Preparation | The Quest for stillness.

I have been offered an exhibition, again at Resipole Studios, to follow on from the show I had there based on the Iona work  made at the same time as I began this blog. That exhibition was two years ago and since then I have done quite a lot of island hopping! Tiree in September ’15, Eigg in February ’16 followed by The Shetland Islands with a quick visit to Fair Isle in April ’16 and a return to Shetland in September ’16.

Having laid out all the amassed work on the floor of the gallery, we selected the Shetland work to be the subject of the new show with a few of the more recent pieces made on Eigg. Those of you who saw the last one, will remember that we chose the theme of the Beaufort Scale as the curatorial approach. On all these islands the weather is a predominant theme, be it storm or mist, rain or sun.

Over the last two years, my life has developed a rhythm, something of my own internal weather. My time is now spent divided between two speeds, the pace of living in our world, married, a mother, working from home and in a Highland economy where almost everyone multitasks in order to survive and the other, yearned for, silence and solitude where I have time to stop, go inwards and fulfill the dream of keeping still.

As I have got older, I sometimes dream of becoming a nun! Those of you who know me will also know how unlikely that is. Having failed the eleven plus, I went to a catholic grammar school as a fee paying protestant and it was quite possibly the unhappiest years of my life. But looking back, it was not entirely the fault of Sister Christopher and Sister Scolastica who banned me from RE for asking to be taught comparative religion before learning the catholic dogmas. Things were very unhappy at home and so I felt quite lost at a time in life, adolescence, when children struggle anyway and without a place of safety, either at home or at school, my life was miserable. If I became a nun now, it would not be to give my life to the duties of a faith. It would be to pass on the responsibility of daily life in order to focus on more etherial things; watching nature and becoming an advocate for our precious natural environment through increasing my understanding and painting the journey. That too is a sort of faith, a faith in nature. My father told me I was a Panist but having no classical education myself, this may be a simplification. There now seem to be lots of forms of nature worship but my connection is not really a formal thing; I just follow an instinct, largely taught by him.

This is what I try to do on my island visits. It comes at a time in our hectic world when there is an increasing understanding of needing to step out, to embrace solitude and creativity. As the number of retreats and residencies proliferate, we are lucky that there is a general acknowledgement of the need to slow down, go inwards and rebalance. The day before I left Eigg in January, I found a book in Sweeny’s Bothy by Jenny Diski, ‘On Trying to Keep Still’. As I read it, I felt as if the book had been written for me, about me and by me, it resonated so deeply. Another woman who doesn’t like to go out, who likes to live in the quiet of their own home but actually has a reputation as a travel writer and the ruses she dreams up of posting herself letters to remote parts of the world as her imagined self travels from poste restante to poste restante collecting the envelopes. In part then, this exhibition is a tribute to her who sadly died last year.

The suggestion by John Maclean that I could stay in his shepherd’s hut on Iona during the months of November and December has now developed into my form of pilgrimage. My year is punctured by periods of solitude, exploring islands where the western seaboard meets the North Atlantic and learning to look, listen and feel the path to a creative response. This exhibition is about that journey.

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Sweeney’s Bothy, Isle of Eigg.
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