The paintings below were produced during an Artist residency at Scottish Canals funded by Creative Scotland supported by Scottish Canals and Falkirk Community trust. The next exhibition featuring Canal painting will be at Summerlee Heritage Museum in Coatbridge March to June 2020 to coincide with Visit Scotland’s year of Coasts and Waters.
This project has a number of distinct, but complementary aims. Firstly, it offers the opportunity to further explore the theme of contested space which has preoccupied my work to date. While I have primarily received critical recognition as a figurative painter, my work has increasingly turned away from attention to the human figure in particular settings towards the idea of human traces and their effects on the environment. Initially, this later work continued to focus on the domestic interior, maintaining an oblique, semi-autobiographical feminist critique of the gendered occupation of both physical and cognitive space. The world beyond these interior settings has, until now, mostly been recognised in my work as a ‘trace’ of what lies waiting; what might be found or discovered ‘out there’.
As my own personal space slowly becomes less contested by the demands of combining an artistic career with the demands of motherhood and domestic life, the appeal of the world beyond the window is more inviting and potentially more accessible to me than ever before. But this world beyond, as yet uncharted territory in my work, continues to hold a tension. Initial attempts at a departure from the figurative towards pure landscape painting have been tentative, perhaps refracting an aesthetic reluctance to move away from the safety of the ‘already known’. Nonetheless, the historical capacity of landscape painting to act as a collecting device for the representation of inner experience as much as an ideological tool in the construction of both national and gendered identity is not lost to me. Because of this I am keen to respond to the challenges that I see, both personally and professionally, in the alternating landscapes that are offered, aesthetically and politically by Scotland’s canal routes from the perspective of the lone, female traveller.
The man-made structure of the canal, conceptually and materially provides an exemplary site in which the theme of contested space can be usefully expanded.
As a narrative painter, my work has always garnered influence from literary sources where the boundaries between ideas of lives told and stories lived are simultaneously blurred and enlivened. I am an avid reader; Iris Murdoch, Henry James and Julie Myerson, amongst others have all found themselves variously embedded somewhere between the layers of applying paint on canvas. In this instance, a re-reading of Alisdair Gray’s “Lanark” sparked memories of this same geographic territory that surrounded me as a child. Gray offers the fictional artist, Duncan Thaw as he attempts to capture the landscape of the Monklands Canal. The canal is described as being an art work in its own right, “shaped in stone, timber, earth and water” that is both restless and shifting.
Alongside this, the project aims to respond to Rebecca Solnit’s writing on the process of walking and its relationship to artistic production. In Wanderlust Solnit writes critically on women’s experiences of the landscape in both rural and urban contexts. Artists have, she notes always walked: from the earliest landscape painters, through the plein-air work of the Impressionists to the land artists of the 1960s. Given that the canal connects both urban and rural landscape as it unfolds, the shape of this walk suggests the possibility of entering into a visual conversation with Solnit’s fascinating literary excursion. With its slow pace of life, canal travel by either barge or walking the towpaths offers the same opportunity for reflexive contemplation; the discovery of and the fixing of images found by the activity of slow looking.
Water has always intrigued me as a painter. From an early travelling scholarship to Amsterdam to more recent trips to Venice, canals have long had a presence in my work. As you will see from the accompanying images, my attention has increasingly moved towards focussing primarily on the water itself. The layers of the canal contain the world in reverse. Sky and landscape commingle to produce new abstractions that in turn demand a new approach for me as an artist. As a secondary aim of the project, I want to develop this new approach further, experimenting not only with mark making and the scale of my work but equally with new media such as mono-printing.
The Crinan Journey so far.
The Monklands Canal.
The Union Canal