further into and it’s hard to find your way out. I’ve spent a lot of time wandering about there, and imagining the inside of these houses. There’s something disconcerting about this pocket of Victorian and Edwardian architecture nestled into more historically poor areas. I’ve started drawing a comic set in one of these houses in which I hope to explore the history of it.
The literary history of Glasgow is also a starting point for me. I read Lanark by Alasdair Gray last year and in it he invents a parallel version of the city called Unthank. It’s funny how familiar yet surreal it is. I’ve been working on a series of paintings that try to capture this notion of a dream like place with a familiar atmosphere. During lockdown I found myself wanting depict spaces that were social and glamorous, like a cocktail bar.
The Drawing Year was probably the busiest year of my life and following it so quickly with such a quiet one has been weird. I’ve missed the Drawing School community a lot but I’m looking forward to joining the Print Studio up here and getting to know more of the art community. Just before it closed I was really enjoying visiting the Hunterian Museum which has a wonderful collection of Whistler paintings. I’m looking forward to going back when it reopens to continue working from them.
Craig Harper, Drawing Year 2012
I was born in Aberdeen and returned to live in Scotland a couple of years ago. I now live in a Camphill community in the North East of Scotland working with young adults with disabilities and I paint in a woodwork studio on the estate.
I take inspiration from the landscape – little towns and villages, the highlands, overcast skies. The Scottish identity, often expressed in self-deprecating fashion, finds its way into my paintings too.
Kilmarning Municipal Swimming Pool
Recently I have been exploring ‘sense of place’
and Scottish identity through a series of paintings about a fictitious town
called Kilmarning. I was overheard speaking about Kilmarning in my sleep and afterwards a Google search revealed the place did not exist, therefore I adopted the town as
my own. It serves as a vessel for ideas, narratives and characters, much in the
spirit of Craggy Island and Springfield.
Cyril the Squirrel
The narratives in these painting are based on both real events and fiction; the dividing line often blurry. Painting the series under the moniker 'Craigie Harper' – a nickname given to me by a number of the residents here at Camphill – I further involve myself in the fiction of the town, often appearing as a character in the painting under varying guises and at different ages of my life. The overarching themes in these paintings are of parochial attitudes, collective stupidity and the absurdity of local ways of life.
During lockdown I took time to develop these recent paintings and Kilmarning. The virus also lead me back to Camphill, where I had worked some years prior. I continue to draw inspiration from events and surroundings that all go towards evolving the narrative of Kilmarning. I am currently working on a series of cardboard cut-outs of the people that populate the town.
Iona Roberts, Drawing Year 2016
I have lived in Scotland since I was born. I grew up in Glasgow and we regularly visited remote places in Scotland with our touring caravan where we would spend days, weeks and months out walking. I moved to Edinburgh when I was 18 to study BA Painting and I then went straight to London to join The Drawing Year in 2015. I am now back in Glasgow where, like London, there are many artistic openings and events. It encourages me to meet artists from many different places and often I go out drawing with them. My studio is at Southblock, situated in the centre of Glasgow, near the River Clyde. It is a great location near the Transmission Gallery, Trongate and the Modern Institute.
Location is used as a starting point for all my work. Through walking, I absorb and document places from busy cities to remote landscapes. I enjoy being a Flâneur, exploring concepts of identity, time and space. I believe the more I revisit a place, the further it gets ingrained subconsciously.
Painting in Scotland is inspiring because it is connected to my roots and identity. I have always felt free as a bird out in beautiful places like the Highlands and now, as an adult, I feel the poetry of these places holds a lot of answers to my painterly language. There is nostalgia in the nature of the familiar landscape and I am comforted by it in turbulent, uncertain times. My repeated visual experience of place and people over time is layered and distilled further into drawings and paintings, and an accumulated knowledge is laid down.
Back in the studio, I use surfaces and memories collected from my work on location as a starting point to explore further possibilities. Often, paintings end up looking far removed from their source drawings as the experience has become personalised, allowing the paint to take its own path.
One of my favourite artists is Joan Eardley. She balances abstraction and subject so wonderfully. I can sense such a melancholic, passionate mood as she captures the particular East Coast light where the sea actually casts light onto the landscape. The light is special in Scotland. It is often dark and moody but as time flows, I often witness this piercing, bright light that strikes through the grey and ignites the landscape. I like how my internal world can influence the way I perceive the landscape. Like ourselves, landscapes are poetic and ever-changing: they grow, die, move from darkness to light.
In lockdown the work I have made has been an inward, cathartic response to our changing times; a place for me to escape. I have chosen uplifting colours and are becoming a diary of my inner, variable emotional states.
A Place to Be, Quarantine 2020, pen on paper.
I converted my bedroom into a studio but I spent as much time as possible outdoors to find some head space which helped me to process. Keeping a sketchbook, writing and drawing about my time out in nature has been key to my wellbeing. When limited to the confines of being inside, I made a lot of drawings in response to the interior space and my window views of Netherlee from home.
My parents are professional classical musicians, and we played music together during lockdown with me on the violin. When the weather was good, I would paint out in the garden absorbing the sun. Even though I found ways to adapt, it was challenging being away from my studio for such a long time; I missed the community and the feedback from other artists and found logistical constraints affected my work, for example the inability to create large-scale works and the difficulty of finding some materials.
Since I have been back in the studio, I have been creating abstract paintings through exploring mark making on panels of wood. They are a branch off from the observational work I have created through lock down.
Since I've produced a vast amount of work in quarantine, I'm now refining them. At present, I am building up and resolving work for a solo show at the Compass Gallery, Glasgow and I am working with various other galleries such as the Kilmarnock Gallery and Galerie Sonia Monti. I am also sending work down to London this autumn as I have been shortlisted for the RA Summer Exhibition. Things are very exciting and I am trying my best to pace myself.
Steven Walker, Drawing Year 2007
I live in East Ayrshire on a very small farm on the edge of a village, not far from Dumfries House. My studio is in an old part of our farmhouse called the “byre” which would have in the past housed the livestock. It still doesn’t have any heating! It is a very basic space, it has a floor, walls, and a new roof. Winter is hard going. In the summer months I also use the outside hay barn as a studio to work on larger pieces.
I moved back to Scotland 5 years ago. A sense of place is important to me. I remember the advice Thomas Newbolt gave to me while on The Drawing Year, he said to ‘go where the light suits you’. When I was still living in the South East I had 2 residencies at Dumfries House where I could explore the landscape that I had grown up in for the first time since I left. It seemed to me to represent something different and felt I wanted to return and explore the Ayrshire landscape. Where I live, I can quickly access rivers, glens, mountains and historical sites to draw from, and if I want to draw in the city, Glasgow is 40 minutes away.
Agnes eating corn on the cob, 5th July 2020
My recent work has drawing at its core. Drawing is a response and reaction to my personal experiences, which can be my home life or drawing in nature and also in an abstract sense my inner feelings. My studio paintings are a further exploration based on these drawings and in my attempt to cultivate an exciting image I will also use gesture and memory so that the image is pushed into unknown and unexpected territory.
Untitled, Abstract. Acrylic and charcoal on paper, 2020
I am quite isolated here anyway so the lockdown didn’t feel too unusual. There was a prevailing sense of fear and dread being worried about friends and family at the beginning of it of course. The biggest change for us during lockdown was that the nurseries were closed so my partner and I would spend a lot more of our time looking after our young daughter, which was great. It was a chance to really bond and I was enjoying drawing her a lot, and I felt very fortunate that we had a garden we could use during lockdown. I would only get a couple of studio hours each day during this time.
I have had two group shows in London and Paris cancelled and a two-person show with Drawing School alumni Tom Robinson at The Cut in Halesworth meant for this summer postponed until August 2021. However, I am very pleased to show work in “Making Painting Abstract” curated by Robin Greenwood at Linden Hall Gallery in Deal, Kent. I am looking forward to continuing to make work for two shows next year and we are also excited to begin renovating another barn to create a residential art workshop venue, with printmaking facilities and a gallery space.